It turns out that describing a job, even one as complex as CEO and co-founder of a 200-person strong corporate wellbeing organisation, can be done in a few words.
“My six-year-old son once said to me ‘your job is to talk to people and make decisions’,” says Dr Nick Taylor of Unmind. “And I’ve always thought that’s a really beautiful and simple description of it.”
This simplicity can also be found in Taylor’s vision for his business, which offers a workplace mental health platform. “Our purpose is to create a world where mental health is universally understood, nurtured and celebrated,” he explains. So far, so straightforward. Achieving this, however, is no mean feat.
According to the most recent survey by the Health and Safety Executive, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for the most days lost due to work-related ill-health in 2022 (around 17 million days). Another survey, conducted by recruitment firm Robert Walters in June, found that 60% of professionals are suffering from workplace stress, with 55% feeling their employer is not doing enough to help.
This is the situation Unmind is seeking to change. The platform, which is used by organisations such as Ogilvy, Samsung, Diageo and the NHS, is designed to help business leaders measure and manage employee mental health and get workers the support they need, when they need it.
It is an area that has long fascinated Taylor. “I’ve spent my whole life interested in what it means to be a human being, what it is that makes us who we are.” While he was studying music at the University of Manchester, Taylor volunteered with the Samaritans and took this experience into his first job as a support worker for mental health charity Mind.
While there, Taylor was supervised by a clinical psychologist who set him on his current path. “He showed me how the framework of clinical psychology could be applied in people’s lives in a way that helped them in their journey of recovery or just to live their best lives.” Taylor went back to university to do a psychology degree, followed by a doctorate in clinical psychology, before joining the National Health Service.
Starting a business
During his three years working for the NHS, Taylor routinely came up against two frustrating things that sowed the seeds for starting his business. The first was that, as a clinical lead, it was his job to manage a team – and that team was burning out. “I became really interested in what we, as an organisation, could do better to support the wellbeing of the people in the team, and that led me to learn about corporate wellness.”
The second frustration was in his clinical practice, where he was managing an NHS waiting list. “It’s a really tough job because people urgently need care but you can’t get it to them in a timely way.” Time and again, Taylor would sit down for therapy for people and wish he had been able to see them 12 months prior, when issues began.
“It led me to thinking ‘what is the right care at the right time?’,” he explains. “And it’s either very early intervention, when problems first occur, or it’s prevention.” He realised that one of the best places to start tackling these problems, as well as the enduring stigma around mental ill-health, is the workplace.
“Mental illness is the leading cause of absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover. It costs a huge amount of money annually for every business. But there’s also an opportunity, which is that if organisations have high-performing people, they’re more likely to hit their targets,” he says.
It felt like fertile ground for change, So in 2016, with a baby on the way and having never even read a business book, Taylor left the NHS to start Unmind. “I left with the explicit aim to build a mental health company that focuses on prevention and tells a more inspirational message about mental health, based on science and data.”
Now the business operates in three countries (the UK, the US and Australia) and is used by more than 2.5 million people across some of the biggest businesses in the world.
Lessons on leading a business
However ambitious the goal and high-minded the vision, the day-to-day role of CEO brings the same challenges as it would in any other company, says Taylor. “It can be hard to balance my job with having a young family,” he says. “If you’re a tech founder or you’re in any job with high pressure, balancing that with life can be challenging.” This has improved since the rise of working from home, he says, and in any case, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
“I find my work profoundly interesting. I get to work with incredible people, I’m deeply passionate about the topic. And the idea that we can affect positive change for anyone that has access to Unmind is motivating.”
His advice to aspiring leaders is clear. Surround yourself with talented people, embrace both risk and failures, and learn to play to your strengths. “I’ve learned it’s ok not to be great at everything, so double down on the stuff you’re good at and then fill the gaps with great people and advisors.”
Most importantly, once you’ve assembled an outstanding team, prioritise psychological safety, teach them how to manage stress proactively and create a supportive environment in which they can thrive.