Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. A whole day dedicated to raising awareness around what's going on inside our heads, both the good and the not so good. At That Day we ran a bunch of workshops and talks with the awesome Jonny Say and Jo Hooper, which were so well received and I can't thank them enough for what was a very busy day for both of them! We all saw first hand the positive impact the sessions had on people and hopefully they'll use some of the practices and advice going forward. But is talking about mental health 1 day out of 365 in a year really enough? And is just talking about it effective?
As Brits in particular it can be a tough subject for us to talk about. Especially around colleagues. But it is something we need to talk more about. We are getting better, but still more can be done. Many of us have no issue talking about our physical health, how ill or run down we feel especially, heading into winter. Why shouldn't it be the same for our mental health? Often in an office environment there is the fear of being judged, being deemed incapable of doing ones job or worst of all simply no one caring. Tied into this can often be that people don't feel like their work environment supports positive mental health. So what can businesses be doing more of to encourage a culture that is more accepting of an open conversation around our emotions but one that also encourages positive mental health?
- Encourage senior leaders to share their experiences regarding mental health. We've seen this a few times recently as having a really positive impact. Actively encouraging senior figures within the business to share their past experiences with their own mental health can have a profound effect. It could be a big one or equally just a small share as to how they keep on top of their own mental health. This has a double whammy effect. Firstly if the most senior people in the company are comfortable to share their thoughts on the issue then it shows everyone at the company that it is ok to speak about these things and starts to break down some of the stigma of mental health in the workplace. Secondly whatever they share someone is likely to be able to relate to it, reinforcing the notion that whatever you are going through someone else, somewhere, is likely to be going through something similar. There's comfort in that for people.
- Good mental health is achieved in different ways for different people. Everyone has their unique needs and ways of managing it and as a business it is a matter of providing as wide a variety of support as possible (they don't even have to cost money to get them going). For instance some people use exercise as an important anchor to their day to keep them going, so providing them with the freedom and flexibility to get a sweat on during working hours could be all that individual needs to keep in a positive frame of mind. For others a noisy work environment contributes to a lack of productivity which then can snowball into increased levels of anxiety, so having designated quiet areas within the office can be helpful for someone's personal performance and managing their stress. For others the seasonal changes and decreases in day light bring about things such as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Even if you're not a sufferer of this, simply going to work in the dark and coming home from work in the dark can be depressing in of itself. Half day Fridays have become a big trend during summer months, but what about introducing Half Day Fridays during the winter months, allowing people to get outside and enjoy some of the precious sunlight to lift their mood?
- Create mini support networks within the business. We are naturally social beings but not everyone wants to open up to someone they've only ever shared pleasantries with over their latest Google shared docs project. But when we get to know our colleagues on a more personal level, we start to break down those barriers and can feel more comfortable to share the things that are on our mind. We've found this to be one of the coolest side benefits to the services we run at MobFit. You have people that are all attending a class, a workshop, a short course that initially have a common interest in that topic. That immediately creates a small bond. Combine that with regularly attending those sessions together and soon you create a bigger bond, a mini support network, in which colleagues start to notice if you're a little off colour as of late, or aren't quite as chatty as normal and are therefore much more likely to ask that reassuring question of "How are you doing, is everything OK?"
These are just a few suggestions for keeping that conversation going post October 10th but also ways of encouraging a supportive culture within your business. I'd love to hear what ideas Heads of People & Culture/Heads of HR within my network have for keeping the conversation going in their businesses?