Today is ‘Time to Talk Day,’ a day dedicated to normalising the impacts of mental health problems and tackling the shame and silence that hold so many mental health sufferers back from seeking support. It’s estimated that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem, and yet as a society, we still struggle to talk about it and share our experiences.
The causes of mental health problems are wide and varied, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. However, what can help in all situations, is sufferers knowing that they’re not alone and not the only person in the world struggling. Having someone to turn to for support can make all the difference an individual needs to find a way through.
At Energise, we believe that coming to work shouldn’t be something that negatively impacts, or creates, a mental health problem. We actively engage our employees in conversations about stress, anxiety and managing personal and others’ expectations so as to help them take ownership of the situation and figure their own way out of it, knowing that they’re fully supported by their team.
We take the approach that each of our employees can bring their whole selves to work and that includes any struggles they’re experiencing outside of work. Anyone who’s tried to focus on something when it feels as though their world is falling apart knows that it’s impossible to cut off fully from how we’re feeling in the moment. We can only do our best work and serve others if our own needs are being met first. To us, it’s not a distraction to spend time talking and coaching each other through these situations, it’s one of the most important things we can do.
As a result of our focus on improving employee well-being, we’ve recently reduced contracted hours from 40 per week to 37.5, with no loss of salary, and increased fully paid sick-, maternity- and paternity-pay so that employees don’t have to be thinking about their financial situation when their minds should be on other things. We’ve introduced complete flexi-time so that employees can choose when they work their hours around their other commitments and interests. And we’re introducing a phased time off in lieu (TOIL) policy, whereby we’re increasing the number of hours that an employee gets back as TOIL for any overtime worked above and beyond their contracted hours, starting at 60% and working up to 100% within the next 5 years.
What our team say
When I reached out to the team to ask them for some quotes to share in this blog about how supported they felt they were working at Energise, I wasn’t surprised to receive comments like:
“Energise have always been clear that everyone’s personal health is a priority to them. They’ve always been flexible in how I work in order to accommodate when I’m not as well, both in terms of hours and workload. They’ve been supportive as opposed to frustrated, and I’m able to talk openly about my challenges. In other organisations, my health would make me worry more about being able to hold down my job and being a burden to a team. At Energise, I don’t feel defined by my health, I feel I am considered a valuable member of the team regardless.”
…and (after losing someone close to them)…
“Throughout those months I was constantly provided with time, space and support (during and outside work) to help deal with the emotions and grief I had. All of this was without pressure to work or think about work, the focus was simply on me feeling better.”
“In terms of having an enjoyable place to work with a fabulous team, Energise is nailing it!”
What I wasn’t so prepared for were the comments that came back along the lines of, “Good, but not good enough.” Several responses referred to employees not being “enabled to spot any flags of poor mental health and also how to deal with it.” There were multiple requests to spend more time as a team and in 1:1s talking about mental health, the impacts it has on individuals and the role Energise plays in creating and supporting that. Our employees admitted they find it difficult to openly talk about this, as if there’s a perceived weakness for acknowledging their difficulties and vulnerabilities that they fear will make them a less valuable employee.
As an advocate of work being a place for employees to fully express their potential, I understand how important it is for us to delve deeper into this conversation. I’m nothing but grateful to have had this opportunity to start to uncover how our employees feel about working at Energise, how supported they are and what more we can do to allow them to flourish.
The role of an employer
So, where does the obligation end? How much of a responsibility does an employer have to support its employees with managing their mental health? Well, I think those are important questions and discussions to be having within our teams. While we can make decisions about resourcing, training, emotional and mental support and acceptable profitability margins as an employer, we can’t force our employees to take ownership of their mental health.
Much like the concept of preparing your child to tackle any obstacle they meet on their path, as opposed to clearing the path of all obstacles for them so that they never have to struggle, as employers we can only help to prepare our employees for what life and work challenges they go through. We can help them to understand the impacts of their lifestyle choices on maintaining an optimistic mindset. We can provide them with access to free support when they’re struggling (such as Employee Assistance Programmes which we provide to all employees).
We can ensure that we make sustainable decisions about resourcing our workforce so as not to expect our team to work more hours than they’re contracted to. We can train up members of the team as Mental Health First Aiders (we have two) to help spot early signs of mental health issues and help support the affected employee. We can reach out with kind words and cups of tea and offers of support.
But we can’t own other people’s mental health; each person’s journey to better mental health starts with a personal choice to take that support and act on the recommendations of the people trained to support them. At the end of the day, we each have to take ownership of our own mental health, make use of the support that’s available to us and do our best to find a way through, however long that takes, however slow the journey may be and however much we tell ourselves we should be doing it better/faster/with less support.
What could you do today?
In aid of Time to Talk Day 2020, here are three things you can do today to make time to talk about mental health:
Reach out to a friend who’s been a bit quieter than usual and find out how they’re doing.
Open up to someone you trust about something you’ve been struggling about (and don’t be surprised if they then share their struggles, too!)
Raise the topic at work – suggest you go on a Mental Health First Aid course or set up Mental Health Buddies where people get paired up to support each other with addressing mental health challenges.
Find out more about Time to Talk Day
For resources and support visit Mind