Taking the lead on mental health


What can today’s HR leaders put in place to ensure employees and the business are supported?

Words by Jade Burke | Design by Theo Griffin

Pets at home logo

“We have developed a number of initiatives to maintain and improve colleague wellbeing, including partnering with the Retail Trust to provide an Employee Assistance Programme and working with organisations such as the Retail Cure and MIND to encourage people to communicate and increase support. I think it is always important to take the time to listen and understand people’s different experiences, especially given how hectic life can be. As part of this, we offer flexible working wherever possible to help people to achieve a better work and life balance.”

Louise Stonier, Chief People & Legal Officer at Pets at Home

In May 2019, Breathe HR, in its Sick Report 2019: The state of health and wellbeing in British SMEs, discovered that 40% of employees are uncomfortable telling managers that they need time off to deal with mental health. Considering that in 2016/17 there were 526,000 UK cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, reports the Great Britain Health and Safety Executive, it appears this is an issue that needs urgent attention.

In order to start to make a difference, employers can make key changes, such as providing training to provide more awareness and support. Business leaders can also show their support. The latter rings true with Louise Stonier, Chief People & Legal Officer at Pets at Home, who tells HR Grapevine: “In our business, our colleagues can visibly see that our Group CEO wants to ensure that we are creating a positive working environment.

“We have empowered our colleagues to define what mental health really means to them and we have done this through our partnership with MIND and the training that we have given to all of our managers in the business, to ensure that they are having the right conversations.”

Pets at home logo

“We have developed a number of initiatives to maintain and improve colleague wellbeing, including partnering with the Retail Trust to provide an Employee Assistance Programme and working with organisations such as the Retail Cure and MIND to encourage people to communicate and increase support. I think it is always important to take the time to listen and understand people’s different experiences, especially given how hectic life can be. As part of this, we offer flexible working wherever possible to help people to achieve a better work and life balance.”

Louise Stonier, Chief People & Legal Officer at Pets at Home

How can employers do this?
Nancy Lengthorn, Managing Partner, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Future Talent at MediaCom – a London-based marketing and advertising agency – agrees that business leaders are a key component to change. She says: “Our C-suite and senior management team have all been on mental health training (courses). This is done so that that role modelling and the right language and that stigma breaking can happen from the top down, because it’s really important that our people see senior people supporting this and knowing that they understand what mental health is and what it isn’t.”

 

Fighting the stigma
Considering the high number of individuals who choose not to share their struggles with a line manager or colleague, it’s clear that a stigma surrounding mental health is still in place. This is despite campaigns such as Mental Health Week which work to drum up more awareness of the issue and how many are affected – a figure which currently sits at one in four people every year, according to stats from the Mental Health Taskforce.

Abigail Feazey, Group HR Advisor at homeless charity The Big Issue Group believes that to tackle this stigma more support should be offered within the workplace. “We live in a high stress and fast paced world, where people often spend more time at work than they do at home so if the support is lacking at work the impact on their wellbeing can be huge,” Feazey explains.

Specsavers logo

“Partnering with our employee assistance programme provider and ACAS we are running both face-to-face and webinar mental health awareness sessions for our store partners. For our support office people we launched a wellbeing site in May this year, with tips, tools, resources and links to a variety of useful information. The mental health section of the site is the most visited and the launch of the site itself has positively impacted openness to discussion about mental health issues. Aligned to the launch of the well-being site was a programme of activities and communications. This began with Emma Tomes our Learning and Development Specialist, designing and launching mental health awareness sessions and with mental health first aider training now being arranged as our next steps for the Specsavers UK support offices.”

Mary Jane Alexander, Head of Reward and Policy, Specsavers

“If a member of staff knows their manager and HR are there to support them in a non-judgemental and practical capacity this can reduce stress in at least one section of their lives and therefore reduce absences and increase productivity.”

