John West & Candlefox | HR leaders reveal how they are supporting staff mental health

HR leaders reveal how they are supporting staff mental health

The topic of employee mental health has been thrown into the spotlight once again in line with Mental Health Awareness Week which is taking place between May 10-16, 2021.

It is an annual event that acts as an opportunity for the UK to focus on achieving good mental health, which could apply to both personal and professional life.

And data has shown the impact that the coronavirus crisis has had on employee mental health in the pandemic year.

Close Brothers’ Expecting the unexpected: a spotlight on preparing for a crisis report found that more than half (51%) of employees have experienced an increase in worries relating to their mental health due to the pandemic.

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The study explained that this is a 24% increase since May 2020, which suggests that supporting employee mental health should be a top priority for both employers and HR now more than ever.

HR Grapevine spoke to people experts at John West – the well-known canned fish brand – and Candlefox – an Australian education marketplace – to find out how they are supporting employee mental health.

John West

Linda Mountford, Northern Europe Commercial HR Director, John West Foods Ltd, told HR Grapevine that supporting staff mental health has historically been a priority at the canned fish brand, but even more so in the pandemic year as staff flocked to work from home in line with Government guidance.

She explained: “We knew that during the lockdown periods, CREW (employees) had been under different pressures, both from home and work-life perspective, and we wanted to ensure we did everything we could to support. We appreciated that ‘everyone may be in the same storm’ but not in the same boat. We wanted to address this by offering a flexible and inclusive strategy that has been shaped by feedback from our CREW.”

During this time, the UK-based employer has implemented a range of different measures sought to support staff mental health and general wellbeing. Giving staff greater flexibility to help relieve some of the pressures of homeschooling and caring for shielding relatives is one aspect of this. Another is introducing a Friday lunchtime finish every other week to give “everyone the opportunity to have further respite”. John West’s HR lead added: “CREW could use this time to focus on their personal wellbeing, such as doing exercise or spending more time outdoors and connecting with nature.”

But this is not all. The employer also engaged the support of a mental health and wellbeing provider to work on building wellbeing into the firm’s HR and business strategy. Mountford explained: “As part of this, we launched regular wellness webinars and confidential, one-to-one mental health sessions with an external transformational coach via Zoom. These sessions provided our CREW with the opportunity to speak to a professional to help them deal with any challenges that came up and create action plans to solve individual problems quickly, before they became team or company-wide. Coaches held space for each individual, allowing them to be heard and supported – all in a completely confidential and non-judgmental environment.”


Lauren Valent, Head of People and Culture at Candlefox, told HR Grapevine that the education marketing firm has always believed that for Candlefox – and for the UK team at CoursesOnline – to be a great place to work, having access to quality mental health support is imperative, rather than a “nice to have”.

And there are many ways that the firm strives to offer support to its staff members. From giving them access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), a dedicated company psychologist, mental health days and weekly meditation sessions, Candlefox has a broad mental health offering for its employees.

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Valent explained: “We use the above tools to ensure that our team members feel as if they are in a safe space wherever they are, and so that they know we are always happy to discuss mental health with them.

“Investing in your employee’s wellbeing is crucial for any organisation that wants to be successful. Failure to do so will lead to a lack of productivity, employee burnout and eventually a turnover of otherwise skilled staff who will be valued more elsewhere," she explained.

Whilst the above are just examples of how two employers are supporting employee mental health, there are lots of methods that employers have been known to deploy. How do you support employee mental health in your organisation? Let us know in the comments below…

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