The HR Juggler

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On Tuesday 5th February we held the HR for Mental Health evening with Mind. So many people have asked me how it went and what was discussed, that I thought it would be helpful if I pulled something together for those who were not able to attend.

The agenda and speakers for the event were organised by Jon Bartlett (@Projectlibero) in less than three weeks since the Courage post first appeared on my blog. Someone asked me the other day, whether either he or I had any idea of the response that would be generated from posting this: the honest answer is no, not at all! But, once it was clear that so many people were affected by the post and keen to do something tangible to try to make a difference, Jon and I discussed what we could do to maintain some momentum. I offered to post a series of guest posts by anyone who wanted to share their experience of dealing with a mental health issue (cue the 25% Club series); Jon had the great idea of creating and hosting an event with Mind.

Around 60 people attended from a wide variety of organisations and sectors, many of whom I did not know personally, but all of whom without exception were engaged, interested to find out more and keen to be there. David Goddin did a wonderful job of explaining what would happen at the event, introducing each of the speakers, and expertly facilitating throughout.

The evening started with a number of speakers, all of whom were fascinating and compelling to listen to. First up, Jon stepped forward and introduced himself as the author of Courage. This was a huge deal: as he explains in this post which he published at the start of the event, he has never previously spoken about his bipolar disorder in public. He talked movingly and at times haltingly of the path that his life has taken and how difficult it has been to get to this point of disclosure. He will say that he stumbled over his words and was tongue-tied at times. For me, and for many in the audience, it was simply spellbinding to listen.

Charlotte (@BipolarBlogger), who is an Expert by Experience for Mind gave a fantastic talk about what it is like to live with an enduring mental health condition. I found her the most inspiring of all: she was so bright, impressive, insightful and articulate. She talked about her condition as being like living on a beach: it can be normal and lovely and enable you to build the constructs of a normal life, but every so often there is a tidal wave, which devastates everything. She has published a transcript of her talk on her blog, which I can’t recommend reading highly enough. I would also like to highlight the tweet that became most shared throughout the evening, by Charlotte herself, which sums up so much of how we still view the topic of mental health: “Very nice of people to say that I am brave to speak up about my mental health, but I live for the day when bravery is not required.”

Ruth Warden from the NHS gave an employer’s perspective and shared a lot of research they had undertaken in their organisation, which was fascinating and definitely relevant beyond her sector and organisation. She has kindly provided a copy of her detailed notes, which you can view here –

 

 

Emma Mamo from Mind talked about the great work that they do with businesses and the excellent resources that are available. She has provided a visual overview of her presentation here, as well as a detailed example of a workplace WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan), which was discussed.

 

 

 

 

Following the speakers and a question and answer session with the panel, we separated into groups (thanks to Natasha Stallard and Julie Drybrough for their excellent work in facilitating us!) and brainstormed some answers to questions that had been set by Mind to help their research. These were –

  • What topics would be useful for Mind to produce information & guidance on?
  • What format would be most useful? E.g. short guides, Webinar events, check lists
  • What issues do HR Professionals find most challenging when it comes to managing Mental Health at work?

I know that Mind will be keen to continue to get feedback from HR professionals on these topics, so please do leave a comment or drop me an email if you have some views on the above points.

The evening wrapped up, we retired to the pub for drinks and a chat and my head was buzzing for hours, if not days afterwards with ideas for what I would do within in my organisation and a sense of huge pride and achievement for the success of the event.

Some food for thought that I have been reflecting on since the event and have shared with my HR and board colleagues is as follows –

