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Recorded in partnership with Mental Health Innovations, this episode focuses on their 24/7 text based mental health support service, Shout, as well as the wider issue of mental health in the workplace.
In the latest episode of the c-suite podcast, we partnered with Mental Health Innovations (MHI) to explore the topic of mental health in the workplace. While physical safety has traditionally been a priority for businesses, mental health is now considered equally significant.
Joining our host Romy Wilson online were:
In 2017, Mental Health Innovations was founded as a legacy of the Heads Together program run by the Royal Foundation. Their goal was to leverage technology to provide mental health support to a wider audience. In May 2018, they began a pilot phase for their 24/7 text-based mental health support service, Shout, which is powered by two and a half thousand volunteers around the country. The volunteers receive their training online and volunteer online, allowing for a remote and home-based workforce. Since 2018, they have supported between 1,500 and 2,000 people per day and have had almost 2 million conversations about mental health.
Mental Health Innovations decided to offer a light version of the training to businesses, charities, and universities providing valuable knowledge on how to start conversations about mental health. In addition, they began white-labelling their Shout service to businesses, universities, and local authorities to provide out-of-hours mental health support to their staff. The text-based service allows them to gather anonymised data on what people are contacting them about, what’s helpful, and what additional support they can provide to support mental health in the workplace.
EDF uses the Shout platform by implementing a text message support service that employees text that sends an automatic response asking for a reason for texting. The message is then assigned to a volunteer who providers the texters with options for support services including EDFs employee assistance program and occupational health. These conversations are monitored by clinicians in case further action is needed.
The FA partnered with MHI to provide training called ‘Navigating Difficult Conversations’ to support managers in discussing mental health The FA recognises that the role of managers has grown and evolved, requiring new approaches to support their employees and this received positive feedback. It’s essential for team members to feel comfortable approaching their line managers for support. The training includes discussions on mental health making line managers feel at ease and enhancing their ability to work remotely.
At EDF, Becky explains they measure success of their text message support service by using the monthly data provided by Mental Health Innovations, which is added to their wellbeing data workstream. The data workstream was set up in 2021 led by their Chief Medical Officer focusing on wellbeing as they understood the impact of COVID-19 on their employees.
Victoria explains that people often hesitate to have conversations about someone’s mental health, especially in British culture. However, their training aims to teach people how to ask open-ended questions, understand emotions and use the appropriate language that doesn’t trigger or shame the person. Victoria emphasises the importance to give people permission to express their emotions without judgment. The support system is helpful for vulnerable people as it provides anonymity and a sense of safety by encouraging people to speak openly and then be redirected to resources and support.
Creating a culture of listening is important to help people with their mental health. Most users of their service express gratitude for being heard. Victoria emphasises that this culture requires training and support, and it is vital to understand that life is challenging, and tough times are normal. People experience events like leaving school, or university, getting dumped, having a baby, and losing their loved ones every day. Previously there was a culture of keeping this out of the workplace, however, enabling people to express these emotions at work is crucial. The ability to talk openly and be heard is essential in improving mental health.
Mark agrees with Victoria’s point about the importance of having a culture of listening. He believes that the pandemic period was a leveller and made people more understanding and compassionate towards each other. It didn’t matter what job you had or how much money you had, everyone faced challenges. Mark thinks that the people in the workplace are crucial in creating and inclusive and empathic culture. He emphasises the importance of leading by example and demonstrating the values and behaviours that you should see in a workplace.
Becky believes that promoting psychological safety is crucial in connecting people and highlighting values that demonstrate care for each other. She emphasises the importance of leaders being kind, compassionate and curious and acknowledges that having conversations around mental health can be difficult but it’s a skill that can be learned. The significance of listening and integrating wellbeing into EDF values is important rather than treating it as a separate topic. She references their success in challenging their culture around zero harm and hopes to approach wellbeing in a similar way.
Mark points out a common misconception that wellbeing only falls under the responsibility of the people or HR team. He emphasises that it’s a fundamental part of the company culture that everyone should support. Victoria adds that it’s important to normalise the idea that it’s okay to have a bad day and to ask for help when its needed. She also highlights that our personal lives can have a big impact on us at work.
In discussing the importance of accepting and normalising bad days the conversation turned to the challenge of self-acceptance. Becky notes that while shaping the culture and providing support from line-managers and leaders is important, accepting yourself can be the most difficult park. Victoria then adds that in their partnerships with corporate partners, they have observed presenteeism, where employees may physically be present but not fully engaged due to personal issues. Normalising conversations about these topics and allowing employees to express their needs is crucial for a healthy workplace culture.
Romy asks Mark from the FA and Becky from EDF about their future plans with MHI. Mark explains that they have two training sessions planned with MHI this year to support more people in their business with the skills and expertise provided by MHI. Becky shares that they have a full calendar of wellbeing topics throughout the year to promote conversation and support options for employees. Additionally, they plan to identify gaps in awareness and skills for managers based on data. Victoria rounds up the conversation by discussing MHI plans to develop more digital services and explore their anonymised data set to understand mental health trends, particularly among young people. They have recently developed a generative AI chat bot to augment volunteer training and plan to use cutting-edge technology to improve their services and develop new products.