Using the right language
Meanwhile, Ian Howarth, HR Specialist of Wellbeing at Japanese tech giant Fujitsu UK, believes that stigma can be stamped out when terms such as ‘depression’ and ‘stress’ aren’t used so freely. “The reality is that the impact of being stressed or diagnosed with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety can be momentous,” he says. “More education is needed to draw attention to that fact that we can collectively as employers, in conjunction with the society within which we operate, help improve understanding, and support around mental health.”

Specsavers logo

“Partnering with our employee assistance programme provider and ACAS we are running both face-to-face and webinar mental health awareness sessions for our store partners. For our support office people we launched a wellbeing site in May this year, with tips, tools, resources and links to a variety of useful information. The mental health section of the site is the most visited and the launch of the site itself has positively impacted openness to discussion about mental health issues. Aligned to the launch of the well-being site was a programme of activities and communications. This began with Emma Tomes our Learning and Development Specialist, designing and launching mental health awareness sessions and with mental health first aider training now being arranged as our next steps for the Specsavers UK support offices.”

Mary Jane Alexander, Head of Reward and Policy, Specsavers

 
Mediacom logo

“About two years ago we put the Mental Health Allies programme in place, so we have 60 people in the building who have been trained to be a mental health ally. They are trained to do three things: listen, signpost and to keep people safe. Their details are all over the building, with their photos and extension numbers on posters in toilets, lifts, meeting rooms and on our intranet. In addition, we run a number of different training schemes internally; mindfulness training, things around resilience and various other things to help support people, not necessarily people who are having a difficult time, but certainly to ensure they can create the right foundation for good mental health.”

Nancy Lengthorn, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Future Talent at MediaCom

Retaining talent
If a workforce is championing a healthy attitude to mental health, coupled with the appropriate training for both managers and staff members, the business will likely be able to retain their talent far better. This is something Lengthorn points to.

She says: “If we don’t invest in mental health awareness and support then we will simply lose people from the business and they are people who might be absolutely incredible people who just happen to be having a really bad six months. Why would we want to lose that talent from our business when actually you could support them and really help them through that experience and retain that person. I think there’s a real risk to talent if you don’t create that culture where this (mental health) can be talked about openly.”

This in turn will ensure that a business continues to remain successful – for example, if its employees feel supported, engagement, performance and productivity will increase. This is something British multinational optical retail chain Specsavers’ Head of Reward and Policy also works towards. Mary Jane Alexander shares that for a business to grow and remain profitable, it all comes down to how employees are treated and supported.

She suggests: “The positive impacts of wellbeing are clear. Caring for the health and wellbeing of our people not only translates into the obvious metrics like improved absenteeism but moreover is a significant contributor to our people’s engagement, performance, productivity and ultimately an enhanced employment experience for our people and improved business success for Specsavers.”

Mediacom logo

“About two years ago we put the Mental Health Allies programme in place, so we have 60 people in the building who have been trained to be a mental health ally. They are trained to do three things; listen, signpost and to keep people safe. Their details are all over the building, with their photos and extension numbers on posters in toilets, lifts, meeting rooms and on our intranet. In addition, we run a number of different training schemes internally; mindfulness training, things around resilience and various other things to help support people, not necessarily people who are having a difficult time, but certainly to ensure they can create the right foundation for good mental health.”

Nancy Lengthorn, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Future Talent at MediaCom

Fujitsu’s Howarth also concurs: “At Fujitsu, our growth relies on the mental capability of our employees. Indeed, Fujitsu becomes successful because of the intellect and creativity of its employees – both of which, come from the mind. If our employees don’t have the capacity or space to be creative then we’re not going to be in a position to deliver the right solutions for our customers. If we’re not supporting our employees’ mental health, from a business perspective we are going to suffer.”

Making a stand
It is vital that employers make a stand and act immediately to ensure staff members do not feel alone. Whether that is by implementing more training and advice lines, or by partnering with mental health charities to offer guidance and assistance, employers have a duty of care to put in place the right support for each and every employee. Lengthorn concludes: “It’s really naïve I think for companies who think that this is a personal issue and not something they need to address because they will simply lose staff that are vital to them being a successful company.”

 

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