Tom Keya gives a leader’s perspective on managing burnout and supporting employee wellbeing.
Tom Keya is an executive of Dubai-based law firm Ruthberg LLC and the founder of Soulh, a new corporate wellbeing software for managing employee happiness. He is also a business development consultant with a good understanding of just how important better mental health support is in sustainable business growth (including retention and consistent adequate performance).
After years of mental health pressures, he made several mistakes which ultimately led to his career change. He now wants to help others avoid this.
Tom Keya on Employee Burnout
Burnout and its pretty staggering impact on mental and physical health is something Tom takes seriously (and personally). Tom’s own mental health issues led him to not only take a career break from practising law, but also to totally refocus on what really matters in his own life.
How Tom Keya’s own mental and physical health suffered due to burnout
A long, successful career as a London-based lawyer had left Tom Keya reeling with mental and physical health problems.
“I found myself at a kind of dark crossroads in my career and in my life,” explains Tom Keya. “After years of chasing perfectionism – as lawyers tend to do – in an unforgivingly stressful industry sector, I hit a wall.”
A complete mental health breakdown led to Tom Keya feeling he had lost his sense of purpose as well as his mental health and self-worth.
“Working within these kinds of professional services can have catastrophic effects on people’s mental health, and I was no exception,” Tom Keya goes on to say.
The importance of taking mental health issues seriously
Having been forced into a total career firebreak, Tom Keya focused on putting himself and his mental health issues first. He explains: “I needed to take time to learn how to enjoy life again, how to enjoy work and how to feel human.”
Following an extended break, Tom Keya found that his life improved on every level. He says: “I developed a newfound sense of emotional stability. This, in turn, helped me to recover my drive and business creativity.”
For Tom Keya, mental health in the workplace should be the most important concern for every business leader.
He says: “The importance of employee mental health cannot be understated. Mental health support needs to be in place, whether we’re talking about law firms or any other sector.”
And he’s put his money and business skills where his mouth is, with the subsequent launch of Soulh, which is an innovative company focused on the need for systemic change regarding mental health issues across many different sectors.
Soulh tech is the arm of the business that is designed specifically to help leaders understand the pressures facing their workforce so that they can improve mental health and stave off burnout in the workplace. Soulh also sells a range of carefully refined mental health supplements that can form a vitally important piece of support.
Tom Keya is on a mission to raise awareness among like minded business leaders
While Soulh has a clear mission to improve employee mental health in the workplace and to raise awareness among C-suite managers of the importance of doing so, Tom is on a wider mission to combat mental health problems.
Now in control of his own mental health, Tom is able to extend his expertise into philanthropic and strategic work in stress management. He’s a passionate supporter of employee wellness and believes that business leaders should encourage employees to reach out for support when necessary.
Raising awareness of the need for systemic change
“I do not, of course, focus purely on the urgent need for better mental health support, but I would say it forms a strong basis for my work in this sector and across the board,” says Tom.
“When employees, whether they’re lawyers or in any other sector, experience burnout they need a specific kind of support for their health.
“My experience tells me that when we’re deep in a mental health crisis, we urgently need to step out of it. People regularly attempt to grind on through it. However, all this does it make it worse, not only for the individual themselves but the whole team.
“And while taking responsibility for ourselves and our mental health in the workplace is one aspect of dealing with this systemic problem, in order to do this, we must feel supported by business leaders.”
Supporting employee wellbeing is essential
Successful stress management is a combination of employees taking control of their own wellbeing and business leaders taking the time to formulate a better understanding of the problem.
Tom is a vocal supporter of the need to raise awareness of the urgent need for this level of support from business leaders.
“Can every business leader say that each of their employees is supported in this key area?” says Tom. “Mental health issues in the workplace and their impact across the board are rising in urgency and number.
“Particularly since the global pandemic began, there has been a significant increase in working remotely. This, while one of the excellent digital solutions at our disposal as business leaders to keep work flowing, can add to people’s feelings of isolation and therefore adversely impact employee wellbeing.”
