The mental wellbeing of the advertising industry has long been disputed by those working within it.
The Drum Network caught up with various insiders to discuss the initiatives for ensuring employee mental health is supported in the workplace, sharing the solutions that they have established or come across in business.
Norm Shearer, CCO, Cactus
With over 25 years of agency experience in health and wellness, we have a deep understanding of the need for mental health and wellbeing solutions. Mental health has always been part of our corporate values, and we have a high bar for maintaining our workplace initiatives. Implementing a comprehensive plan continues to be the best approach at Cactus. Here's my suggestions for agency leaders looking to level up their approach to mental health and wellness in the workplace:
Recognize that maintaining mental wellness involves integrated solutions that extend across many aspects of life and work at the office and at home. In order to make mental wellness a part of everyday culture, don’t look for a single tactic or benefit to provide solutions for all employees. Mental wellness does not start at the office and is more than making a therapist available.
Make mental wellness a part of everyday culture and lead by example. Don’t look for a single tactic or benefit to provide mental health solutions for all employees. Do take mental health days and announce them to your employees. Make it acceptable and expected behavior to attend to your mental health and wellbeing. Communicate often, participate in new benefits openly, and share the vision and hopes you have for your team.
Vicky Mottershaw, employee benefits consultant, Connor Broadley
Our role as employee benefits consultants means it’s more appropriate for us to advise agencies on their cultural approach to mental wellbeing than it is on how to make actual structural changes to their business.
For example, one of our observations is that management teams tend to focus only on the wellbeing of their employees when they are physically in the workplace. Research shows though that people often come into work with stresses and pressures from their domestic lives that then impact on their ability to focus and perform in the office.
Financial wellbeing falls into this category. According to research by the Chartered Institute of Professional Development, money worries are the biggest source of stress for UK employees. Government research recently found that 25% of employees lose sleep because of financial worries and 59% believe financial concerns prevent them from performing their best at work.
The irony is that the same research found that 90% of employers believe money worries impact on workplace performance, but few know how to actively help.
We find that financial education is a simple way for employers to provide support. Financial literacy in the UK is among the lowest in the western world (26th out of 29 surveyed countries) and although this is now being addressed in the school curriculum, employers can play a real role in helping to bridge the current gap. Support can be provided in two ways, either via presentations where all manner of financial topics can be covered, or, by providing in-office financial clinics with confidential one-to-one access to external financial advisers where guidance can be offered on everything from budgeting and managing debt to pensions and mortgages.
Antonio Wedral, director, Novos
At our agency, we aim to have a lot of greenery in the office (plants from our client, Patch). Additionally, flexible working is not just an option, but something we encourage if people need it. We e have ‘Headspace for work’ membership for the whole team & also we introduced a ‘culture club’ where every month we do something fun as a team.
These came about as I, one of the co-founders, hit a burn-out point early last year from working non-stop, not dealing with my stress, and not talking about it. This led me to a low point where I knew I had to make changes. The constant demand from clients, and an always-on culture that entrepreneurs are led to believe they need to live, resulted in me hitting that low point.
We encourage the whole team now to manage workload, and to talk if they’re too stressed to try and combat a toxic environment. The primary challenge of introducing initiatives like Headspace is that not everyone would use it, or has the same ways of calming down. That's why we encourage listening to individual needs and accommodating where possible.
Adrian Webb, Chairman, LAB Group
LAB took a fundamental step towards supporting employees' mental health by moving to a four-day working week in 2018. Stress is cumulative and the only effective way to reduce it is to balance time on and time off. We found that many people with busy lives were not relaxing effectively at weekends because domestic jobs and admin were being bumped into this free time leaving them with too little time to relax and unwind.
By changing our working week, our staff generally devote their 'day off' to those necessary tasks, leaving them the opportunity to have two full days of downtime to pursue stress-reducing hobbies and see their families. It is all very well to have 10 minute gong baths at work - and such interventions can help - but often they are too small to have a real impact. A four-day week was a radical step but one that has paid dividends already.
