How Can Employers Support The Mental Wellbeing Of Their Workforce?

Date
Written by
Jody Mulvey

Each fortnight we ask professionals to dive into a different theme about the creative working world. In this week's focus, we're continuing to explore how to improve happiness at work in 2022.

Following our latest insight report, which revealed the happiness and wellbeing of our participants were lower than the national average and anxiety levels were considerably higher. We wanted to share some constructive and practical advice on how companies can best support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees in 2022.

We spoke to ShopTalk London, JustSo, Sanctus, MullenLowe Group and Accept & Proceed on their approach to mental health and wellbeing within the workplace.

James Wood, Creative Director and Co-Founder of ShopTalk London

What structures do you have in place to support your employee’s mental health? 

We have always wanted to create an environment that is enjoyable and supportive to work in. Culture and people play a huge role in helping this. Routed in how we work is the line ‘respect people and the planet along the way’ which really captures our sense that no matter what we are doing or who we are working with respecting those relationships is key.

We have a number of small initiatives we believe all ladder up to supporting mental health including flexible start/finish times, remote working (currently 2 days in the office, 3 remote), Summer hours and Wellness Day in Spring. We also have monthly 1 to 1s with everyone in the studio. This is simple 15 minute chat about how people are, if they have any concerns or any support they might need. It’s a small window to get a sense of how people are feeling individually away from larger group meetings. It allows us to address small concerns quickly and reactively, rather than waiting for formal reviews or other meetings. 

Beyond these we try and foster an open & inclusive environment that encourages a good work/life balance. It’s important that culture is a real & natural thing that runs through every employee, not just a forced set of ‘initiatives’ that might tick a box. To help with this we always look to work flexibly with our employee’s individual needs – any time off that’s needed that isn’t a holiday (be it plumber, moving house etc) is just given, not taken as a holiday. Working for longer remote periods in other countries to help with travel to see family through these COVID times etc.

Have you had to change any internal policies to accommodate the impact on mental health that the pandemic has had? If so, what new policies have you brought into place to support people’s mental health? 

I don’t think we have had to change anything specifically as the majority of the above we’ve been doing for a while. However, we did introduce a Wellness Day Holiday in 2021, following one of the Spring lockdowns. Simply it was an extra day’s holiday given to the entire studio, myself and Paul my other co-founder included, that encouraged everyone to take some time for themselves. It was hugely successful and to see the diverse range of things people got up to was inspiring. It really highlighted that mental health and wellness is very different from person to person, so encouraging people to do what works for them rather than a specific company initiative is the way forward. 

It’s important that culture is a real & natural thing that runs through every employee, not just a forced set of ‘initiatives’ that might tick a box.
James Wood, Creative Director and Co-Founder of ShopTalk London

Simon Bell, Managing Director at JustSo

What structures do you have in place to support your employee’s mental health?

We've had mental health guidelines and support in place at JustSo for a number of years. I think we're still learning in this space, but as a B Corp, it's been important for us to be on the front foot and think about how we can improve our support for our team's mental wellbeing.

Have you had to change any internal policies to accommodate the impact on mental health that the pandemic has had? If so, what new policies have you brought into place to support people’s mental health?

The main thing we've found with the pandemic is that people need flexibility - we all had different situations and challenges, and that loss of control was a real challenge. So as a company trying to build a working environment and policies that recognised this was a big thing.

It was lots of small changes for us - like introducing flexi time, being clear on guidelines for how/when we communicate with each other and encouraging people to block out time they needed outside of work, and label it as such.

Although small individually, collectively I think they make a positive difference.

What is one key piece of advice for employers trying to support their employees’ mental health?

I don't think policies alone are enough. I think you have to be engaged with your team on an individual level, and try to understand the pressures and challenges people are facing. Having an honest and open company culture definitely helps with that.

I don't think policies alone are enough. I think you have to be engaged with your team on an individual level, and try to understand the pressures and challenges people are facing.
Simon Bell, Managing Director at JustSo

James Routledge, Founder of Sanctus

Do you think workplaces are doing enough to support their employees' mental health?

A lot has changed in the last two years. Mental health support at work used to be a luxury, now it's a necessity. Plus people are taking the power back, if you had a job that fulfilled you and you were treated with dignity and respect maybe you used to count yourself lucky. Now, people are rightfully demanding jobs where their health is prioritised. Some workplaces are doing a lot, some aren't doing much at all. What matters is that people have changed what they value and are making moves to suit them.

Have you seen an increase in demand for your expertise on mental health within workplaces? (i.e. have more organisations or employees requested workshops or advice from you)

Yes and it's not just me or Sanctus, it's across the board. Demand for mental health and wellbeing support in the workplace has dramatically increased. That's only a good thing long term, even if it's painful now, it means more people are going to get the support they need and more people can live healthier, more connected, more fulfilled lives.

What is one key piece of advice for employers trying to support their employees’ mental health?

Focus on changing attitudes and behaviours first. Culture is what matters. You don't have to spend a penny to have a great mental health culture at work. It's as simple as asking "how are you?" and really listening. Role model honesty, vulnerability and compassion from the top down.

