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Last year, I experienced a mental health issue myself. Shortly after having a baby in September, I was diagnosed with postnatal depression. In the new year, I returned to work, but I found myself unable to project the positivity and productivity that people expect from a CEO. I felt overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do, so I reached out to the team. This was a nerve-wracking move, but I knew that it was important to be honest with the people I worked with about why I wasn’t myself.
The response was incredible. Every person responded with grace and sympathy, and many had personal experience with anxiety and depression. It made me more comfortable explaining the flexibility I needed, and why I wouldn’t be returning to full-time work immediately. This led me to a question: How can we make people more comfortable talking about their mental health? What can we do to help our team to take care of themselves?
We put our heads together and had a brainstorm, and here are nine of the ideas that we came up with:
Openness (but only by choice)
When members of the leadership team are open about their mental health, it can make the whole team feel more comfortable. For those who have issues themselves it can reassure them that they aren’t alone, and for others it can make them more aware. It takes a lot to come forward, but you might be surprised by the empathic response: many people have direct experience with mental health issues, either their own or in people they care about.
Pets in the office
Inviting pets into the office is a great mental health measure – they are non-judgemental and always happy to see you, regardless of what’s going on with work. It’s not just us that think so, either, there’s plenty of scientific evidence demonstrating that pets can improve mental health. At TopLine, two wonderful dogs are regularly in the office, and feedback from the team consistently lists them as one of their favourite parts of the job.
There was a time when ‘work social’ was almost synonymous with ‘drinking’. However, considering the demonstrated link between alcohol and mental health issues, companies should consider looking beyond the pub for socials.
We haven’t eliminated alcohol, but we have tried to offer greater variety in our work events and options for people who don’t want to drink. For example, we recently climbed the O2 Arena and played laser tag and had a great time, without a drink in sight.
Create a ‘mental health toolkit’
This is an idea I’m particularly excited about. It was suggested in the brainstorm that we create a list of resources for people who are struggling and circulate it around the company. We’re still working on collecting input from everybody in the office. Keep an eye on our blog, where we’ll post it once it’s finished.
Train mental health ‘first aiders’
This is another brilliant idea to come out of the brainstorm: training a mental health champion within the company and making them the first call for anybody looking for help.
We make a healthcare package available to our employees which covers counsellors and psychologists, as well as a range of alternatives. This includes access to a 24-hour a day support line for mental health emergencies.
Encourage healthy activities
Subsidising healthy activities is another excellent way that companies to support their employees. We provide an annual well-being bonus to our team, to be used for gym memberships, subscriptions to meditation apps, and even foreign language lessons.
Make it easy to take a break
Our beloved ping pong table gets a lot of use, and we’re looking for other games that people can play to unwind. Sometimes, people have their best ideas when they take some time away from the computer screen and providing options for people to take a break in their workday can significantly reduce stress levels.
Use demonstrated stress-relievers
Activities like meditation and yoga offer proven mental health benefits and offering them to the team can make a serious difference. We convert our boardroom into a massage suite for the afternoon every few months, and it’s something our team really looks forward to.
I know the importance of mental health first-hand, and I also know what a big difference support can make. A person who isn’t feeling like themselves can’t be productive, let alone do their best work, and even normal work stresses can feel crushing. Companies that are willing to step up and help employees with their mental health will have happier, more supportive, and more productive teams.
Image credit: Freepik
Ben Beckles is a media relations consultant for TopLine Comms. He is passionate about promoting mental health and well-being in the workplace.