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Five companies that set the standard in supporting staff's mental health

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Megan Murray
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Do you think your workplace needs to step up when it comes to mental health support? Here’s five companies showing the others how it’s done. 

Calling in sick to work can be a nerve-wracking experience. Even though that tonsillitis/stomach bug/ migraine is all too real for you, there’s always a wave of guilt or panic that your employer will think you’re trying to pull a fast one – and that’s when there are physical symptoms to prove your case.

So what about when your mental health is suffering? Would you feel empowered to tell your boss that you need some time for your mind, or supported in asking for mental health-help in the work place?

Well, right now not enough of us do, and every year 300,000 people in the UK with long-term mental health conditions lose their job.

Last year, Prime Minister Teresa May asked Lord Dennis Stevenson and the former CEO of Mind, Paul Farmer, to create a report on mental health at work. Their findings showed that the UK is facing a much bigger mental health challenge than previously thought, and stressed the need for employers to do more for their staff’s wellbeing.

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The report proposed that in 10 years’ time, organisations of every size should be equipped with the awareness and tools to support workers with a mental health condition and prevent it being worsened by work. It challenged the government to facilitate increased transparency at work surrounding mental health and the provision of tailored in-house mental health support.

Do you feel supported in your work environment?

And Chloe Ward, technician at mental health clinic Smart TMS, agrees. Speaking to stylist.co.uk, she says: “Mental health is an issue many organisations cannot afford to ignore. It’s the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, costing an average of £1,035 per employee per year as found by the Time to Change campaign.

“An employer’s responsibility is to foster a healthy working environment. Many mental health issues are often hidden for several reasons including losing an employer’s respect, putting one’s job at risk or being shamed by colleagues.

“Organisations perform better when their staff are healthy, motivated and focused and the support people receive from employers is key in determining how well and how quickly they can get back to peak performance.

“A simple way to communicate this is to explain that mental health will be treated in the same way as physical health. 

We spend most of our day at work, so isn’t it important we get the support we need?

“Workplace adjustments for someone who is suffering with mental health problems could be flexible hours, changing the workplace so it is quieter and less stressful, provision of quiet rooms and agreements to give an employee leave at short notice including time off for appointments related to health.”

Currently 15 out of every 100 people at work have a mental health condition, so the need for better systems and more awareness is timelier than ever. But there are some companies that already ensure their employee’s mental health is high on the agenda.

Leading the way with innovative benefit packages, some of the companies below are setting a brilliant example of how a business should look after the people that make the magic happen.

We looked at how five companies across a range of industries support their staff’s mental health, as a point of reference for what we should all be expecting from our employers.

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innocent drinks

innocent offers flexible working and encourages staff to be healthy and happy however works for them

innocent’s smoothies are known for their cute packaging and witty marketing, which combined with charitable campaigns (everyone remembers those adorable knitted hats), have given the brand a well-liked image.

Well, the good news is this positive attitude doesn’t seem to be just for PR purposes. The brand looks after its staff as well as you would hope, paying special attention to their mental health.

There’s a range of perks that indirectly ease staff’s work stresses such as flexible working hours, free breakfast and a free gym membership to encourage workers to be healthy and happy through exercise.

The brand also offers a yoga club, which is a great way to practise mindfulness and says it has mental health resources available to its all its staff, including a 100% confidential employee assistance programme in place, which allows anyone who works at innocent to talk to someone 24 hours a day.

Speaking to stylist.co.uk, a spokesperson from innocent said: “Just like physical health, we all have a state of mental health. Sometimes it will be in a great state, and sometimes not so great.

“At innocent we understand that mental health problems and stress can affect anyone – our aim is to create a work environment that supports mental health and enables people to support their team too. We believe that no stigma should be attached to mental health. We understand that everyone’s circumstances are different, so we pledge that the individual’s mental health needs will always matter to us.”

But as well as these everyday ways to support mental health, innocent also runs two training courses aimed at promoting better understanding of mental wellbeing. One is for everyone to improve general awareness and one is tailored specifically for managers, to ensure they are equipped to support their team.

The company has also made a friend in mental health charity Mind, asking for its expertise and knowledge by inviting the team to Fruit Towers, and discussing how innocent can better support staff.

