The statistics tell us that 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health concern in any given year, so it’s an important issue for employers and individuals. And as today’s World Mental Health Day, it’s a chance for us all to talk about our wellbeing – and to highlight what we as employers can do to help.
Employers often say that their staff are their greatest asset; here at the Environment Agency we think so, too. We want our people to be well and happy – and that’s why we have been working so hard to look after the health of our people. All of us have mental health in the same way as we all have physical health and our mental health changes over time in the same way as our physical health does.
Breaking down the barriers
As a manager, I have been in the challenging position of supporting team members struggling with mental health issues. I felt genuinely concerned for their wellbeing, yet inexperienced and ill-equipped to help. It was this experience that led me to champion mental health in the workplace over the years – I didn’t want anyone else to feel that way, either as an employee or a manager.
As well as the standard procedures that any large organisation has, we have done two main things to address mental health in at the Environment Agency: our Healthy Minds programme and our staff-led network.
Healthy Minds is an awareness-raising and training programme for both individuals and line managers that teaches people how to spot the signs of emotional distress as well as how to access support. It creates a positive, safe environment to help staff break down any barriers and talk without fear of stigma.
A network by staff and for staff
Our employee-led mental health network is remarkable in that it is entirely run by staff, for staff. It offers a safe space where people can talk honestly about mental health issues. The network carries out a phenomenal amount of work, offering webinars, mindfulness training and local discussions. It lets people share their personal stories on our staff intranet – helping further remove misconceptions and stigma.
Through the group, our staff can also get assistance from trained wellbeing advisors – sometimes referred to as mental health first aiders – who can offer an empathetic ear and guide them to other useful resources. Plus, line managers can also get peer support through the network, enabling them to understand and support their team members’ individual needs.
The network now has more than 600 members and is growing daily. Roughly a third of all our line managers have undertaken Healthy Minds programme. And some of our training webinars have seen so much interest, the system has been overwhelmed!
Leading the way in wellbeing
We’re going to start assessing work load and stress risks when creating new roles, and will look at how we can adapt existing ones to make sure they support staff wellbeing. And in terms of raising awareness, we’re looking to specifically reach out to our male colleagues, as men are often harder to engage with when it comes to mental health. And we’ll be running a campaign internally to make people think about the five ways they can look after their own – and others’ – wellbeing: connecting, being active, taking notice, continuing to learn, and giving.
We will be taking part in Mind’s index again next year. I’ll be fascinated to find out whether we’ve improved even more, and what we should focus on next to make sure our staff are looking after their wellbeing. I’ll also be hoping we come out top again of course!
- Andy Croxford is a Deputy Director at the Environment Agency. He’s been with the Agency for nearly 20 years, for many of which he has championed mental health in the organisation.
You can learn more about Mind’s workplace wellbeing index here: https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/workplace-wellbeing-index/.
You can also find out more about World Mental Health Day, as well as get more information on how to look after your mental wellbeing here: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/world-mental-health-day.