Following the pandemic, many of us have had to adapt to major changes in the workplace and it’s not surprising that this has impacted employee wellbeing – indeed, uncertainty breeds anxiety. That’s why this Mental Health Awareness Week I wanted to take some time to consider what we as business leaders can do to support staff’s mental health as we transition to a ‘new normal’.
1. Celebrate ‘difference’ and create a sense of belonging
Businesses need to think creatively about how to create a culture where employees feel like they belong and can be their true selves at work. At Britvic, we have seen the positive impact this can have on people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Our employee-led Diversity and Inclusion action groups form the foundation of our Belonging network, including B-Diverse: promoting ethnic diversity and inclusion in the business, B-Empowered: supporting our journey to gender equality through the development and retention of great female talent, B-Proud: championing inclusion and celebrating diversity, offering advice and support to LGBTQ+ employees and straight allies, and B-Seen: being passionate about attracting, retaining and championing employees with disabilities. As executive sponsor for our B-Proud network, I have seen first-hand how celebrating difference and creating a sense of belonging not only improves workplace wellbeing but also helps employees to feel heard and better connected to their colleagues.
2. Encourage early intervention by training staff and equipping them with the right skills
Early intervention can minimise the impacts of poor mental health and stress by ensuring employers are given the right support as early on as possible. This means it is important that team leaders and managers are able to pick up on signs that someone might be struggling. HR can play an important role here by introducing training which equips managers with the softer skills required to have sensitive conversations in the right way.
At Britvic, we have provided almost 40 of our employees with Mental Health First Aid England training. This means they can be mental health first aiders - helping their colleagues and directing them to the right kind of support. Additionally, we have over 30 Wellbeing Warriors – volunteer employees who are trained in all the support and services that Britvic offers and are able to point colleagues in the direction of the right resources.
3. Reduce the stigma surrounding mental health by encouraging open and honest conversations
Despite vast progress in our understanding and awareness of mental health difficulties in recent years, talking openly about mental health can still be difficult. Encouraging frequent, open conversations about mental health can help to reduce the stigma around it and make people feel more comfortable speaking out when they’re struggling.
Employers must lead by example by asking questions that create a transparent environment where colleagues feel empowered to talk about their mental health and wellbeing. A good starting point is encouraging senior leaders and managers to talk about their own journeys with mental health, if comfortable doing so, as well as inviting guest speakers to provide practical advice and tips. These types of initiatives act as good icebreakers which not only help to get people talking but also normalises mental health difficulties and the idea that it’s ok not to feel ok.
At Britvic, we also consider ways of actively promoting an open culture where people are encouraged to talk about how they feel. Last year, for example, we joined forces with Andy’s Man Club to urge men to talk about their mental health given that, like many manufacturing businesses, our supply chain is predominantly male. Initiatives like this help employees to see the benefits in ‘opening up’ rather than it being perceived as a weakness.
4. Stay connected in the digital era
As organisations have adopted the Government’s ‘living with covid’ strategy, there’s been a significant rise of remote, flexible, agile and hybrid working models. While this can improve employee wellbeing, providing more flexibility and encouraging a better work-life balance, it also carries with it a risk of increased loneliness as people spend more time alone at home rather than connecting with colleagues. To help address this, we have invested in digital infrastructure and technology that enables our employees to connect anytime, anywhere, and collaborate seamlessly. HR leaders should also consider investing in training to ensure that everyone has the confidence and skills to use technology effectively.
We have also introduced a dynamic working manifesto, Working Well, that focuses on output rather than hours. As part of this, we have redesigned our working environment, positioning the office as a space to co-create, collaborate and socialise rather than just a place to work. For example, tables in strategic formats take centre stage, so that colleagues can interact, brainstorm, and communicate openly when they’re in the office.
It’s important that employers recognise the value of reconnecting informally and we encourage employees to take time to catch up with their teams over coffee or lunch. It’s not about being in the office all the time but having planned purposeful days when employees come in to collaborate with others and get meaningful, social connection.
5. Be proactive and promote mental health awareness in the organisation
Last, but by no means least, workplaces should take proactive steps to ensure they have initiatives in place which promote mental health awareness within the organisation. Rather than just a reactive approach which focuses on supporting employees when they’re already facing difficulties, HR professionals and business leaders should actively promote positive wellbeing and introduce purposeful initiatives.
Across our markets we offer a variety of programmes that support our employees’ wellbeing and encourage healthier lifestyle choices. These programmes provide support for life’s everyday moments – for example in
Great Britain and Ireland we provide an employee assistance helpline available 24/7 to provide everything from guidance on handling the stresses of everyday life to specialist counselling and bereavement support. During the pandemic, we also launched Project Phoenix– a highly visible portal on our intranet where employees could find wellbeing and development resources to help make life a little easier and create a sense of community, as well as offering activities to do with the family. Additionally, our employees get access to the Lifeworks app: a wellbeing platform offering them with expert help tackling life, work and everything in between.
Paul Graham | Great Britain Managing Director