Graham Pinkney, digital marketing head, Elementary Digital
At Elementary Digital, we evolve to support our employees. The most successful initiative that we have implemented to support mental health in the workplace is remote working.
While this has seen positive results, we are constantly looking at how we can improve the setup even more to promote positive mental health.
The concept of remote working also allows for optimum working conditions to be set by our employees themselves. They can relax at home, with their pet beside them and create their own positive mental health space.
While we are a remote business, we do have a main office. In this environment, we promote positive mental health by curating a positive space for those of us who cannot work remotely. Our office is laid back with comfortable seating areas and complimentary drinks.
With the implementation of remote working, we have found ourselves using new technologies to promote collaboration and improve well-being. Some of the new technology that we use includes Google Hangouts, Skype and Slack. This technology can encourage collaboration when working with clients but we can also have fun, send jokes and unite the team.
Studies have shown that animals can have a positive effect on mental health. This is why our staff are encouraged to bring in their pets when they are in the office. This policy has been received well and our staff enjoy the presence of their pets.
Adam Flanagan, operations director, Aire CBD
Aire CBD was born out of agency burn-out really. Myself and fellow founder Oli Harris have worked in agencies for a number of years (me a Project Manager, him a Creative Director) and both of us had been affected by the mental demands of that working environment. Obviously the stresses of a PM and the stresses of a Creative are driven by different things, but the end results tend to be the same - anxiety, panic attacks and a general feeling of not being able to cope. Independently of each other we both started using CBD. Not religiously at first, just when we felt things were getting a bit crazy and we needed a helping hand to get through the day. It was over a beer that we found out we’d both been using CBD and that it was having a positive effect on us. It was this that brought us together and inspired us to do something different. Eighteen months and a lot of hard graft later Aire CBD is born. We’ve had great feedback from agency people so far which is brilliant because they’re really the guys we’ve created it for. People like us, essentially.
The generation of people who tend to work in agencies are much more focused on their wellbeing now than they may have been in the past, which is obviously a good thing. You now see workmates heading off to do a HIIT class together at lunchtime, when, even 10 years ago when I started out, it was more likely you’d be heading to the pub. More appreciation of your mental wellbeing is a huge part of this as well. In general there’s more awareness around the issue now, so people are much more likely to know what symptoms to look out for and be more open to finding solutions that help them. From mindfulness apps to ASMR, there’s lots of new, interesting ways to help people deal with stress and anxiety and CBD is just one of them.
Rebecca Hull, operations director, Manifesto
Put simply, the thing that has had the biggest impact on our employees mental health, is talking about mental health and making sure that people know Manifesto provide a safe space for this. Sharing stories broke down barriers and helped kick start conversations. I would say we strive to make conversations about mental health as commonplace and everyday as talking about physical health.
We formed our wellbeing group shortly before Mental Health Awareness Week and wanted to run an extended team meeting on the subject during the week to highlight that we really are serious about making sure people in the company get the valuable support they need. Within the group there were a few people, myself included, who had been supported enough through poor mental health to feel confident to share their experience with the wider team. So as part of our team meeting, myself and three others volunteered to talk about our experiences of anxiety, depression, recovery from alcoholism, and recovery from a double mastectomy (not all of us had experience of all of these!).
Half of those who shared their experience were men, we also had a mix of long-standing staff and relative newbies, and two were directors. That combined with how honest we were about signs, symptoms, ups and downs (no matter how large or small), I think really brought it home to people that they shouldn’t ignore what they’re currently going through.
The response was more than we could have hoped for. Several people spontaneously shared their own stories during the meeting, and in the days, weeks and months afterwards we’ve all had multiple people talk to us about their mental health. It’s also been a great conversation starter for people who weren’t at the meeting. I’ve had a few people say “I’ve heard about what you said at the team meeting…”
Most importantly, it’s removed the taboo of starting a conversation, it’s made it real, it doesn’t just happen to someone else and it’s shown that recovery (to whatever degree that is) is the most likely outcome; and that’s why it’s had the most impact.