Deep breaths: moving from ‘surviving’ to ‘thriving’
Obviously, mental health and the impact of negative mental health in the workplace hit the HR headlines massively in the past two years when the government supported initiatives to raise awareness and educate.
Every man and his office dog were banging on about the dangers of poor mental health and the benefits of providing bucket loads of free fruit to make people happy... but before this, Sagittarius had already started to see a negative impact on our people following two years of explosive agency growth and the opening of overseas offices. With that growth came the challenge of more complex digital projects and scaling a team that was resilient, experienced and robust.
Sagittarius provide surefire tricks for stabilising mental health in the workplace.
We appointed and promoted a series of mangers to scale the teams globally and some of these new managers were doing just that. But it wasn’t long before the strain started to show. Sickness levels rose, albeit slightly, and I could see the stress levels rising in meetings and on people’s faces. The teams began to complain of workloads being too great, but workloads had not changed - expectations had. People were, by the nature of senior roles and responsibilities, pushing themselves to deliver and achieve more over shorter periods of time without taking breaks or having any respite.
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Feedback from our internal 360 review and appraisals process revealed that petting a dog in the office or eating more fruit would not solve some of the challenges of the increasingly demanding pace of agency life.
We need a bigger, more strategic solution. We wanted to provide a support structure that did not treat issues topically or the early signs of stress and poor mental health. We needed to build a solid foundation that allowed people to grow, evolve, expand, talk openly and thrive in this environment; ensuring better mental health is just one aspect of this.
The first thing we did was to get as many people talking about mental health as possible - to help everyone recognise the importance of good mental health and remove the taboo and stigma that had often surrounded the topic. This helped our team to recognise poor mental health and support colleagues who were struggling.
We introduced external voluntary training supported by the government’s Mental Health Initiative across the agency – First Aid at Work (a full day) which was awesome and gave our group of volunteers the knowledge they needed to become Mental Health Advocates and first points of contact within the business.
This started ‘THE CONVERSATION’ in-house. We followed this training with a couple of informal educational lunch-and-learn sessions and added mental health to the regular agenda of our employee-run Healthy Minds and Bodies Committee.
By now, we had made a big statement in the company that clearly said “it’s ok not to be ok.” At this point, I had three employees who had come to me and said that they needed a day or a few days of to reset their mental balance and rather than telling me they had flu, we created an environment where they could say what the real issue was. I saw this as a huge breakthrough moment.
The positive effect of this training was profound. It has since become mandatory as part of our new starter induction training programme. We have “Mental Health Champions” who are happy to be a point of contact in the business to listen and signpost to anyone wanting help or struggling with balance.
To ensure that all levels of the agency were best placed to support everyone, we invited an external trainer to come in and work with our senior leadership and management team to help us to understand and learn more about how to build our own personal reliance. It’s a message that is also reinforced at quarterly off-site leadership meetings with the intention to continue to waterfall this mindset down to every employee in the agency over the next six months.
To complement the hard work the agency has invested in around mental health at work, we launched a mentoring programme, encouraging and supporting employees in finding internal or external mentors to help promote and drive their own careers independent of their roles with us, ensuring our people can grow in whichever direction is best for them, not what is just best for us.
Recognising that investing in our people is one of the most important items we can offer, the agency launched LinkedIn Learning for every employee globally, again allowing our team to upskill and drive personal growth. Promoting personal development provides everyone more control over their own careers and environments, as a lack of control is often a cause of employee anxiety at work.
Beyond the walls of work
Recognising that our metal health issues are not always confined to nine to five, and our internal agency Champions are not available 24/7, we globally invested in an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) which provides 24 hours online and telephone unlimited expert advice and counselling services, completely confidentially, and never to be reported on at work.
This free of charge service means people have somewhere to go for expert advice no matter what time of day or what the issue is, and the agency never ever need to know. Following the launch of the service in late 2019 one of our team reported that within a week of its launch the service had been used and was invaluable.
These initiatives ensure that our people are acquiring additional skills and have outside influencers and experts to turn to for advice, support and mentorship, providing our teams with the power to drive their own careers, influence internally more effectively, overcome obstacles and most importantly recognise when the workload or pressure is building past “manageable”.
Obviously, we do fruit, snacks, and yoga in the office. We have mindfulness built into our training programmes, come together at social events and lunches, have a laugh in the office, provide BUPA healthcare and dental cover and other benefits. Who doesn’t, these days?
But the most powerful thing I have seen is the senior team’s involvement on opening up about mental health, and getting the message out that we do care to everyone in-house. Sometimes, we’re not all firing on all cylinders and it is OK to stop and breath occasionally, even in a successful global agency.
Claire Battle, head of talent at Sagittarius.
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Sagittarius specialises in website design and development, ecommerce, user experience (UX), personalisation, digital transformation, search engine optimisation (SEO), pay per click (PPC), mobile marketing, online advertising and social media planning and campaign management.Find out more