International CEO at WPP Health Practice Claire Gillis on mental health wellbeing in the workplace
Mental health wellbeing in the workplace has long been a high priority for businesses – but Covid-19 has elevated the challenge to another level. As companies pivot to remote working, the wellbeing strategies we modelled around the traditional office environment are needing to flex to a whole new normal. It’s time to be agile – for the sake of our mental health.
The dynamics of working from home – and all the complications that brings – have been compounded by public health measures that force us to behave in ways that can be counter-productive to our mental health. Stay in. Self-isolate. Keep our distance. Cover up.
Worse still, the pandemic has prevented people from reaching out for support. A recent WHO survey
revealed that Covid-19 has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries at a time when demand for mental health is increasing. The reverberations will long outlive the virus.
It’s no surprise that two thirds of young adults say their mental health wellbeing suffered during lockdown
. Others say that existing mental health problems have only got worse. And for many, that once-cherished perk of working from home is suddenly part of the problem.
So here’s the thing. Employers have a responsibility to protect mental health wellbeing in the workplace. But how do you do it when that workplace is home? Distancing isn’t a solution – staying close and connected is key. We must Reach Out to Help Out.
But first, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture, because work doesn’t live in isolation. The macro trends are ugly. Mental health disorders are rising in every country
and on track to become the leading cause of global deaths by 2030
. At the moment, almost a billion people
are living with a mental condition – with one in four of us
likely to be affected by one at some stage in our lives. Most alarmingly of all, every 40 seconds one person will die due to suicide – and 20 other adults will attempt it. That’s something to reflect on when you’ve finished reading this four-minute post.
MIND has got it right: it’s a Mental Health Emergency
. WHO goes further, describing mental health as one of the most neglected areas of public health
. Across the world, good mental health services are in short supply, while in low- and middle-income countries more than 75% of people with mental disorders receive no treatment or support at all. With funding further diminishing in the wake of Covid-19, the campaign for increased investment – the 2020 theme of World Mental Health Day
– has never been better timed or more important.
One area where investment is growing is the crucial arena of mental health at work. In recent years, employers have clocked the trends and upped their game when it comes to safeguarding the mental health wellbeing of their staff. Many, including WPP, have created pathways for people to talk openly (and confidentially) about mental health at work. We at WPP Health are amongst the companies who have worked in partnership with our teams and to use wearables to track the physiological indicators and triggers of stress, and signpost them to solutions designed to support them. And many have co-created innovative activities, and embedded them into working practices, to provide wellbeing support as a routine.
These initiatives have proved popular and effective. But were built, pre-Covid, for the office environment. At WPP Health Practice we’ve had established mental health programmes running for a number of years. We were the first comms agency to introduce an in-house counsellor. We have meditation rooms, group classes, breakfast yoga, one-to-one consultations and group sessions. Our Wellbeing Lab in the UK managed the interior design of our UK HQ to include colours, smells, light and sounds that are proven to encourage wellbeing. Now we’re having to adapt.
Since March, modern workplace wellbeing strategies have had to change. The world has gone remote – and many of our wellbeing initiatives have gone the same way. With thought and creativity, we’ve been able to reach out, connect and support our teams just when they need it most.
Mental health is an international issue, but if I pick out just two of our offices, it’s clear our flexible approach is working on both sides of the world.
In Australia, our teams have created a Health and Wellbeing channel where staff can find exercise and meditation sessions, wellness tips, feel-good articles and healthy lifestyle advice. We have regular virtual workshops and webinars covering mental health issues, coping & resilience and building strong teams. This month our Culture Club newsletter is dedicated to mental health, providing tips, tricks, activities and pathways to support mental health wellbeing. What’s more, our Ogilvy Health team will be walking 480km during Mental Health Month to raise money for mental health support and research. The Black Dog Institute’s ‘One Step Forward’ initiative is a great cause and a great way for the team to get away from their desks and work together. You can help them here
Activity in the UK is just as vibrant. This month, we’re running a whole range of events and initiatives to promote and support mental health at work. Emotional wellbeing, reducing stress, breathing techniques, mental health First Aid… you name it, they’re all on the agenda. Though they coincide with World Mental Health Day, many of these initiatives are already part of the furniture at WPP Health Practice. In the UK, Wednesdays were rebranded as Wellnessdays three years ago.
This Wellnessday will see BUPA host a webinar on work-life balance, as well as kickstarting some daily factoids on the importance of ‘getting our zzzs’ in. Throughout the past week, we’ve been sharing a blog series that shows a personal story of how living with neurodiversity can trigger poor mental health. We’ve also been encouraging ‘walk and talk’ meetings on feel-good Fridays, because we know exercise is good for our mental health. Later in the month, we’re continuing our workshop series for line managers on ‘Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace.’ The latest session, developed by a psychiatrist and rehabilitation team in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation, highlights tools to help recognise, manage and prevent poor mental health at work.
This is just a flavour of what we’re doing to promote mental health wellbeing at work. World Mental Health Day is a powerful vehicle to raise awareness, but we know that mental health challenges are an everyday event. That’s why, with the continued rise of mental health disorders and the destructive impact of Covid-19 on mental health, we’ll keep being agile with our mental health wellbeing strategies. And we’ll continue to help our teams stay close and connected through the pandemic and far beyond.
Because when it comes to protecting mental health, whatever restrictions are imposed on us, we need to Reach Out to Help Out.