Establishing a Mental Health Allies programme

MediaCom is a prolific UK media agency. Based in London, they help people, brands and businesses unlock their growth through media, and they have 8,000 people in 125 offices in 100 markets to support their mission.

The issue

Their turning point came in 2017 when a couple of mental health campaigners (Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn), along with speakers from Mind and Stonewall, visited the business to share their stories.

On the back of their sessions, a bunch of employees came forward and shared their own personal stories. Although this in itself was good as it demonstrated employees’ comfort in openly discussing their issues, for MediaCom, it highlighted the need for more to be done within the business – in particular around spotting changes early on and making support easy to access.

These two outcomes were particularly important to MediaCom because of their set-up. They have a largely young workforce, many of which experience living and working away from home for the first time when they join the team, and so offering help at the earliest possible stage and providing expert support was paramount to relieve some of that pressure.

The answer

MediaCom identified three key areas they wanted to focus on;

  1. Creating an open culture and normalise conversation around mental health;
  2. Ensuring everyone has someone within the organisation that a) they can talk to, and b) is an expert in listening and equipped to signpost support if needed; and
  3. Recognising the continuum from mental health to illness, and the importance of noticing changes early on has in minimising serious issues or a crisis.

The solution

We worked with MediaCom to develop a Mental Health Ally programme. In a nutshell, this is a group of voluntary employees who are readily available to listen (without advising) to any colleague with a mental health concern, with the ability to signpost them to additional resources and support – such as the Employee Assistance Programme, and, in extreme cases, help safeguard.

We delivered our completely bespoke, two-day workshops to groups of 16 people at a time, and covered topics like:

  • Understanding mental health,
  • Developing skills,
  • The job description of an Ally, and
  • Boundaries, practicalities, and support networks for each other.

The outcome

Their Mental Health Ally programme has grown to be 50-employees strong, and they regularly get together to share their experiences, expand their knowledge, and build their confidence. 

As well as being available to employees, MediaCom’s Allies also help promote mental health awareness across the organisation by:

  • Running events – such as Mental Health Awareness Week,
  • ‘Risk watching’ for language, and
  • Looking out for behaviour that might reinforce counterproductive stigmas.

The impact

Our programme was received incredibly well throughout all levels of the business and has since been embedded into its day-to-day working culture. Conversations around mental health are more open and frequent, their Allies continue to grow and drive awareness, and they’ve even shared their experience with others across the industry.

The latter was to encourage companies to consider their approach and actually involved a campaign with ‘Book of Man’ swaying organisations to introduce Allies, and introduce a number of events for the industry and their clients.

The proof

Nancy Lengthorn, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Talent at MediaCom, said: “We have worked with Mental Health at Work since 2017 to bring a programme of lasting change to attitudes and behaviours around mental health at MediaCom.

“Whilst the training of Mental Health Allies and line managers has been at the core of the programme, we have been fully supported with expert advice and guidance in developing a broader strategic framework, including policy and procedure, signposting, coaching, and supervision.

“We trust Mental Health at Work as the experts in this field for relevant and impactful programmes built around our work environment, and this has been reflected in the outstanding feedback from our staff and the increased confidence and openness around mental health.

“I’ve been on amazing training courses over the years, but none have been as impactful professionally or personally. We want to make a real step change and I now feel empowered to do that. It is utterly liberating to have these tools. It has been a game changer and I can’t recommend Mental Health at Work highly enough.”

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