  • line manager competency is, unsurprisingly, the single most important thing to how individuals with mental health issues experience support in the workplace
  • in order to create a more supportive environment, it helps to give people the tools to start a conversation. For example, for a manager to ask any individual who works for them, “how do you manage your own health and wellbeing? What can I do to support you with that?” Or even doing something as simple as regularly asking and properly listening to the answer of “how are you?” 
  • there is so much stigma still. Mind’s research shows that mental health illness has increased massively since the recession, but most people are too fearful to declare it and lie when they call in sick. This of course causes further problems and stress for the individual, as well as undermines the trust between the person and the organisation
  • it is important to integrate any mental health initiatives into wider support and training, not as a stand-alone activity. Also it’s helpful to talk about wellness as a whole, including mental wellness, versus illness which includes both mental and physical symptoms. We talked about how lots of managers and employers can be amazing if someone has cancer or diabetes, but terrible if the individual has a mental health issue. We also should be very mindful of the language we use
  • the employment rate for those with enduring mental health conditions is shockingly low.
  • it’s important to think about what the person can do, not just what they can’t. Often the individual themselves will know what will make a difference to them, for example flexibility in coming in slightly later, working from home, stepping out of conflict situations etc. Often continuing to work is vital to an individual’s ability to manage a mental health condition.
  • organisational restructures can be triggers for individuals – due to the increase in workload, the introduction of flatter, less defined structures, and a feeling of being out of control of their daily work. This is rarely taken into account in any change management programmes.

In terms of next steps, the most important thing is that we start to take action as a result of the evening event with Mind and our collective good intentions. For me, I will be getting a team together from across my business and agreeing our plans to improve the environment that we work in and are responsible for. Two particular possibilities that I am reflecting on are incorporating mental health into our management training at every level and also creating a strategic strand of wellness into our CSR strategy. In addition to this I will be making a case for bringing Mind in to upskill our HR and senior managers about mental health and helping us to deal with it more effectively. Watch this space for more details and I will update you on the actions that I take. I hope very much that there will be others doing the same.

Were you at the event? What points particularly resonated with you? If you weren’t there, what would you like to ask that I haven’t answered? And most importantly of all….what are you going to do to make a difference? I would love to know!

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This post needs little introduction at the current time. It is by the author of Courage and is an invitation to you to join us and take action on mental health.

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On New Years Day I wrote some words. They came to me and I had to get them down before they were lost so I wrote them on my phone. They tumbled out, 766 of them at the final account.

You probably read them 11 or 12 days later. The words were clumsy, raw and visceral but I’ve written and indeed experienced far worse. They certainly seemed to affect you because you told your friends, your colleagues and your families. Many people came to visit, to read those 766 words. Thank you.

Since then (was it only a few days ago?) countless expressions of sympathy and many offers of help have come in. I’ve spent the last few days wrestling with whether to go public or hide behind the anonymity. In some ways I’m torn, there is a very real professional risk to my employment prospects and I certainly don’t want to be the “poster child” for mental health issues in the HR/LD sphere. Also, there are people who write far more effectively and consistently on mental health, who are doing amazing work in this area.

Finally, (and I suppose this is the crux of it) I don’t want this to be the only thing that you know of me or associate me with, because I’m so much more than that. Undoubtedly, my mental health has contributed in no small part to my successes and indeed my failures – I certainly feel I could write the book on resilience. Yet, as it stands those 766 words are gender, colour, faith and sexuality neutral – appropriate really seeing as Mental Health conditions respect none of those boundaries.

Where does that leave us? I would like to keep my anonymity at this time and you want to help, to get involved and do something.

Alison and I have wracked our brains with what to do next and it’s a two pronged approach. Alison has very kindly offered up her blog next week for anyone to post their experiences and in that way hopefully to maintain some sort of momentum.

The second part is an invitation. We want you all to join us one evening at Informa’s offices in early February. We can’t promise anything fancy but we can offer the chance to meet and hear from people who face a daily struggle with their Mental Health. There will be an opportunity to learn about the charity Mind, the resources that they offer and the tools they use. Mind also wants to hear from you, to answer your questions on the issues and challenges that you and your organisations are facing.

We will confirm a date later this week. If you can’t wait to get involved then visit Mind’s website or perhaps take the pledge at Time to Change.

What we are saying is this. Take some action, please don’t just read those 766 words and then forget that I was ever there.

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If you care about mental health and want to make a difference there are lots of things you can do

I’m not a runner. I don’t enjoy running. I never run for pleasure, only out of sheer necessity to catch the train when I am late leaving work.

Except, somewhere in the midst of training for the moonwalk, I became attracted to the idea of maintaining and improving my new-found fitness and I started to think the previously unthinkable, that I could perhaps learn to love running. And during May, whilst I was extending my training walks to 16, 18, 20 miles and starting to understand the power of saying yes, I agreed to run a half marathon with some fantastic work colleagues in October in aid of Tommy’s.

