Category: testimonial, Mental Health, World Mental Health Day, Flexible Working, Flexible, mental health initiative, HMRC, HM Revenue & Customs, What Our People Say, Staff Testimonial, mental health first aiders, flexiblity, COVID-19, flexibility, covid, mental health awareness, mental health in workplace, mental health at work, world mental health day 2020
An interview with Ally Inglis, Tax Specialist Programme (TSP) support in CCG Bristol: Mental Health and Wellbeing in the time of COVID 19
All of our lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. As the days get shorter and we move towards winter, many are feeling apprehensive about what the future holds. Against this backdrop, how can organisations support wellbeing? And what is available to those who require support for their mental health? How has this support needed to change during the COVID 19 Pandemic?
The World Health Organisation’s goal for this year’s World Mental Health Day on 10 October is ‘increased investment in mental health.’ We caught up with Ally Inglis Tax Specialist Programme (TSP) support in CCG Bristol to find out how HMRC are investing in the mental health and wellbeing of their employees at this challenging time.
Ally has been appointed Bristol Wellbeing Co-Lead and was excited to share what they are doing to support staff, as well as her own experience of lockdown as someone who has herself received support for mental health and some mental health specific reasonable adjustments.
“At the start of lockdown, we recognised that people’s wellbeing and mental health were going to suffer and they were going to need extra support. Some people are going to be completely overwhelmed. They may have small kids, both partners might be working from home, people could have been furloughed and then suddenly you’re having to be a teacher providing home learning while juggling work. Whereas, other people may be feeling isolated, which raises completely different issues. What we are trying to do is provide resources to enable all of these people to do the best they can and let them know what’s available and to use it, as well as to encourage them to get out and get some exercise – because it’s really hard. Of course you can’t make people do stuff, but I’m getting managers on board as well to support and encourage staff to make the use of these resources.”
Ally shared her own experience of lockdown and some of the strategies she has found useful with us:
“It’s been really hard and I’ve gone through ups and downs – I’m separated from my son’s father and was in a long distance relationship with my partner at the start of lockdown and that was really hard. But I found what worked for me. I think the weather helped make sure I was getting out and being active. I made sure I went out for a good old stomp every day, I tried to do yoga, to get back into running and was doing Joe Wicks – sometimes trying to get my son to come onboard as well. But it was really tough not seeing people. I found I went through phases when I felt more motivated. My partner now lives with me and he had the idea to get up slightly earlier and in effect reinstate the commute by walking round the park before work and maybe also after work, but we haven’t really managed this though we might have a baby walk in the park at lunchtime and then go out again in the evening.
Quite early on in lockdown, I sought help and support for my mental health and my manager was really supportive. I’ve sourced my own help though I did also speak to one of the PAM Assist counsellors when I was feeling quite alone and stressed. My manager was flexible and supportive, allowing me time to attend group counselling workshops. I then took subsequent CBT out of my own time. So I feel like I can be really open with my manager, which is really good. I’m glad I work for who I work for –I really appreciate it.”
Ally reflected on the challenges as we move into winter:
“A lot of people have been talking about winter coming, how are we going to deal with that? What’s going to happen at Christmas? Are we going to be able to see families? How am I going to deal with this lack of daylight? One option might be to do split days, because we’re allowed to work flexibly, so I’m thinking what I’m going to do is take two or three hours off in the middle of the day to make sure I get out, get some daylight. But that does then mean you need to extend your working day – so it’s about finding the right balance for you, what works for you.”
In additional to flexible working, Ally described a wealth of wellbeing resources available via the Bristol Regional Centre Wellbeing programme. Due to the pandemic a wellbeing event scheduled to take place in the new building in May became a virtual event of eight mental health and wellbeing workshops, with an emphasis on supporting staff through this ‘new normal’ with subjects such as ‘Mental Health Awareness,’ ‘Living with Anxiety in Uncertain Times,’ ‘Mindfulness and Building Resilience’ and ‘Mental Wellbeing and Stress Management.’
To date there have been over 37 mental health and wellbeing standalone virtual workshops with over 1000 places allocated; some of these have been repeated to ensure as many staff as possible can attend. Ally and her team publicise this extensive programme via articles for the Bristol centre bulletin which also act as a directory of wellbeing resources for staff and actively encourages staff to let them know their wellbeing needs.
From the event feedback, they have matched staff needs with support services available from wellbeing partner PAM assist and from the feedback they also set up another series of workshops covering topics such as ‘Living with Anxiety’ and ‘Promoting Good Sleep.’ A future focus will be ‘relationships’, a topic that arose during one of the wellbeing calls. The secret to the success of the project seems to lie in the team’s open dialogue with staff: “In response to a discussion about mindfulness at one of the Mental Health Forums, we’ve programmed a couple of ‘Introduction to Mindfulness’ workshops and we’re looking to get more in place. We want to know what people want – tell us what you want and then we’ll see what we can do!”
The Wellbeing project is embedded in HMRC’s support networks and Ally is also an active member of the Mental Health Network, which now provides fortnightly support calls for staff – these have been very popular with between 60 and 80 staff members dialling in. Other support networks include a Carers’ Network, an EU Nationals’ Network, a Disability Network and a Gender Network and Ally and Emma her Co-Lead liaise with these to ensure there is a programme of support available to staff each month.
We asked Ally what mental health and wellbeing mean to her:
“There’s a really good definition from the Canadian Health Service. It’s kind of feeling happy and being able to function and be productive and enjoy your life. Sometimes things fall by the wayside because you just don’t feel in the right mindset to do it. It’s sort of feeling capable, I suppose and positive. And able to function really.”
It is clear that Ally is passionate about the impact of the Bristol Wellbeing project:
“If you can make a difference – If one person wants to go on this workshop then you’ve helped somebody.”