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How and why we set up a mental wellbeing initiative at Vertical Leap

Categories: Office Life

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and we wanted to share with you some of the things we’ve recently implemented at Vertical Leap.

We are big believers that companies have a really important role to play when it comes to the mental health of their employees – after all, most of us spend at least eight or nine hours a day at work. And, given that some of the stresses in our lives are caused by things happening at work, anything that we can do as a collective to help in this area is likely to have a big impact.

We wanted to create an environment where people felt they could talk more openly about their mental health without fear of being judged. If someone is suffering from depression or anxiety, for example, it’s important that they feel they can tell someone so that we can do our best to understand and try to help.

We also wanted to raise awareness of mental health conditions – what are the symptoms? What does it feel like? What can people around you do to help? By increasing our understanding, we hoped to develop more empathy and compassion towards other people. This point is really important; if someone seems down in the office, quiet, plugged into their earphones all day, not joining in… what you say to them and how you say it can make a real difference to someone who might be going through a really tough time.

So here’s what we did.

Monthly mental wellbeing sessions

The first thing we identified was that we didn’t have a proper opportunity to talk about mental health. Sure, you might ask someone how they’re doing whilst making a cup of tea, but it’s very unlikely someone will feel comfortable opening up about how they’re feeling in that situation.

What we needed was a designated time and place where we could have an open and honest conversation – somewhere people would feel encouraged to talk as opposed to worrying about how others will perceive them. So we set up a mental wellbeing calendar for the year with an hour-long session every month. We decided to focus on one subject in each session, for example:

January – Stress
February – Sleep
March – Grief
April – Depression
May – Anxiety

…and so on.

This means that employees can see in advance what we’ll be talking about and choose which ones they want to come along to.

What happens in these sessions?

Our sessions tend to look like something like this:

  • I introduce the topic, show some research and stats
  • A couple of volunteers might talk about their experiences to allow everyone to settle into the subject and take the pressure off people feeling that they need to speak straight away
  • Open chat with everyone (no pressure to contribute, some people just prefer to listen and that’s perfectly fine)

Just to point out here, I am not a qualified mental health professional (I’m a marketer) and we don’t have one in the sessions. I see my role as ‘making sure that the conversation is happening and you don’t need to be an expert to do that. The advice comes from everyone who is in the session – we are just a bunch of people trying to help each other.

Of course, if you have budget to invite a professional to your sessions then this would be helpful especially if you want to talk about more complex mental health issues such as schizophrenia and self harm where expert advice is quite critical. But if you don’t have budget to do this, don’t let it stop you. Maybe just restrict the topics to ones such as depression, stress, anxiety which many people suffer from and often have really helpful tips and advice they can share with the group.

What do we talk about?

There is no set structure for our sessions but we tend to ask each other things like:

  • How does it feel?
  • What causes it?
  • What techniques do you use?
  • How can we spot the signs in others?
  • What can we/the company do to help?
  • What’s your top tip? (these are used for handouts)

Reaching the wider company

Not everyone wants to come along to these sessions and that’s absolutely fine. However, it’s really important that we still try to connect with these people and make sure that they have access to the knowledge we’ve shared. So, we create a round-up of advice and tips, print them out and put one on every desk. That way, the information is there if they need it – you never know, something might just catch their eye that helps them with something they’re dealing with.

Handout from our ‘Stress’ wellbeing session

A point worth noting here: One of our employees has told me that he suffers from depression and anxiety. He prefers to keep this private and therefore has no intention of coming to any of the sessions but he said just the fact that they’re running is brilliant and means a lot to him. It is great to hear that the impact the sessions have goes beyond those that attend. It’s also about the message that it sends to everyone who works here.

Mental health survey

We have two main objectives with our mental wellbeing sessions.

  1. Remove the stigma that surrounds mental health by having open and honest conversations about it.
  2. Improve the mental health of our colleagues.

In order to achieve the second point, we needed to understand where we were as a company with our mental health. That would give us a starting point upon which to build.

So we carried out a survey – you could put your name or team or choose to leave it anonymous (happy to share the questions with you if you’re interested in doing your own). The results were quite eye-opening – so many more people than we imagined were dealing with depression, anxiety, sadness etc. And, the number of people who thought they “might be but weren’t sure” was also really interesting.

We also asked for suggestions about how the company could help improve mental wellbeing and we now have a HUGE pot of ideas to take on board. This was such a valuable exercise that I would highly recommend.

Wellbeing comms channel

Whilst our monthly sessions are great, we were keen to keep mental health at the forefront of everyone’s minds on a more regular basis. So we set up a “Wellbeing” channel on Microsoft Teams where we can post content, share apps, books, recipes and so on.

Again, this is a great way of reaching anyone who doesn’t come along to the sessions and a constant reminder that as a group of people, we care about the mental health of the people we work with.

So that’s where we’re at since we started the initiative in January – we’ve come a long way in just five months! Our understanding of mental health is getting better all the time, we’re talking about it much more openly and hopefully developing more compassion and empathy towards others which can only be a good thing 🙂

Michelle joined Vertical Leap’s Portsmouth office in 2011 as Marketing Manager, having spent the previous 15 years of her marketing career in the recruitment, leisure and printing industries. Her passions include yoga, swimming, walking, the beach, mountains and nice food.

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