Written by Emma Phillips - Head of HR
It’s hugely encouraging to see that the world seems to have woken up to the reality of mental ill health in the past couple of years. The stigma that has left so many sufferers feeling alone is being broken down, with the commitment to reform the UK’s current mental health policy laid out by the government back in 2017.
We’ve seen numerous famous suffers bravely stepping into the spotlight to normalise mental health struggles - struggles that approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will face in their lifetime. From Mind advocates Stephen Fry, Ferne Cotton, Ruby Wax and, for the YouTube generation, Zoella, to the steadily increasing the number of books, TV programmes, blogs, volgs, articles and even comedy shows focusing on mental health, the conversation redefining what it means to feel ‘normal’ is happening right in front of us.
As well as a general public shifting of sentiment in mental health attitudes, employers are also now realising the fiscal cost of their employees struggling on in a culture of presenteeism. Currently nearly 13% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to metal health conditions*. Mind, the mental health charity, found that better mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8 billion a year**. Businesses all over the UK are waking up to the fact that supporting employee mental health is the right thing to do – not just to be a caring company, but also because it makes good business sense.
What is the ABI doing to support employee health and wellbeing?
At the ABI, we take the responsibility of looking after our staff’s mental health and wellbeing seriously. We’re fortunate in that we’re constantly given feedback from the team that the ABI is a friendly and supportive place to work, with one our key strengths being an organisation full of kind and supportive colleagues. But we know that we cannot rest on our laurels. We believe that it is equally important for staff to look after both their mental and physical health, and we aim to be as facilitative and supportive as possible in helping them to do this. After all, on a purely selfish level, we need a healthy, resilient team to keep up the high standards that we’ve all come to expect.
We have a number of initiatives in place to help guide a healthy approach within our company culture. From a new internal Inclusion Strategy which provides details to staff about our plans to continue to drive and inclusive culture, to subsidised gym memberships and yearly health checks to make sure that staff can keep physically well.
Every ABI staff member has access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which offers a 24-hour confidential helpline manned by trained councillors so that staff have a life line to turn to in times of stress, be that work related or personal stress, or just to talk through any mental health struggles that they are facing. The team are also entitled to up to 8 face-to-face counselling sessions on a complimentary basis.
For the past two years we’ve put on a programme of activities during Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). Staff have always been very actively engaged these activities which have ranged from massage therapy, meditation, sessions around nutrition and wellness, and yoga. We’ve now established an internal health and wellbeing staff group to put on more talks and workshops to help promote physical and mental wellbeing in the workplace all year round.
One of our main areas of focus in supporting staff mental wellbeing is enabling the ability to ‘switch off’. The modern world can be a busy, stressful environment – both in work and outside of it. There can often be a lack of down-time which can end up impacting of staff stress levels, so it’s imperative that we focus on this best we can. As part of MHAW back in May, we ran a guided meditation session for staff, offering an introduction to the calming and recharging benefits of taking a few minutes out. We’re pleased to say that the session was so popular that we will be running another one on Mental Health Awareness Day.
To this end, we have also been vocal in clarifying our position on informal working arrangements around hours of work and working from home. We hope that this has facilitated staff in being able to strike the right balance between their work and home lives, helping to eliminate stress and make the transition from ‘work hat’ to ‘home hat’ smoother.
We’re pleased to have made a good start in terms of our offering around mental health, but we also have some exciting plans to complement the work we are already doing. Early next year we’ll be rolling out Mental Health Awareness Training for all ABI staff, as we feel it’s important that the team are aware of different mental health conditions and feel able to discuss these issues with one another openly, removing any stigmas which may exist. We’re also exploring a possible initiative around mental health first aiders for any staff who might be suffering in silence and don’t currently have a friendly face to turn to.
We want to ensure that the ABI is an inclusive and supportive environment for our team, and we are working hard to ensure that the right initiatives in place to make that happen. After all, a happy and healthy workforce just makes good business sense.