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Ernst & Young (EY)

EY has a free online health assessment and 24 hour confidential counselling service 

Accounting firm, EY, prides itself on providing a long list of benefits for its employees, including childcare vouchers and a bike for travelling to work. But encouragingly, many of its benefits are specifically conducive to promoting good mental health at work.

Health is a big focus for EY as a whole, with private healthcare, free health assessments and occupational health and rehabilitation consultancy all being available to those who have completed more than three to five years of service. But as well as this, EY also has a free online health assessment and 24 hour confidential counselling service that can be used by both employees and their families.

Regular exercise is something that’s proven to aid good mental health, and workers at EY are encouraged to cycle to work and join the office sports teams, which could also positively benefit their mind set.

Sweaty Betty

Sweaty Betty puts on a range of exercise classes to help staff’s wellbeing

This cult active wear brand champions a healthy mind and body for both its customers and its staff, which is exactly why we asked it to collaborate with us on our Reclaim Your Lunchbreak campaign last year. Just like us, Sweaty Betty knows the importance of having a work-life balance and keeping office stress to a minimum by giving your mental health some TLC and your mind a midday break.

Every week, Sweaty Betty’s staff are given the option to join a lunchtime yoga class to help “disconnect from our desks and reconnect with our minds” as hosted by The Power Yoga Company. There’s also a running club which takes place on Mondays and the option to start later in the day so that you can concentrate on personal goals in the morning.

The company’s entire ethos is based around having healthy staff, inside and out; it’s even something they’ve won an award for.

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Speaking to stylist.co.uk, Sweaty Betty’s head of People, Victoria Munro, says: “We’re a firm believer in looking after employee wellness, one of our company values is ‘well and fit equals happy’!

“Our biggest focus is of course around how having an active lifestyle can support mental health so we provide workout classes for our employees in our office and in store. This plus our Employee Assistance Program provided by the Retail Trust which gives employees access to free counselling and support, as well as education around other areas such as financial wellbeing, which can cause stress.”

Unilever

Wherever your work place, you should feel supported mentally 

This consumer goods company, that you’ll know for owning brands such as Dove and Ben & Jerry’s, has a company-wide focus on physical and mental well-being to “support employees to be the best they can be.”

They describe their view of well-being as “holistic”, aiming for all of their employees to be in a sustainable state of feeling good and functioning well as a ‘whole-human’.

To do this, the company has a global Well-Being Steering Committee, who have created a four-pillar Well-Being Framework to address the physical, mental, emotional and purposeful well-being of employees.

Unilever believes that for its employees to be happy at work, they need to feel a sense of purpose. Therefore, 10,000 employees have so far been given a place on a Purpose workshop, to address what they want from their career and take time for “deep reflection”.

Unilever’s mission statement reads: “We’re committed to promoting mental health within our business, and beyond. In 2016 we became founding corporate partners of Heads Together in the UK, an initiative that combines a campaign to tackle stigma and change the conversation on mental health, with fundraising for a series of innovative mental health services. Twice a year, we promote mental health-specific communications for employees, including on World Mental Health Day in October.

“Promoting the mental well-being of our employees is a vital element of our Lamplighter programme, which recognises that mental health is especially important in times of change or uncertainty. By listening and responding to the emotional needs of our employees, we give people a better chance of fulfilling their potential.”

Iceland

We can all become affected by work stress or anxiety

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Iceland says that its first priority, in order to serve its customers well, is to make sure it’s staff are properly looked after - and it seems to do this in a number of ways.

In 2014, the Sunday Times named it Britain’s Best Big Company to Work For (coming 8th this year) because it “can’t be beaten for its levels of wellbeing”, something that the brand has continued to build on.

As well as encouraging staff to enjoy a work-life balance and focusing on the relationships between managers and their staff to ensure that there’s an open, supportive atmosphere, Iceland also offers counselling.

Recognising that working in a customer facing position can sometimes mean exposure to confrontation, the company provides mental health support for staff that are struggling with work-related stress.

The company also offers an Occupational Health Service, which is designed to give employees fast diagnosis on any issues that may be holding them back from working effectively, and can help speed up referrals for treatment for both physical and mental health issues.

Feel inspired by how these companies are addressing mental health in the work place? Breaking the taboo around this subject starts with all of us, so if you’ve been meaning to talk to your boss about mental health, here’s some advice on how to start that conversation.

Images: Getty / Brooke Cagle