Mental health is important to me on both a personal and professional level. As CEO my aim is to build a happy, successful and thriving business. One of the great joys of my role is the ability to make a positive impact on matters that are close to my heart, such as this.
I know we may not always be ‘happy’; many of my colleagues have highly pressured jobs, speaking daily to customers or suppliers, some of whom might, at times, be in a difficult position themselves, which can be challenging. According to research at least one in four workers are expected to experience common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. The sad truth of the matter is that people are fearful of speaking up about how they feel due to the stigma attached, for fear of embarrassment and for not knowing who they can turn to. Hence, I believe it is incredibly important to support employees with mental health problems so we can create a compassionate and empathetic environment for everyone, where people feel able to talk openly about issues they may find difficult, and get the help they need to get through. In so doing we will build that happy, successful and thriving business. My first real exposure to the practical tools available to support work colleagues was through talking to a most amazing Yorkshire woman called Kim about her experiences, her home and her work life. Kim is a Mental Health First Aider and she truly opened my eyes to just how much help it is possible for a company to offer its staff. I wish every company could have a Kim!
How do mental health and business fit together? Don’t targets come first?
I do not view mental health as a ‘nice to have’ or optional subject, something to think about when you are quiet or less busy. Like our values of honesty, humility, discipline and work rate, mental health is a lens through which we should always look at life. If I were to be really corporate about it I could argue that unhappy staff make bad decisions, which is bad for the customer and bad for the bottom line. But I truly don’t see it that way at all. I genuinely want my colleagues to be happy, to enjoy their jobs and to have a comfortable work/life balance. Strong values and resilience will, as it happens, get us through difficult times and help us hit targets. But for us as a firm mental health and values come first, business comes second.
In August 2019, we launched a Healthy Minds Hub for all our staff, exploring mental health conditions. It helps people spot the signs of poor mental health; offers tips for managers on supporting employees; self-help; a stress question-naire; signposting to websites such as Mind, and the other charities who deal with mental health issues. In September 2019 we introduced a Mental Health First Aider Programme, with 16 trained employees across the Company (thanks Kim!). Mental Health First Aiders are available to provide guidance to employees wishing to speak with someone. They are also responsible for promoting good mental health within the organis-ation. We also have dedicated Mental Health Awareness days that are promoted to all employees, and run ongoing mood questionnaires, twice a week, in order to help us assess well-being and ‘temperature check’ our employees. Additionally, all staff receive private health care, which offers 24-hours GP support, plus access to the Strong Minds hub without a need for a GP referral. We have significantly expanded our counselling offering of free mental health support to all staff and their families.
How do you currently support your employees’ well-being and what further initiatives do you plan to put in place?
Firstly we are trying to be more visible about mental health. In addition to the above initiatives we produced a booklet for all staff on Wellness. We walk every new joiner through the available support on their very first day in the company and are doing things like this interview! Some of the things we are doing that are perhaps less visible include supporting our employees’ well-being in a number of ways: we aim to provide a good work/life balance through a generous holiday allowance (increasing with length of service and ability to buy or sell holidays); we have a policy where employees can request a flexible approach to their working day so they can meet demands of their personal and professional lives; and we have also improved our maternity, paternity and adoption leave policies to offer more people, more money and longer time off. This might sound like a blunt tool but cash and time off can be a tremendous help! We regularly review our policies to ensure we remain a family-friendly company that supports employees’ work/life balance. By providing mental health training and support, and by continuing to monitor how our staff are feeling, we will help each other come together to build strong, happy and healthy minds.