Mental and physical health are inextricably linked
Tom’s work now has a strong emphasis on not just the mental health of employees, but also the physical health of employees.
The two often go hand in hand and Tom regularly communicates about the pressures of legal life and its impact on mental health in various online publications.
“Writing my story and introducing new concepts for dealing with the problem in online publications on mental health and across various high pressure sectors including business development, impact investment, wealth managers and more allows me to positively influence this important area within the workplace,” explains Tom.
“My experience centred around a severe mental breakdown caused by work stress and burnout in the workplace. While trying to find the right kind of support, I exacerbated the problem by joining a high stress start-up. It was only then that I realised I had to ‘stop the world and get off’. That’s when I took a total break from the workplace and began to focus on my health.”
Exercise and therapy helped Tom’s recovery
For his personal recovery, Tom cites the benefits of undergoing professional therapy, playing sports and taking exercise and spending time watching movies to relax.
He says: “I quickly found I had little option but to take every day as it came. Slowly and steadily, I began to find out what really makes me happy and what I can focus on in this world that enables me to make a real difference.
“I also moved from London to Dubai – I needed a change of environment and to live in a different part of the world. A mix of outdoor activities, sports and therapy helped get my creativity and interest in several other topics going.”
The rise in mental health issues in the workplace
Tom regularly writes about the impact of things like remote working on young people in particular and firmly believes that a multi-pronged approach in the workplace is necessary.
“Whether you’re a fund manager or a business development guru, there may come a time when work no longer feels like the most important thing in the world,” explains Tom.
“Being able to take a career break is an incredibly helpful thing to do. The feeling that everything ends if you leave your job is rarely true. Taking time out to rehabilitate your physical and mental health can only make you better positioned for the rest of your career.
“We are all on our own journeys through our careers, whether we’re in business development or the public sector. With my law practice in Dubai, I actively encourage employees to take breaks when they need to.
“If you have the talent in your workforce, then as a manager or CEO, you should be concentrating on generating loyalty. And this is achieved by leading compassionately.”
Management must support employees when they need it
A dual approach to rewarding employees works best for Tom and his team in Dubai. Part of this is allowing substantial breaks for employees who are under high levels of stress.
He says: “There’s nothing better than welcoming people back to the team when they’ve been supported in a way that allows them to thrive. I love the creativity that people tend to bring back to work with them following an extended break for their mental health – it really shows in their work and approach.”
Tom regularly communicates with like minded leaders within the legal profession to raise awareness of the kinds of approaches he believes make a difference.
Developing digital tools that help C-suite executives
This can also be seen with his development of the digital solutions offered by Soulh. Explaining how the platform works, Tom says: “We give CEOs and managers real life data that shows exactly how their employees are feeling.
“It’s a very simple ideology – business leaders can only make a tangible difference to their employees if they know about the problem in the first place. And that’s what our platform does – furnishes them with the information they need.
“It’s not a solution in and of itself, rather it’s a tool that managers or CEOs can use to attain true visibility of the mood and wellbeing of their team. For example, if a team is consistently struggling, the data will show this.
“The data is gathered through a very simple, quick survey every Monday morning. Timing is, of course important, and we felt that this was the optimal time to get honest feedback from employees.
“We use this platform in addition to the supplements, which are herbal in derivation, to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace and to help people who need some extra support.”
It is always possible to make a change for the better
Tom is keen for people to understand that it is always possible to make a change for the better.
His background is in law, and while he had given much of his life and education to the sector, Tom still recognised when he needed to take a break.
He says: “It can be very difficult to put yourself first in a sector such as law. This also applies to any number of other professional services, of course.
“There is often the feeling that it isn’t possible to just stop what you’re doing because your mental health is suffering. And this pressure then leads to burnout, exhaustion, and endless pressure. Often, it can be difficult to see yourself as anything other than the professional you’ve been for so long.
“But there is always another option. Skillsets are transferable and opportunities exist. If you are struggling with your mental health because of your job, plan and take time for you. It will only help you in the long run.”
For more on Tom Keya, click here.