Mental health in the workplace is a hot topic. In the last two years businesses have been forced to adapt and evolve in the most difficult of circumstances – and so too have their staff.
During this time, the issue of workplace wellbeing has been driven up the corporate agenda. Starting salaries are rising “substantially” across the UK as companies struggle to attract top talent, but many workers are looking for more than a good pay packet these days.
Support for mental health, particularly among younger workers, is becoming increasingly important.
According to recent data from wellbeing support organisation Lifeworks, two in five Britons (43%) end their workday feeling mentally and physically exhausted. A further quarter are unable to disconnect from work after usual work hours, with 48% blaming this on having too much work to do during their work day.
Mental health-related absences cost UK business £17bn during the pandemic, with employees taking 125 million days off work, research from wellbeing platform GoodShape suggests.
Growing numbers of UK companies are introducing workplace schemes to combat this – and to support staff.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, which is running until May 15, BusinessLive spoke to the employees of different businesses that are going above and beyond to really help staff. For these companies, mental health is not just a tick-box exercise, it’s about people’s happiness.
City to Sea
Bristol-based environmental organisation City to Sea recently introduced a four-day week without any reduction in pay for staff.
The community interest company, which employs 19 people and campaigns to reduce plastic pollution, also has a raft of other wellness policies including free access to face-to-face counselling; legal help around stressful life situations, such as moving house; specific sick leave for mental health; and flexible-hybrid working. City to Sea also runs team days and has a bike to work scheme.
Steve Hynd, City to Sea’s policy manager, said: “I have never had an employer before that actually cares about my wellbeing and happiness to the extent that City to Sea does. And they do this not because they think I will be more productive if I am happy, but simply because they want me to be happy.”
Fibre Marketing is based in Cheltenham and employs 10 staff. It offers multiple perks as part of the job, including wellbeing days for workers. Each quarter employees can take a day out with no questions asked. All they have to do is send a message to a dedicated email in the morning.
Laura Berry, who works at the company, said working there is “like being hired by a friend”.
She said: “The thing about Fibre Marketing is that we’re all hard-working – we all have our heads down – but a sense of camaraderie and good humour flows through everything we do. When you add in perks like the wellbeing days into the mix, not only do you get a high-performing team, you get a high-performing team that’s dedicated.”
Global communications consultancy Hotwire is headquartered in London but has offices across the UK.
All 93 employees have 24/7 access to a mental health toolkit including helplines, articles, podcasts and free access to the Headspace app. The company also offers meditation sessions and a wellbeing allowance of £300 a year that staff can spend on whatever makes them feel better.
The company is also improving its mental health support around family and pregnancy including offering support for those experiencing fertility issues and baby loss, and access to private health care for women during menopause.
The business also offers staff a number of ‘recharge days’ where the whole office is closed.
The Bristol-based travel company employs 65 people across its three brands – Sawday’s, glamping and luxury camping brand Canopy & Stars, and dog friendly business Paws & Stay.
In 2018, the company became employee-owned and has a number of policies in place to support wellbeing, including up to four sessions of private counselling for anyone who may need it; a trained mental health first aider in the team; and access to support services through mental health support specialist Able Futures. Sawday’s is also part of the Mindful Employee charter and was named in the top 5% of B Corps in the world for workers.
“Sawday’s has been supportive and encouraging like no other place I have worked before,” said Jon Macnab, product owner at the firm. “Through employee ownership I have had opportunities to operate at a level that just isn’t possible in more traditional businesses. I feel extremely fortunate to have found my way to a company that treats people fairly and has a clear focus on creating an environment that facilitates positive mental health.”
Business strategy company Lisa Johnson operates a four-day working week and has strict boundaries in place for when staff can be contacted as well as regular team-building catch ups. The company lets staff take as much annual leave as they would like each year too.
Zoë Dew, operations manager at the company based in Preston, said working for the business has changed her life.
“I didn’t think I would ever want to be employed again after being treated appallingly in my last employed role. I was happy to sacrifice monetary wins for my mental health,” she said. “Two years later, it is the best decision I have ever made.”
Ms Dew said switching to a four-day week has seen productivity increase and her mental health restore itself.
“The most important thing for me is that I now feel stable, secure and valued. And I don’t think I have ever had that before in any of the previous roles I have held.”
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