Mental Health in the Workplace - What We’re Doing to Help Our Team

6 years ago

In August 2018, we started working with Sanctus, a company whose mission is to change the perception of mental health and put the world’s first mental health gym on the high street.

It's an original and unique concept. We go to the gym to take care of our physical health, but what are we doing in regard to our mental health that's on a par to look after? Chances are, nothing and Sanctus are trying to change that step by step.

How this came about

I first heard about them at a Supper Club dinner where another company founder mentioned working with them.

The context of the dinner was to discuss employee happiness, engagement and pretty much all of the topics discussed were ones that I expected. Then mental health was mentioned.

It sounds strange looking back on it, but I’d never considered mental health to be something that was the responsibility of an employer.

I felt kinda bad that it had never crossed my mind.

I like to think that Aira is a forward-thinking company, we do a lot to look after our team and make them as happy at work as possible. But mental health had never factored into my thinking at all.

Why should a company care about mental health?

In reality, I don’t think that a company is 100% responsible for an individual’s mental well-being, but it plays a key role and there are a few things that a company needs to remember when considering their role, especially working in an agency. After all, most of us spend most of our week at work and our experiences will have a big impact on our general mental wellbeing. 

Busy work environments can be a cause of stress and pressure

We do our best to manage workloads promote a good work/life balance, but the truth is that, sometimes, things can get too much and we all need some help. A good manager can help their team a lot with this but having some extra external support from someone who isn’t connected to the business at all can be really helpful. Chances are that someone is just busier than usual and it will pass, but sometimes there may be underlying issues that need teasing out which, if found, can help the individual better deal with their workload.

Even if work isn’t causing stress, then issues outside of work will sometimes affect work

We all have a life outside of work which can be another cause of stress. It could be anything from a silly argument with a spouse to trying to buy a house and dealing with the associated stress. No matter what it is, it can follow you into the workplace and affect your mindset, perhaps making you more irritable than you ever would be otherwise. Getting some support to deal with these situations could reduce stress not just in the workplace but also carry through to issues at home.

We spend the majority of our time at work - can we use that time to support people better?

One of the things that drew me to Sanctus originally was their simple approach in comparing our mental health to our physical health. Many of us at some point will go to the gym to look after our physical health. You may do this even when you’re not feeling like you really need to lose weight or tone up - you just go to keep yourself in shape.

The same principle can apply to your mental health. You may feel like nothing is wrong, and nothing may actually be wrong, but it doesn’t hurt to try and keep yourself in shape.

Many of us will not make time to look after our mental health unless we are aware of a problem. So, giving people the chance to get help within work hours is a great way to get that check-up to happen and provide an easy way to keep their mental health in shape.

So what are we actually doing?

It’s quite simple, the team at Sanctus came into our office to run a workshop which allowed them to give us an intro to them, their story and how they’d be working with us.

Moving forward, one of their coaches will spend a day a month in our office where the team can book 45 minute slots with them via an online booking system. The team can book these slots and use this session to talk to the coach about anything they want. This can range from things which they are struggling with, right through to talking about positive things and generally what’s going on in their lives at the moment. Sometimes, someone may have no idea what to chat about and are just curious about the session, that’s absolutely fine too.

A key part of these sessions is that nothing at all is shared with myself or Matt regarding what is discussed. We don’t get any information. Not even common themes or trends which may relate to the workplace.

This may seem counterintuitive because if there are broader problems, we may not be aware of them and therefore can’t fix them. But true, 100% confidentiality has to be the case, otherwise, these sessions simply will not work in the way they are meant to. There can’t be any grey area at all and this clean, simple rule means that the team can be truly open and honest, without worrying about stuff getting back to me and Matt.

I’m excited about this.

Not at all because of Aira itself, but because we’re able to do something very cool and supportive for our amazing team. Will Aira benefit as a business? I think it will. But that’s not why we’re doing it.

The reactions already have been great. We had the following from one team member after announcing the partnership:

“Really looking forward to this, and it's great that Aira are so supportive of mental health!“

And this feedback from a team member after attending a session with the Sanctus coach:

“I just had a session with Sanctus and feel really positive coming out of it, so wanted to say a really heartfelt thanks for organising it and bringing it to all of us. It’s really amazing to work for people who genuinely care about our wellbeing.“

After nearly two years of working with Sanctus, their support has been amazing and has meant a lot to the team and me personally. Can we measure the tangible impact? No, we can't. But we know from conversations with our teams, as well as attendance rates and repeat attendance, that it is highly valued. We wouldn't necessarily call it a perk, but it certainly is one of the most valued initiatives we have alongside other perks and benefits that support our culture

If you'd like to get a quick overview of Sanctus, here is a one-minute intro:

If you're curious about what we're doing, feel free to tweet me with your questions.

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