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October 7, 2020

Reducing the stigma of mental health: Workplace initiatives that really work

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“Avoiding or ignoring the subject is really no longer an option.”

Paul Stevens | HR Business Partner at Air Liquide

COVID-19 meant the swift introduction of brand new policies designed to help employees cope with the new ways of working and a multitude of additional pressures. By listening to their needs, the last few months have seen a wave of innovative best and next practices emerging in the world of mental health.

We interviewed a wide range of trailblazing WORK180 Endorsed Employers of all sizes to identify the common themes running through successful mental health initiatives. From basic solutions like flexible working to impressive tailored wellbeing programs, they all seemed to have one thing in common: a human-centric approach.

After all, whatever your role or position, we’re all humans with multiple challenges and mental health needs.

Learn from the leading employers around the world

Shared best practice

Flexible working:

Giving employees more control over when and where they work enables a healthy work-life balance, which allows employees to bring their best selves to work — wherever that may be. The mental health and business benefits of flexible working are recognized by the majority of Endorsed Employers.

This includes Transport for Greater Manchester, whose dedicated HR Wellbeing Specialist, Jo Llewellyn, was sure to include flexibility in TFGM’s comprehensive mental health program:

“We’ve also launched agile working practices ‘working differently’, which provides the basis to have a much more flexible approach to workplace and home working. Working flexibly has proven to improve our wellbeing, how we feel as well as our productivity!”

Mental Health First Aiders:

Organizations such as Aurizon, Ericsson, Mott Macdonald, Southeastern Railway, and Reward Gateway named Mental Health First Aiders and ambassadors as an important part of their initiatives.

The value added through training these employees to offer peer support is so important to Anglo American that it has set a target to have 5% of its workforce accredited as mental health first aiders.

For Downer, this also includes members of the senior leadership team who actively address the stigma around mental health by sharing their own stories:

“Our trained MHFAiders regularly refer to the benefits of learning various aspects of neuroscience and applying the MHFA action plan as improving their mental health literacy. This reduces the stigma across the business to openly discuss mental health and wellbeing. Beginning these conversations within their small teams shifts the culture and normalizes the conversation.”

Ashleigh Holt | Head of Recruitment and Sourcing at Downer.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP):

Providing private and confidential support for a wide range of mental health issues, an Employee Assistance Program is a staple for every Endorsed Employer interviewed. Depending on their provider, these EAPs include a wide selection of resources, assessments, coaching, counseling, and even medical referrals. And having seen the positive impact these programs can have on their employees alone, leading organizations like Okta, Anglo American, and Freightliner are also offering these EAP benefits to employee family members.

“Being in a safety critical industry, Freightliner have introduced an Employee Assistance program to support all colleagues and their families for existing or potential health concerns that might arise during the course of, or outside of work. We have also developed Mental Health Awareness training for all line managers and by partnering with organizations such as the Samaritans we have continuously promoted awareness around reducing the stigma of mental health.”

Nikita Niven | Safety Development Manager at Freightliner

“We have various initiatives in place for the drivers. Firstly, we have a 24hr helpline where drivers can access freely and talk openly to a counselor. Then we have a dedicated service that can give one-to-one counseling, initially this is six sessions but can be extended. Also, we have a service that deals specifically with trauma, this is available to drivers and no time limit on the amount of sessions. We have a specialist where EMDR is used, generally after fatalities.”

Darren McCarthy | Driver Team Manager, Northern Railway

Events, workshops, and webinars:

As expected, almost all participating employers highlighted events and workshops as an important way of raising awareness, addressing issues, and providing vital training. And of course, webinars are more prominent than ever due to the remote nature of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In terms of the most effective topics for engaging employees, improving culture, and reducing stigma, Liz Hansen | Culture & Inclusion Manager at Anglo American, listed neuroscience, mindfulness, and practical strategies for supporting others.

To acknowledge the individual and collective contributions to enhancing the wellbeing of QFES, each year QFES hosts “Peer Support Week” and one of the activities is the team participation in the Emergency Services Interagency Peer Support Week Challenge which is a Dragon Boat race among colleagues in Queensland Ambulance Service and Queensland Police Service.

