Anxiety around working life continues to be a roller coaster for many as the uncertainty of the pandemic continues to impact. Hospitality and retail workers joined key workers earlier in the year in returning to their working environments and more recently we have seen offices reopen, often to a most welcome mix of in-person, virtual and hybrid.
Conversations about our mental health, the experiences we’ve had over the last year and the challenges that we may continue to face are an essential part of any workplace wellbeing strategy; a powerful intervention that can, in of itself support someone to move back to health.
In many organisations there has been a step-change in the resources provided to support mental health; knowledge and awareness are now typically high following storytelling, webinars and embedded content, a range of high quality and relevant signposting is available and MHFA’s may have been trained to support any crisis situations. However, increasingly we are hearing that conversations about mental health are not happening, and if they are, they are not timely or impactful. This is borne out by the latest research from Pipslay which indicated that the majority of British workers still felt they needed mental health support at work.
Why Conversations Are Still Not Happening
There are many reasons for this, but at the core, we know that these conversations are not easy and require a set of skills, the opportunity to practice and build confidence and firmly established and understood boundaries, relevant within an individual workplace. These are not skills that can be learnt in short training sessions, structured around knowledge-based presentations. At Mental Health at Work, our work is aligned with the prevention mission of our parent company, the Mental Health Foundation and enabling and supporting natural and open conversations is at the core of all our programmes.
Creating a Network of Mental Health Allies®
MHaW Mental Health Allies® is one of our key programmes, creating a network of expert listeners and signposters, embedded across an organisation with the purpose of ensuring that everyone has access to someone they can talk to, wherever they are. Allies know about mental illness, but not in-depth as their role is not to diagnose or to fix, it is simply to listen and know how to ask questions, that enables someone to talk. That conversation alone is often enough and if it isn’t, they’ll know the support available both within and external to the company or how to keep someone safe in a crisis, until professional help is available.
Allies are tailored to each organisation, developing a charter around how they will make the role successful within their working role, whether that is front of house in hospitality or in the distribution centre of a retailer and critically, what support they need from senior leaders. It is a role of ongoing development and learning to meet evolving needs, but without the need for mandatory and costly refreshers after a fixed time period.
The evidence that this works is growing in organisations across the UK and internationally as MHaW Mental Health Allies® start to change the culture around conversations from within, supporting both employee satisfaction and the prevention agenda.
“I really love that we are launching Mental Health Allies, it is so important. I am SO grateful to work for a company and a network that takes this seriously and puts their money where their mouth is”
Mental Health Ally 2021, WPP