Inspiring mental wellness in the workplace with the Swindon Mindful Employer Network

8th February 2021

On Wednesday 3rd February 53 members of the Swindon Mindful Employer Network (SMEN) came together online to hear from experts in the field of business and mental health.

This inspiring event was chaired by Yazmin Taylor of Swindon & Gloucestershire Mind (SG Mind) with the aim to help empower organisations - large or small - to support the mental wellbeing of their staff throughout this difficult time. 

‘As we enter the second month of a third lockdown, we understand that people are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress with lack of connection, isolation, home pressures, illness and job loss, we’re exposed to many triggers for poor mental health.’ says Yazmin.

SG Mind have been growing and developing services and creating new and inspiring content. For businesses they have developed a virtual training programme and employee support package and provide top tips, self-help videos and podcasts

Yazmin was pleased to welcome three speakers to the event who all brought learnings from their own field of work, sharing what has worked and what hasn’t worked for their organisations. There’s some really useful takeaways so please watch the video so you can get the full flavour of the talks.

Mandy Rutter - Independent Mental Health Consultant 

The first speaker has delivered over 200 workshops to businesses since the pandemic began on mental health, stress and resilience. She has gathered research from participants of these workshops, and she shares some of the illuminating results in her talk. 

She talked about how many people are struggling right now – bonds of connection are fragmented and we’re feeling incredibly isolated. Parents are needing to put their own mental health needs first, followed by the mental health of their children and finally their work needs. She talked about the essential habits for keeping ourselves in good mental health during remote working. Many employees recognise that it is important to be kind, say ‘thanks’ in the moment, take regular breaks, keep good boundaries, keep connected and hydrate and eat healthily. 

However, more worryingly people are less likely to ask for help, prioritise sleep and celebrate their own achievements and successes. The harsh inner critic has taken over many people has led to more anxiety and depression. She feels managers could take time at the end of meetings to celebrate how well people have done.

She gives insights about what we have learnt about the mental health of home workers including recognising that the way we’re working now is still difficult for many, we pay too much attention to input, many colleagues are overworking, we’re losing confidence and there’s a reluctance to ask for help from each other.

Line managers often underestimate the significance of their influence and authority, not realising how much influence that have on the mental health of their employees. Mandy felt particular emphasis should be placed on the under 30s who are finding it particularly difficult to cope. Line managers themselves are also struggling to weave together wellbeing, mental health and performance management with too much focus on transactional communication. 

The issue of psychological safety was raised: ‘A sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass reject or punish someone for speaking up’. Most employees would be too afraid to speak up and line managers need to be aware of this when talking to staff and really listen rather than making assumptions or judgements.

Alison Garbutt – Head of Strategic Projects at WHSmith 

Alison poignantly shared how she came involved in mental health after a friend and colleague tragically died of suicide. It made her realise that she didn’t understand how to look after her own mental health or that of her team.

She developed a 3-part mental health plan for WHSmith which focused on 1. awareness training and stigma reduction, 2. support – a least to same level of physical and 3. a mentally healthy culture. In the light of the increased pressures of the pandemic, they added two new objectives around cultural change and financial wellbeing.

They worked closely with 3 mental health charities – Place2Be, Campaign Against Living Miserably CALM, MQ – transforming mental health through research. They also raised awareness of support service available to staff via a wellbeing notice board and information about their employee assistance line.

WHSmith staff shared personal stories about mental health via their intranet. One employee, Lucy says, ‘I have learnt and am still learning to wear my anxiety as a badge of honour. Mental health is not a stigma. It does not define you. Embrace it, harness it and use it to your advantage.’

WHSmith found that their training has had a positive impact on employees given them more confidence to start confidence and increasing knowledge and understanding of mental health issues. Training staff to become mental health first-aiders has been transformational and all managers undertake a half day training course to be mental health aware. She also recommended the free MHFA Line Managers Resource as essential reading for organisations. More employees sought anonymous support from the employee assistance line.

Sheila Lord - Founder of BMR Health and Wellbeing 

Sheila explains how wellbeing can be a systematic and measurable business process and outlined the legal requirements for workplace mental health in the UK. 

The ISO45003 framework is due to be released in mid-2021. This framework, agreed by over 72 countries, centres around how to manage ‘Psychological Health and Safety at work – managing Pychosocial Risk’. This will be a major game changer in the arena of workplace mental health, and it is useful to understand the potential consequences for businesses who fail to meet these requirements.

Looking at the size of the problem - the costs of mental ill health in the UK is estimated at £42-£45bn (Source: D&T Oct 2020). The average cost per employee is £1700 per year (Source: D&T Oct 2020).

Some pretty chilling stats include: Globally, there are 3, 064 death by suicide each day. That is 128 per hour, 1 person every 2 minutes (WHO/Worldometer). In the UK approx. 18 people per day died by suicide in 2018 – 75% men and 25% women (Source: Samaritans)

What is a psychologically healthy workplace? One which works to prevent harm, promote flourishing, mitigate illness, positive relationships, meaningfulness, positive relationships, engagements, sleep and accomplishment. By contrast, what are psychological hazards in the workplace? Areas to consider are workload, autonomy, clarity, support, relationship conflict, reward and recognition, change consultation and organisational justice.

Claudia finishes up by saying, ‘People are our greatest assets. So where is the asset management? In the long run, you get more from your people if you look after them’.  

This event was delivered by Business West, in partnership Swindon & Gloucestershire Mind and Swindon Borough Council.

Next 2021 Mindful Employer event dates for your diary: 1st April, 9th June, 8th September and 17th November.

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