You don't have to spend a penny to have a great mental health culture at work. It's as simple as asking "how are you?" and really listening.
James Routledge, Founder of Sanctus

Loren Cook and Bronwyn Sweeney, Creative Directors of MullenLowe Group

What is one key piece of advice for employers trying to support their employees’ mental health?

We’re genuinely grateful that mental health is now openly talked about, and agencies are trying to be an ally to their employees’ mental health. The reality is our jobs can be stressful and anxiety-inducing. We work to ridiculous deadlines, tight budgets, for difficult clients whilst juggling imposter syndrome, families, social lives, side-hustles all under the crushing sense of guilt for even having a job after surviving a global pandemic. And breathe. There are no right answers, and we must remember that mental health is not one size fits all. We’re all struggling in different ways. Bring on the 4-day work week, mental health holiday days and now we are predominately working from home ensure everyone is actually taking their lunch break.

There are no right answers, and we must remember that mental health is not one size fits all. We’re all struggling in different ways.
Loren Cook and Bronwyn Sweeney, Creative Directors of MullenLowe Group

Erica Routledge, Operations Director at Accept & Proceed

What structures do you have in place to support your employee’s mental health?

As a B Corp certified company, we are required to consider our holistic efforts towards the environment, wider community, clients and of course, our teams. In our latest Impact Report assessment, we’ve found our highest scoring was towards our employees, which we’d approached in four sections, altogether making up A&P’s Total Rewards package: 

  1. Pay
  2. Benefits
  3. Learning & Development
  4. Work Environment

All of these elements need to be considered in relation to mental health, since for example, having great pay alone won’t compensate for a terrible working environment. Therefore mental health has a presence in each of these sections, and we have the following support systems in place:

  • Provision of mental health support resources (Headspace subscription, You Can Now, Health Care)
  • Holidays (23 days + bank holidays + time off between Christmas and New Year + birthday off)
  • Flexible working (WFH + flexible hours)
  • 9-day Fortnight (work/life balance)
  • Employee Voice (Town Hall sessions and annual away session to participate in future planning)

Have you had to change any internal policies to accommodate the impact on mental health that the pandemic has had? If so, what new policies have you brought into place to support people’s mental health? 

A few months before the pandemic, we’d been entertaining the idea of a 9-day fortnight in which our teams would take every other Friday off to explore new worlds and bring back fresh thinking. The ratio of a 5-day work week and 2-day rest never sat well with us, and we wanted to see how prioritising rest and exploration would impact our teams. Then the pandemic hit, and we realised what a necessity it was. After a few months of trialing the Friday Fortnight, it quickly became a favorite among the teams. Sometimes we would organise art trips on these Fridays, and other times it was treated as a life admin day. Either way, we don’t ask for a report on how these days are used—we only ask that they are used in whatever ways sustain or nurture each person. Our teams are better rested, have learned to use their time more productively and come back energised each week. This helped up significantly in getting through 2020.

Towards the end of 2021, we felt the toll of another long and difficult year. Our founder, David Johnston, had come back from a 1-month holiday in August and felt completely rejuvenated to have had the time away from work and focus solely on his family and personal well-being. This realization that time was the greatest gift one could receive inspired him to share it with the team, and so we were given an extended 3-weeks paid holiday in December to rest, recover and recharge. To truly help us disconnect from work before we went our own ways, the studio organised our 3rd annual Breathe campaign: Breathe In 2022 invited the team and the wider creative community to pause and set our intentions for the year ahead over a nourishing meditative session led by Stuart Sandeman from Breathpod. 

Whether it’s a Fortnight Friday, extended vacation or breathing session, I’ve found that A&P has always prioritised the mental health of our teams. It’s normal practice now for anyone to ask for a few minutes of breathwork prior to a meeting, take a longer lunch break to train for a half-marathon, or go on a team retreat packed with yoga, forest bathing and meditative practices. 

What is one key piece of advice for employers trying to support their employees’ mental health? 

There are several approaches and resources available to look after your team’s mental health, but one I would advise is to create, encourage and support an open work environment and place of trust. This can be done in multiple ways, from building compassionate line manager relationships to inviting leaders to attend formal mental well-being training sessions, to measuring the efficacies of new initiatives via regular happiness surveys. Soon we’ll appoint mental health first aiders within the team to focus and prioritise new methods and improvements we can take. It's amazing how much more can always be done in this area as we all become more aware and open to mental health issues.

There are several approaches and resources available to look after your team’s mental health, but one I would advise is to create, encourage and support an open work environment and place of trust.
Erica Routledge, Operations Director at Accept & Proceed

On our radar

Some further reading on the themes explored in this article:

It’s a new era for mental health at work - In this article Harvard Business Review, Kelly Greenwood and Julia Anas compares the state of mental health, stigma, and work culture in U.S. workplaces before and during the pandemic.

What has the impact of coronavirus been on mental health? - Mind discuss their research into how people have coped with their mental health during the pandemic and give tips on how to look after yourself if you're struggling.

Is the pandemic making us more empathetic? - Mike Sholars explores whether our empathy towards others has improved due to the pandemic in this Dropbox article.

Tackling the mental health impact of the COVID-19 crisis: An integrated, whole-of-society response - Research by OECD outlines potential policy changes that could address the impact of mental health within the workplace due to the pandemic.



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