You’d be forgiven for thinking a conference about mental health might be a sombre affair. Yet yesterday, for the annual Mindful Employer conference in Leeds, 130 delegates danced exuberantly and laughed on cue to release their ‘happy hormones’.
Business owners, managers, HR professionals and mental health specialists still filed out of Cloth Hall Court with some serious work to do. I left feeling hopeful; as mental health continues to gain the traction and commitment in the workplace it deserves.
We’re told that Leeds is leading the way when it comes to mental health; ranking top amongst comparable cities for well-being. Employers play an important role in carrying this momentum forward, and it’s not hard to find compelling evidence for the financial (and moral) case for change. For those who couldn’t attend, here’s my synopsis of the day: six key messages and focus areas from the event to help build a sustainable well-being strategy.
1. Physical and mental health must go hand in hand
Physical and mental health are inextricably linked. Whilst free fruit and fitness classes are great – and we should continue to encourage employee well-being in this way – this makes for a pretty one-dimensional strategy. We have all the empathy and understanding in the world for physical illnesses, and we need to ensure all managers see mental health in the same way. Moving beyond basic wellness perks to a more holistic approach is key.
2. Keep the dialogue open…and don’t forget your stars
They’re conscientious, dedicated, and consistently impacting the bottom line. Your stars might be commanding less of your time than anyone else, and yet their unparalleled work ethic could be their unravelling. We must learn how to talk to all staff openly and honestly, about all aspects of their lives, and recognise signs of difficulty in all areas of the workforce.
3. Encourage a culture where everyone can be themselves
Creating an environment where staff can truly can be themselves means we’ll help them to reach their full potential. None of us are perfect: all of us face both physical and mental issues, wherever we may fall on the spectrum. Having open and honest conversations about where we are, means our employer can truly get the best out of us. Right now, campaigners are putting pressure on parliament to legislate for mental health first aiders, in addition to qualified first aiders, to be a statutory requirement in the workplace. Surely having employees who feel safe to be themselves, is better for productivity anyway?
4. Engage, educate, and embed
This is the Mindful Employer mantra. Engage with staff by staging events that raise awareness, whilst articulating clearly what the company is trying to achieve. Educate staff and give them access to well-being tools and resources. Build resilience from within and train managers on how to recognise and treat the signs of stress and mental illness. It needs to be genuine if it’s going to stick, and make well-being live and breathe through policies and practices. Well-being assessments and surveys will also help to identify areas of risk to your organisation and to individuals.
5. One or two passionate people isn’t enough
At Search Laboratory, I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by lots of people as passionate about supporting mental health as I am. But this isn’t always the case. If the main driver(s) leave, who will continue the mantle? Instead of being a ‘HR Initiative’, it needs to be a company initiative; led from the top and with buy-in from the senior managers. Senior managers must lead by example and hold up their hands with examples of their own mental health experiences. It was great to hear Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, speaking openly about his own experience with mental health, and how this has helped create a more open culture there.
6. Do something fun everyday
Even if you enjoy your work, do something fun every day that is purely for you. One of Mind’s core values is to “be kind to yourself”. A wealth of research has shown the positive consequences of self-kindness and compassion. As much as I champion employers supporting mental well-being, no-one holds the key to their happiness more than you. Do more of what makes you happy, and less of what doesn’t. That sounds great doesn’t it?! Make a list of five things that bring you joy, and five things that bring you down. Then take action.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my summary of another fantastic Mindful Employer event. I’d love to know what other employers are doing to embed and measure well-being initiatives. Feel free to contact me directly if you’d like to hear more about Search Laboratory’s commitments to mental health.