The words “mental health” are definitely more widely used now than when I started my career 13 years ago, but the more I talk to people is the more I realise that mental health in the workplace and the wellbeing of employees still isn’t being prioritised by companies.

I think, regardless of the shape or size of your organisation, you have a responsibility to care about the people who work with you and surround you – even if only virtually at the moment – every day. Why wouldn’t you care?! It’s beyond me.

When I set up EAST VILLAGE. over seven years ago, my ambition was to create a business centred around team culture. For me, this was never just about Friday drinks and being able to wear trainers in the office; it was about everything that the business – and every person in it – stood for. I have always thought that the way that I lead and manage this business and team is as much a reflection of its culture as the team “perks”, and how seriously we take mental health in the workplace is a huge part of that!

The latest PR and Communications Census released by the PRCA showed that over 34% of the UK’s pros have suffered from or been diagnosed with mental ill-health. It’s a growing issue and one that we absolutely have to address.

I’ve always been a pretty resilient person emotionally, but that certainly doesn’t mean I can sit in my ivory tower pondering why everyone doesn’t think or react like me. That’s where so many managers and leaders go wrong; they expect their workforce to be the same as them, and that’s toxic if ever I heard it. As a business, EAST VILLAGE. has always prioritised the team’s mental health in the workplace and general wellbeing. We haven’t always got it right and we’ve learnt a lot along the way, but I’m just one person. There are no partners, investors or Non-Exec Directors at EAST VILLAGE. It’s just me and I’m only human. But I think admitting that you get it wrong or can do more is the first step. If the good intentions are there, that’s the foundation that you build on.

With that in mind, I thought it would be the right thing for me to share what we do at EAST VILLAGE. to focus on mental health in the workplace and share those experiences, in that hope that others not only follow suit but share their learnings too. So please do get in touch if any of this resonates with you or if you have suggestions for other great ways to tackle this incredibly important issue.

Even pre-pandemic, EAST VILLAGE. embraced flexible working. I’ve always been a pretty flexible and understanding boss (hopefully the team agrees), but when Nicole came back from maternity leave after her first baby, I wanted to ensure that this business – her employer – was embracing her new chapter and new level of responsibility. And, in turn, that we were also levelling the playing field for team members who didn’t have children. This is a big part of the point for me; there shouldn’t be discrimination – even if positive – I believe you have to build a business that’s fair and works for everyone. It’s a challenge at times, don’t get me wrong, but that’s no excuse for not doing it and by communicating with the team, you’re able to open up conversations about how the business can better support their mental health and wellbeing.

We’re big talkers at EV. and I have always encouraged everyone to be open – whilst also still very respectful to one other – which means we have a lot of emotions in this (now virtual) office. Tears, cheerleading, anger… the whole spectrum, but that’s important for everyone to understand that you don’t have to put on a show. Yes, be professional and show up for clients, but if you’re struggling let the team know and we’ll do everything we can to not just make you feel better, but also make your day less stressful.

This also comes back to me and giving the team a chance to feedback their thoughts and feelings. I’m always very forthcoming asking the team’s advice and to share their thoughts, but I know that sometimes it’s not that easy to say out loud. So, a few years ago we implemented an ‘If I were boss for the day’ anonymous box, where people can put suggestions in for how they’d change the business; big and small. We’ve had everything from making sure there’s oat milk as well as normal milk, to working a four-day week, right through to having more regular appraisals that help people track their goals better. I love getting this insight and I’d like to think the team loves being heard. Whilst I can’t make everything happen, it gives me great food for thought!

Understanding the team is such an important part of running a successful and fruitful business. This includes understanding what management styles work best for each person, as this can have a big impact on mental health in the workplace and I recently found via Ben Francis, Gymshark. It’s a great personality quiz that helps you better understand your strengths and triggers, so something that I also asked the team to complete too so that we can look at adapting the way that we work to suit their needs. It might be something as simple as someone preferring to be briefed in writing rather than verbally, but understanding these factors can massively reduce their levels of stress and anxiety and, of course in turn increase productivity.

We have processes and procedures in place so that there’s a base level for everything we do, but everyone has a slightly different style of management depending on how they learn and absorb information, especially when it comes to feedback. I want to get the best out of people and whilst sometimes I have to play “bad cop”, I am always mindful of how things are delivered and what the likely outcome is. One size does not fit all when it comes to management.

Conducting something like a personality quiz can really start to open up people’s understanding of themselves, which is a great way to start tapping into their wellbeing. We have also signed up to Lumien, which is an online weekly quiz that works out everyone’s personal wellbeing score based on key areas like stress, financial worry, distraction, relationships, nutrition, sleep, and so much more! Hattie (as Head of Happiness) and I then receive an anonymised report with advice for processes that might help support the team shout there be any recurring themes. It’s super cost-effective and is billed per team member, so I’d definitely encourage any business owner to explore this!

This doesn’t just apply to me, it goes for the managers in the team too. Ensuring that people have the right training – from people management to coaching – can really improve mental health in the workplace. We make time for training, both formal and informal, and Hattie and I are about to join a brilliant Mental Health First Aider course with Altruist, which will further deepen our understanding of how we can support our team. This kind of training will be opened up to everyone too, as I think it’s important for them to learn how to not just support each other, but their own mental health and resilience too.

Personal development is definitely a great way to improve mental health in the workplace and TeamEV has always been actively encouraged to get involved in networking groups, organisations and charities. I lead by example, of course, but let people dedicate proper time to getting involved in things that can open up their networks, help them develop their skills, and build their confidence too. We’ve never considered any of this Corporate Social Responsibility; it’s part and parcel of the EAST VILLAGE. values.

When it comes to mental health in the workplace, I am the first to admit that it’s a case of learning on the job, but having a team that feels comfortable talking about how they feel and what will make their lives easier is so crucial. Mental health cannot be a taboo subject – we see the impact of this way too often with our client Living Well UK; people come to them for support at the point of crisis, when things have got really bad, and it shouldn’t be this way. Anyone should feel that they can access advice and Living Well UK, which is a consortium of over 30 mental health charities in Birmingham, shows just how much support is out there. TeamEV has access to free counselling and therapy – and is actively encouraged to take up that offer, even if they’re just feeling “not great”. Talking is so important and most people don’t know that there’s free advice and support via Living Well’s helpline. We’re working alongside them, the NHS and charity Birmingham Mind to promote this phone number – and its accompanying email address and LiveChat – far and wide so get in touch and tell everyone you know. As long as they’re registered with a GP in Birmingham or Solihull they can access this support: 0121 262 3555. As well as Able Futures, which offers similar tailored support for up to nine months to anyone across the UK; they just have to be over 16 and a UK tax payer.

So, what are the next steps for EAST VILLAGE. and improving mental health in the workplace? Alongside my Mental Health First Aider training, I have created our ‘Happy & Healthy’ mental health policy, so that this remains front and centre of the business. It has to be treated as a priority; scrutinised, monitored and evaluated. I’m also ensuring that both current team members and future ones know how seriously we take their mental health and wellbeing so inductions and training will focus on mental health in the workplace, including a dedicated ‘Happy & Healthy’ section in our quarterly #iGotThis reviews. Plus our ‘TeamEV Perks’ will continue to promote the importance of mental health and wellbeing; from open forums to talk about how you’re feeling and days off when you need them, to access to therapy and flexible working arrangements.

Here’s to a better work/life balance that gives us all a much better overall level of wellbeing but makes our businesses much happier and more productive too!

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