Mental health and wellbeing
3 ways to a mental health and wellbeing strategy
Only five to ten years ago, a wellbeing strategy looked like apples in the office, yoga at lunchtime, a cycle to work scheme and gym memberships. Generally, this was run by HR. Two to three years ago, due to a culture change in the UK regarding the importance of mental health, some proactive work from Mental Health First Aid England and some senior leaders in health and safety, MHFA joined the suite of wellbeing services any right thinking organisation would offer.
Here at the Healthy Work Company, we are lucky enough to be able to get an oversight of what many of the UK’s best businesses are doing in this area, and we find ourselves working iteratively to be a few steps ahead – looking at best practice and seeing where ideas work really well as well as some of the problems with some of the assumptions made about bringing certain types of training in.
Our progress has to some extent mirrored yours – and in the first instance, all we were asked for was Mental Health First Aid training. Then we quickly developed training for managers, looking at how to manage their very different legal duties in this area, which we ran for Eurostar, West Midland Trains, Vertex, MAN Truck and Bus and other organisations. Last year I was delighted to be asked to work with organisations on their wellbeing strategies and this has been the most fantastic work for me personally because I am very nosy about how organisations work and I get very excited about what can be made possible by understanding their employee’s specific concerns. This has led us to running focus groups and wellbeing surveys – integrating the HSE stress risk assessment approach but also understanding that individual wellbeing is not just formed through work.
We have identified several different ways of working – and I think it is interesting that the approach an organisation adopts in this area, often reflects the services they offer and certainly reflects their culture. So in putting this together, this has been really to show that there are a multitude of possible ways – and, with a few health warnings, they are all valid.
1. The top down strategic approach
An academic and theoretical approach this seems to be the most valid but doesn’t suit everyone and can get very mired in corporate politics. Where is the ‘burning platform’ to address this area? Having produced a strategy, is your organisation actually motivated to take action?
The strategic approach requires you to:
- Build a strong consensus at the top that this is something you all want to do. Having said that, if you are prepared to go out on a limb and commission the work yourself, we have not found an organisation yet who has not been fascinated by the results of what their employees have to say. Whatsmore, they have proven to be more willing than ever to make some changes and we have worked with a few very brave health and safety people who have put themselves on the line and had great feedback (and kudos!) as a result.
- It does require you to find out what your employees think about their own wellbeing and the way their work impacts it. This may be via a survey, feedback groups or mining your existing HR Engagement survey and adding questions to it. Does your organisation offer opportunities for autonomy and make sure that work is within the capability of your teams, but still stretching? How do people balance home and work life? Is their work space fit for purpose? We have had some fascinating results from work in this area with answers not necessarily reflecting what senior managers expected. (It’s worth noting that in some organisations it is best to position this as a ‘wellbeing survey’. In others, where compliance is more important, they may prefer to ally it to the legal duty to do a ‘stress risk assessment’).
- Build a strategy around the issues identified from the survey – remember this absolutely requires buy in from senior managers across the organisation – often it is issues such as inconsistency of management, poor communication, a perceived lack of inclusion, proper reward planning, feeling unsafe, or resources which are not fit for purpose as well as the general requirement for people to be trained in having more effective conversations about mental health. These are far reaching issues and these are what will make a really difference to your organisational productivity and happiness.
- At this point many organisations use members of their teams who have a personal interest in this area to form wellbeing champions or ambassadors. The danger to avoid here is that the strategy is a result of the employee feedback and not their individual hobby horses – but very useful to get some ground support.
- Your strategy will almost certainly reflect a need for some training (awareness/promotion), some prevention tactics – and it should also look at intervention – is your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)/occupational health approach fit for purpose? We work with an associate who has a specialism in this area and believes that many EAPs are not good value for money for organisations. Regardless of your EAP, is there a case for adding some face to face counselling in? Should you run a fitness programme such as that offered by Virgin – highly successful at Eurostar. Are health kiosks a good way forward? What are your emerging risks – often diabetes and the menopause? How does sickness absence data fit in? Are flu jabs a good idea for example?
- Your training and awareness strategy for mental health should fit into 2) below.
2. A mental health training and awareness strategy only
It can be very difficult to tackle the root causes of stress if your organisation puts it into the ‘too difficult’ box. Some health and safety managers are not empowered to look more strategically at wellbeing or know there is a way to go before their business is ready to do so. In this case a training and awareness plan is a great start and will make a difference to culture.
As with any training needs analysis, our recommendation is that you take the right content and deliver it in the right way for the right audience. I do most of our board training having been on a board myself, but we are always careful to pick the right trainer for the right organisation having worked across a wide range.
We believe training should look at these areas:
Directors – generally these can be fit into a board meeting. Look at what mental health is and the business case for companies looking to proactively manage this area. Why it matters to them personally – we give them a little exercise around their own resilience to do.
People Managers – this should give them the capability to spot the signs of mental distress as well as confidence in having a conversation – understanding their own legal duties which are different to those of a First Aider.
First Aid – MHFA is the course which has the most traction in here but there are options emerging. March on Stress do a course called STRAW and there are even some nascent qualifications in First Aid for Mental Health emerging. Note – it is really important that you agree roles and boundaries when you build this in. Think carefully about whether managers should also be First Aiders or whether there is a conflict of interest there.
General Mental health awareness – this can be done by face-to-face sessions (often back to back, or a whole company session at a Town Hall) or via e-learning/making videos available.
Specialist training – if your organisation deals in any way with traumatic events – a high level of suicide for example, you need an approach for this which will include something such as TRIM.
3. Iterative approach
I can’t really criticise this, as the ‘suck it and see’ (sorry ‘iterative’) way of working has been one I have used my whole career! For most organisations, given the prevalence of Mental Health First Aid, this is their first port of call. I have seen this approach work incredibly well at West Midlands Trains as a catalyst for culture change – largely due to an incredible couple of cohorts of MHFAiders. Some organisations, for example The Telegraph, offer the training to anyone who wants it – all with a view to bring about culture change.
I am a huge believer that culture trumps strategy and therefore I can see the benefit to this approach. It works with a ‘just let’s get started’ more informal organisation – or one where there really is no wriggle room regarding strategy. There is a massive health warning on it though. As per the HSE and IOSH reports on this topic AND the excellent new guidance from MHFA England – you do need to consider role and boundaries of a first aider – or just don’t appoint them – use it as training anyone can sign up for. Also, consider carefully whether this is the right course for your managers. Am I approaching you with my mental health issue as my manager (with resulting legal responsibilities for that manager) or as a Mental Health First Aider?
(Our next piece will be on different processes for peer support networks – drawing on our learnings from organisations who have implemented this in widely different ways).
There are many different ways to implement an iterative approach in terms of training and initiatives – for example asking your wellbeing champs to come up with the plan – but do loop back and look at what you have learnt and perhaps them move up to strategy two or three as a result!
Let us know your thoughts, and if you have a 4th or 5th approach, in the comments below! (There are five ways to wellbeing after all!).
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In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.
We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.