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When actions speak louder than words

Awareness of mental health in the workplace is important, but real action needs to be taken by employers to ensure wellbeing is at the top of the agenda and not just something we talk about.

Article by Wendy Walton, Head of Global Private Clients & member of the Leadership Team at BDO
well being

According to the Mental Health Foundation a staggering 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers around £225bn.With these statistics in mind, it has never been more important to shine a spotlight on mental health and remove the stigma that can still be associated with mental health challenges.  However, awareness and understanding of this type of problem is only the first step in a strategy that really aims to tackle the issue.Whilst having policies in place is very important, it is just as important to ensure that those policies are properly embedded in an organisation and not just paid lip service to.  

Having worked in the accountancy profession since the age of 18, and climbed the ladder to Partner and part of the leadership team at BDO, I am well aware of the pressures that can sometimes come with having to balance a demanding job and personal commitments such as having children or elderly relatives to care for. Tight deadlines and the need to juggle multiple clients with different requirements and expectations can put a lot of stress on an individual, and I myself  had what I refer to as a ‘wellbeing intervention’ a number of years ago. That is when I had to admit to myself that something had to give.

 I began to take my husband’s advice and started to go running with my friends. Needless to say, I have caught the running bug and I am extremely proud to say I even ran the London marathon in 2017! I am now a firm believer in the advantages of exercise for both physical and mental health, and therefore see real benefit in initiatives that encourage this in the workplace. At BDO we have invested a huge amount in what we call our ‘wellbeing strategy’ and have wellbeing champions in all 17 of our office locations. Their role is to ensure that our messaging and activities around wellbeing are being heard and actioned throughout the firm. Recently we launched our second annual step challenge, for which we had 1078 people take part, in 251 teams, with a huge 265 million steps across 30-days! Activities like this really encourage people to get away from their desks at lunchtime and be more active before, after and during work.

 It is important to acknowledge that sometimes work related stress is inevitable, particularly if you are an individual who gets stressed easily (which many of us do). In 2018 we made the decision to offer ‘performance under pressure training’ also known as ‘resilience training’ to all of our 5000 employees by the end of June this year including our new intakes of trainees. Delivering this type of training so early on in their careers will hopefully make our future workforce even better equipped to manage potential stress going forward. There may also be times when someone is in need of support but we can’t necessarily see it. Mental health should be treated as seriously as a person’s physical wellbeing. Our leadership team and unifying culture group (the group of people who lead our wellbeing strategy) have all taken part in official mental health first-aid training to help them get a better understanding of these issues and how they may impact us both inside and outside of the workplace.

 By the end of 2019 we plan to have mental health first aiders in each of our 17 locations just as you would traditional first-aiders; and whilst they may not be able to spot every issue their peers might be having, they will be much better equipped to offer support in the workplace.

The rise in occasions such as Mental Health Awareness Week and World Mental Health day are doing incredible things to help more people recognise the seriousness of mental health and its challenges but awareness is nothing without action. If someone was to ask me how to keep on top of their mental health this would be my advice:

  • Keep active. It can take a LOT of motivation at times but keeping active is so important. I personally love running but experiment and find something that works for you and fits with your schedule. Experts believe regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, feel better, and even look better.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask yourself if you are struggling with   your mental health. I know that a large part of the battle is admitting that you do need help. Knowing how to spot signs of too much stress for example will help you to get the help you need. You will probably be surprised at how many others feel  the same way.
  • Find out what help is available. Your employer should communicate to you the support they offer but it can be overlooked. If you feel comfortable asking the question, find out what support you can get.  It is not a weakness to ask for help.  A lot of workplaces now have counselling services or similar support networks.

I am proud to be a part of a firm which has made mental health and wellbeing a priority, and who will continue to keep it at the top of our agenda.