Podcasts, tailored programs for wellbeing and Apps:

An increasingly popular part of organizations’ mental health programs are podcasts, with many employers providing up-to-date lists of health and wellbeing series for employees to tune in to. And according to TransGrid’s Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing Manager | Julie Moss, this media is a particularly popular choice among remote workers.

What’s more, Toyota even has its own podcast and digital wellbeing series.

“What has helped me immensely are opportunities Toyota has presented to its employees, such as The Resilience Project’s digital wellbeing series, sessions with one of Australia’s leading experts on women’s health and wellness, Steph Prem, our very own Toyota podcast series with guests such as psychologist Sabina Read and so much more.”

Steph Naylor | National Marketing at Toyota

Similarly, many organizations provide useful lists of apps to aid their workforce’s mental, physical, and even financial health — after all, all three are interrelated. For example, the cloud software company Okta offers all employees a fully subsidized 12-month subscription to the meditation and sleep app Headspace. And Anglo American has taken it one step further by providing its plus 5,000 employees with their very own Engage App; from its office workers to the ‘frontline’ of the mine sites, it includes a range of tailored information and mental health resources to help all employees.

Advocacy and encouragement:

While mental health is more widely understood, there is still a large amount of stigma attached to it. As such, all interviewed Endorsed Employers spoke in some way of the importance of communication to normalize and promote positive mental health. One of the most effective ways of doing this is through visible buy-in of the senior leadership team. Examples of this can be seen in a range of organizations, from the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services to Ernst & Young and JP Morgan.

“Our ‘This is me’ campaign was launched in 2017 to reduce the stigma and dispel myths around mental health in the workplace. A number of senior leaders across the business have now shared their personal stories of mental wellbeing, leading to an open discussion about mental health across the organization.”

Helen Tabeshfar | Vice President – EMEA Diversity and Inclusion at JP Morgan

Adapting and evolving

Now that the questions of where to start and what will work are solved — and fortunately the answers are not as complicated, time-consuming, or costly as you may think — it’s time to talk about next practice.

Here are just some of the stand out initiatives introduced by leading employers over the last few months:

  • As well as a weekly virtual get-together known as ‘Quarantini hour’, GreenSync now offers employees an additional day off every six weeks to focus on their wellbeing.
  • Mott MacDonald AU and Mott MacDonald UK run weekly meditation sessions and a range of skill sharing events to bond colleagues and support those living alone during COVID-19 restrictions.
  • To help employees cope with the additional pressures of the current pandemic, WORK180 has introduced a nine-day fortnight (yes, the team enjoy every second Friday off).
  • Woolworths set up a new 24/7 team support phone line that is resourced by professionally trained clinicians.
  • Ernst & Young introduced a range of online fitness classes that can be accessed on demand, as well as a school holiday program to support working parents and carers currently balancing work with family commitments.
  • Toyota has also introduced a ‘Toyota Kids Club’ to ease the increased pressures on parents working from home.
  • Nanny placement services, childcare priority and discounts, learning pods access to tutors, pet sitters and housekeepers are part of the resources Okta provides, as well as their Employee Experience Marketplace —paid and discounted services and programs including wellness, family support, parenting resources, food/snack delivery to name a few.
  • Ericsson also introduced initiatives to encourage employees to take time away from their desks, including virtual fitness boot camps, yoga sessions, and even Zumba classes.
  • In addition to private healthcare and an EAP, Spirit Energy employees now have access to the mental health coaches from Sanctus, the cutting-edge physical coaching provider CorLife, and the personal finance service Nudge.

“This investment in our staff is not entirely altruistic – we care tremendously about our teams but also know that with these benefits, we are supporting a healthy and productive workforce which helps our organization meet our goals.”

Jess Thomson | Head of Culture and Values at Spirit Energy

The common thread throughout each of the Endorsed Employer’s successful initiatives is a clear focus on their people, and this is the perfect place to start.

Want to work somewhere that prioritizes mental health?

If you’re looking for a workplace truly committed to supporting their people, WORK180 is here to help. You can find exciting opportunities with our trusted and trailblazing Endorsed Employers — including the progressive companies featured in this article — right here on our jobs page.

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About the Author

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.