THE “CLARKSON MOMENT”

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Executive Chairman of the AA, Bob Mackenzie, was dismissed on Tuesday. Gross misconduct following a ‘Clarkson moment’ in a hotel bar and his outburst could cost him an additional £100m in shares. Ouch.

This incident has some other, equally serious numbers attached. £200million was wiped off the company value when his indiscretion became public this week; Mackenzie has waved goodbye to his £1.4million salary; and there’s no doubt an eye-watering legal bill on its way when this gets to court. Mackenzie has since been diagnosed with an acute, stress related mental health problem.

So, here we have a man leading a corporate valued at £1.5billion, who was both chief-exec and chairman (lower your eyebrows for a minute), suffering from a stress-related illness. He loses the plot in a bar and poof, he’s gone. Now, we are not condoning his behaviour but can we challenge the leadership support structures that may, or may not, have been in place here?

The chances are, if this was a junior level employee, they would still be in their job. So why does our culture continue to enforce a view that senior executives should be immune to stress related conditions? Is mental health immunity a job perk once you reach the top?

With work related stress costing the UK economy £6.5bn each year, employee wellbeing and stress prevention has never been more topical. One in six people in work at any given time are likely to be experiencing some form of distress or depression, chances are one of these six will be sitting at the board table. Where are the frank discussions around senior level support? Since when did the summit of business have to be so lonely? Why does pressure equate to performance? As we stumble awkwardly around these questions one thing is for certain, the conversation needs to be open.

Work-related stress in the UK in 2016 accounted for 37% of all ill-health cases, with workload pressure and lack of peer support playing a key role. The higher up the leadership chain you get, the more peer-support starved you become and everyone has a tipping point. Mackenzie has paid a high price for wrongful actions and his tipping point has received substantial coverage but all this could no doubt have been prevented if our corporate culture was more open to a paradigm shift, much needed, around senior level wellbeing and support. Or should we continue to think ‘that’s what they get paid for’, the jury’s out on this one.