Mental health and/or wellbeing initiatives at work

Lets talk mental health and wellbeing initiatives at work. It’s a sensitive issue, one that has to be done both correctly and for the correct reasons.

The only way people are going to trust you enough to be vulnerable at work is to provide a safe environment to do so. And showing up to a mental health initiative during work, especially in a smaller company or department is scary. Even if there’s no pressure to attend or share, it still can be anxiety inducing. Done well though, it can be really helpful.

I’ve done a lot of work around mental health and wellbeing initiatives and groups in the workplaces I’ve been, and people often ask for advice on how to set them up, so I’ve put this post toghether with a few tips, tricks, and things to avoid.

Top down or bottom up? Or both?

Are you going to start a training initiative or get mindfulness trainers in, or similar on a dpeartmental level? Or are you wondering what you can do to help or colleagues, just by yourself, maybe with a few other helpers?

Its possible to start initiatives both ways, either management down or employee up, but they require different ways of doing things, naturally, and that will lead to different options and pitfalls for you to navigate.

I’ve never been a manager or in charge of training budget, so I don’t have experience in setting up an inititative from a management point of view. I do know, however, what it feels like to have managers want to do stuff for mental health and wellbeing and not know how or do it badly, so I can draw on those experiences to put some pointers together for any managers or people with budget.

Training

Do you have training budget, or do you have input into how budget is spent? If so, I highly reccommend getting Mental Health First Aid training in your workplace. Mental Health First Aid is a global organisation that trains people in how to respond to and triage mental health issues. They have courses for all sorts of contexts, including some specifically for managers.

This will not only signal to your employees or team that you’re taking this seriously, but also means you have someone you can turn to for advice (or you can have the training yourself to give you that foundation).

You can find your local one by searching for Mental Health First Aid. In England, the site is: https://mhfaengland.org/

Informal options

If training budget is out of your reach, or if you want to go for something more informal and ongoing in addition, then this section is for you.

Before you do anything, you need to think about a few things:

  • Do I want the initiative to be mental health focused, or a more general wellbeing initiative?
    • This will affect the type of people who show up to your meetings – general wellbeing events may appeal to a more wide range of people rather than mental health ones.
    • The type of event may change: do you want it to be something like a fika/coffee morning, or a more formal peer support network?
    • The amount of energy and organisation may differ; a crafting session or a book club won’t need a private room or a facilitator the way peer support network might.
  • How much time can I put into this?
    • How often will it run?
    • How will I get the word out?
    • Will I need to get any resources for the meetings or events?
  • Do I need support or assistance?
    • What will happen when you go on holiday or annual leave? What about if you’re snowed under at work?
    • Do you need buy in to let people take time out of their day for this? Will it be a lunchbreak meeting? Can they bring lunch? Do you have budget to provide lunch?

Different types of mental health and/or wellbeing initiatives

Once you’ve decided to go for it and organise something, you need to decide what you’re going to do! There are so many options you could go for, here’s a non-exhaustive list:

  • A regular crafting session
  • No work chat coffee mornings
  • Peer support network
  • Book club
  • Lunchtime walks
  • Yoga sessions, wither using youtube or an instructor

Things to avoid

This stuff should be optional, not mandatory. Not everyone wants to blur work and personal like this and that’s fine. While we all bring our whole self to work, we all do it differently. There were times when work being my ‘normal’ where I wasn’t thinking about my mental health issues or stress at home was a lifesaver to me. I wouldn’t have gone to a peer support network back then, though knowing there was one available would’ve been welcome.

What if I just want to provide people with information?

Perfect! It’s really good, if you’re willing, to send regular emails with details of support either your company provides (especially if you have and Employee Assistance Program that offers therapy or support), or that they can access through charities and organisations.

I send some out roughly once a quarter to my department, as a reminder, and for any new people who may have joined who haven’t seen what support they can access. I have a Dropbox folder full of emails I’ve sent in the past, so I can pick up resources or remind myself of the details, so I don’t have to keep it all in my head.

Here is an example of one of my emails sent at the start of covid-19, before the UK lockdown, with some identifying/internal information removed:

Hi [dept]!

The word Corona has gone from a basic beer to something anxiety inducing for some. If this is you, please be reassured that it’s absolutely normal to be worried and concerned, both for yourself, and for loved ones. We’ve put together a few tips/reminders/info, which will hopefully help if you’re feeling a little (or a lot!) overwhelmed by it all:-

The NHS site has details about COVID-19, including info about the virus, signs and symptoms, how to minimise your risk of infection, which can be found here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

This is a good resource for things you have personal control over, which may be helpful to focus on.
Mind also has a great page on managing your mental health and wellbeing during this time, and if you need to self-isolate: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/

It’s okay if you need to take a step back from the news or social media, it’ll be there when you get back.

Our department has a flexible remote working policy you can use if you feel you need to (for either physical or mental health purposes). However, please keep in touch with your team if you do work from home, it can be quite isolating to work remotely.

As always, keeping yourself physically well will help you stay mentally well. Activity, fresh air, nutrition, breaks away from the subject, sleep etc. This underpins wellbeing all of the time, but is especially important when we’re dealing with an uncertain and unpredictable situation.

The Samaritans, Calm, and Mind all have hotlines/ways to contact someone if you feel that you need urgent support.

Samaritans: call 116123 or see here: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/
Calm: 0800 58 58 58 or see here: https://www.thecalmzone.net/
Mind, see the I need urgent help option: https://www.mind.org.uk/

Resources

Peer support toolkit from Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/media/17944275/peer-support-toolkit-final.pdf

Slides for a talk I did last year titled Five things I’ve learned about wellbeing initiatives at work: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LVPPppPq3-_619UUcmgf1UivsQN4XhLJ/view?usp=sharing

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