Through her training and life experience - 3 families, 3 continents, 3 careers (law, marketing, psychology) - Pip has come to believe we all write our own life story. Pip is a Transactional Analysis psychotherapist creating our product and service design.
Mental health and physical health are equally important. With the wealth of options out there post-Covid, where do you start in creating an effective wellbeing strategy?
Wellbeing at work is mental, physical and social. It encompasses virtually everything from the benefits you offer, the training you do, to the culture you create.
Most HR leaders understand the options available to support employees' physical health.
But businesses have understandably been much slower to grasp how to support their employees psychologically. We can't see our thoughts and emotions so this invisible realm is far harder to understand.
The CIPD divides employee wellbeing into 7 domains: Health (physical & mental), "Good Work", Values, Collective/Social, Personal Growth, Lifestyle Choices, Financial Wellbeing.
I'm going to streamline these into three main areas:
1) Physical health - the bodily health of your staff. Involves medical insurance, safety measures and guidelines, first aid, and benefits focussed on sport, exercise, nutrition, medical apps like Babylon, "femtech" and men's health apps like Manual, as well as access to physical therapies such as osteopathy and physiotherapy.
2) Mental health - the mindset of your staff. Involves psycho-education, training (awareness but also team dynamics), safeguarding, crisis process, team dynamics and colleague relations, and access to psychological therapy - counselling and psychotherapy.
3) Culture - the pervading atmosphere and rules that affect your employees' emotions and wellbeing: financial, holiday, sick leave, WFH, dogs in the office, grievances/conflict etc.... Also in this category are company-wide practices you embed and the behaviour tolerated between colleagues. Underlying your culture is individual mindset.
It's a huge subject. Far too huge for one article. So I'll focus on what we're good at here at The Circle Line...
We believe there are 4 key areas to consider when forming a mental health strategy and choosing your partner(s):
1) Listening & Data
2) Talking: making mental health and self-development the norm
3) Informing: providing education around mindset and self-care
4) Supporting & Treating
If we don’t ask how our team are doing, how do we know how fulfilled or stressed they are? Any number may be struggling personally or going through a tough life event - divorce/family/parenting/[enter any personal situation that may affect their work]. There also may be hidden cultural and team issues that need uncovering.
How do you address issues if you don't ask and listen? How do you show you care?
There are various tools out there now to help you collect data from your workforce
online surveys with platforms like Culture Amp
online wellbeing/sentiment measurement with platforms like Momentum 108
live facilitated listening sessions like we offer at The Circle Line.
The important thing is to listen often. Things change and surveys can only provide a snapshot of the present moment.
Of course there is the issue of what to do about what you hear. Some issues you will be able to solve relatively easily, some you won't. Providing an open forum and showing you are listening is as important as what you do, or what happens, next.
Although mental health is as normal a part of life as physical health, it is sadly still tinged with stigma in some organisations and societies. The subject is still kind of new, and outdated views of emotions as "weak" or "negative" still abound.
We've found through experience that for a mental health service to be effective and give you ROI, the subject of psychology needs to be normalised. We need to include mindset as a normal part of work life, and of being human.
So, you'll need an engagement programme.
Be open about the subject. Share content around mindset. Encourage reflection. Run webinars and workshops.
“Provide a crisis line, for sure, but also a work culture where openness and self-awareness is the norm. You'll need an engagement programme.”
This doesn't mean everyone has to be continually sharing their stories and details of their personal lives. Nor is it about disorders and conditions. Group sessions on topics relevant to work life - working style, conflict, feedback, leadership style - can be illuminating and engaging. They bring the focus onto day-to-day mindset and how ours affects our work.
Simply understanding some of the basic building blocks of humans' psychological make-up can make a huge difference. It opens our mind and shifts our perspective.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
― Nelson Mandela
Psycho-education helps reveal what makes us tick, as individuals as well as teams. Insight doesn't necessarily change behaviour, but it's a good start. It can provide enormous relief to understand our mindset and emotions.
And understanding helps us work better together. When team members start to understand themselves, and apply this knowledge to understand others and the dynamics of their team, it encourages tolerance and openness to talking through tensions.
Education is powerful. With understanding collaboration becomes easier and work relationships more productive, as well as more enjoyable. As one of our clients, Charly Young MBE, Founder of The Girls Network, said
“After the first Circle Line workshop one manager described how it had transformed a work relationship she had, because they now have a shared language and understanding about how each work and thrive.”
― Charly Young MBE
There can be a lot of jargon in psychology. Find a model that works for your team and culture. Transactional Analysis, the core of The Circle Line training sessions, offers one of the most accessible models out there for understanding people. This type of insight sheds light on barriers to personal performance and collaboration, communication, leadership, teamwork, conflict, personality... and more.
Mental health, just like physical health, is a spectrum. We can have a splinter or we can have a broken leg. Both mental and physical health can be damaged and require recovery and healing time, and both need regular maintenance. Both are a way of life.
There are four main approaches to improve and maintain good mental health:
Talking therapy: Therapy is an established method. It supports us as well as challenges our way of operating. We all need unbiased support, and we could probably all do with examining some aspects of our mindset that are unhelpful. Therapy offers both. It teaches coping techniques as well as resolving the root cause of distress or "stuckness". The relationship with the therapist is key. 1:1 psycho-education may also be part of personal therapy.
Mindfulness & Self-Care: This covers everything from meditation classes and apps, mindfulness training (learning to focus on the here & now) to hypnotherapy and yoga. Most focus on rhythmic moving, relaxation and breathing techniques. These can be delivered online or in-person. There's a huge range of options, so focus on asking your staff what works for them and what doesn't so you know what's worth your investment.
Content/Apps: mental health apps abound. There is a vast range of information out there from YouTube videos to self-help apps, mood trackers and online courses teaching about mental health conditions, relationships, and CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) techniques that seek to standardise therapy and turn it into a self-help tool. Due to the jargon used, lack of regulation and the huge range of unproven apps, this might be the hardest category to figure out what works, what doesn't and what's worth the investment. Apps are generally not expensive to buy for your workforce: I'd suggest selecting and trialling a few - a mood tracker, a meditation app, a magazine-style one and a "standardised" CBT app - and surveying your staff after a year as well as getting usage data from the company selling them.
Medication: Chemical intervention is sometimes necessary or helpful. This is where you need the NHS or private medical insurance for access to psychiatrists (qualified medical doctors) who can prescribe.
At The Circle Line we take a holistic approach to mental health.
We’d love to discuss what’s working in your company, what's not – and where we can help.