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Mental Health at Forster

By Kate Parker

13 April 2015
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We’ve all heard the statistics; one in four people experience mental illness symptoms in any given year. What’s more, a recent survey from PRCA suggests this figure rises to a third within our sector, costing the UK economy an estimated £70 bn per year.

In the last 15 years we have worked on a number of campaigns around mental health to try and address these stats, with clients such as Mind UK, the Department of Health, Time to Change, Rethink, Young Minds, Black Dog Tribe, The Campaign to End Loneliness, Business in the Community (BITC) and running the Government’s Mind out for Mental Health campaign. We’ve long been believers that every employer has a responsibility to address staff wellbeing through their physical, mental and social health.

Back in 2011, we piloted Forster Well, our employee engagement programme developed by and for the whole team. Over the years it has evolved, as we quickly learnt that as soon as something becomes habitual, it no longer brings the same level of benefit. From October last year we decided to include questions around mental health in our six-monthly appraisal process. In December we signed Time to Change’s Organisational pledge and chose to put the spotlight once again on Mental Health by forming our own working group, involving staff at all levels of the business.

The group decided to take an integrated approach to mental health initiatives covering environment, support, training and social interaction, starting by carrying out an independent healthcheck of the business. To ensure employees were equipped to start the conversation about mental health, or skilled enough to respond sensitively if they were approached by a team member about it, we offered several options to engage with it;

  • brought in an external speaker;
  • paid for coffee catch-ups on Time to Talk Day (getting staff out of the office and chatting to those in the business they might not normally spend time with);
  • Mindfulness taster sessions and free subscriptions to the Headspace app to help people tune-in to how they were feeling as a way of better managing rising stress levels;
  • held a ‘shake-up-your-meetings’ week, testing-out standing / walking / timed / themed meetings as a way of changing the habit of long seated meetings;
  • provided resilience training for junior staff on managing stress and busy workloads;
  • regularly communicated internally about our extensive mental health policy and EAP service.

Addressing employee mental health requires much more than having a staff policy in place, or offering free massages (as tends to be the way for many agencies). We’ve set ourselves some ambitious targets for the next year and, along with the results of Time to Change’s Healthcheck, we’ll continue to develop our proactive and reactive measures to push the boundaries of what we can achieve as a workplace.