I am struggling to convey the enormity of the challenge to me at that point – I knew that I couldn’t run even half a mile without stopping and I wasn’t willing to risk my already strained muscles by starting to train for running before I had completed the moonwalk and rested properly. So it wasn’t until the end of June that I started to do my first short runs and could put my determination and blind faith to any sort of test. It’s not easy learning to run, but I had at least developed some good stamina and was able to run for five minutes and walk for one minute over three miles during my first foray into running.

I’ve been going out for a run three times a week and I’m starting to reap the benefits – tomorrow I will be running 25 minutes without stopping, walking for a minute and then running a further 25 minutes. If I stick to my training plan (which I will!) in another week I will be running for 45 minutes, walking for 1 minute and running for a further 20 minutes. My body is in training and my mind is too…I know I can do this now and I’m starting to enjoy it. I love the fact that I am doing something that I thought I couldn’t, pushing against my own perceived limits and that I have this huge and daunting challenge to aim for.

It turns out, as ever, that the only real limitations are in my own head.

I am becoming a runner. I enjoy running and I will keep running for pleasure and necessity. If I can do it, so can you!

I do have a sponsorship page, but I know many of you have already sponsored me for the moonwalk, for which I am already hugely grateful. I’d love to hear any great fundraising ideas that you may have and will keep you posted with how I get on 🙂

Sometimes, that which is personal, is by far the most powerful topic to write about. This post is about family, rather than business; about love, rather than HR.

My Nan is 98 and a half. She lives in a residential home and is profoundly deaf, blind through macular degeneration and often deeply confused as a result of vascular dementia. She suffered a nasty fall and a subsequent fit on Tuesday last week and was taken to hospital, where she then slept solidly for three days. The doctors could not examine her, as she was asleep, visitors came and went and I believe we all concluded that the most likely outcome was that she would pass away.

Until Friday, when she woke up.  Amazingly.

On Saturday I visited her in hospital, fearful that she would not recognise me or remember who I am (although that has never happened before). It was a shock to see her – her face and body were deeply bruised and she had not so much black eyes, as black both sides of her face. As she lay in bed and I came close up to her and held her hand, I knew at once that she recognised me, simply because she looked at me so intently and with such love in her eyes.

My Nan didn’t speak for about 15 minutes – her voice seems to have been affected by the fall, although she has not suffered a stroke – she literally just looked at me with love, with blue eyes that have seen nearly a hundred years of life. She did start to speak after a time, although much of her conversation was incoherent in its meaning. Towards the end of my visit, the nurse helped her to sit up in her bed and she dazzled me and everyone else in view with a huge smile, apparently delighted to be able to see her surroundings and look at what was going on around her.

As I reflect on this now, I feel not so much pity for a very old lady, who in so many ways is far from the Nan I have known and loved all my life; rather I feel an admiration for the sheer life-force within her that pulled her back into being. And I feel humbled that in the midst of such a difficult and desperate situation, her capacity for love is undimmed. That seems somehow so extroadinarily human.

So, that’s it. That’s what I wanted to share and write about this time. Life-force, love, memory, family, frailty and determination.

Thank you for taking the time to read it.

This month so far I have either undertaken, or committed to, two activities that I have never previously done. Saying yes and trying new things has been liberating and empowering and I intend to do more of both as the year progresses.

So what are they? First up, I have been dabbling in creative writing, specifically writing children’s stories. I have loved the process of creating characters, plots, storylines and trying my hand at illustrations…it has been wonderful escapism! My first story is mostly finished, bar a little editing, and I intend to write at least one more in the near future. There is no commercial intent here, merely the sheer joy of creating something for its own sake. Once completely finished, I will be printing it off in book format for my daughters to keep.

I’ve learnt a lot from doing this too: the discipline required to finish the story, the importance of plot (I really ought to have been clearer in my head about this before I started writing it!) and the real pleasure of rediscovering something that I had not attempted since I was at school.

If you are interested, or even just mildly curious, then you can check out the Princess and The Dragon in full here.

The second activity is a commitment that I have made to undertake the Moonwalk 2012 in Edinburgh as part of a team from my organisation. I will be joining an amazing group of women in walking 26 miles throughout the night, all of us wearing our bras, to raise money and awareness for breast cancer charities. I am not a particularly sporty person and have never done anything like this before…but it is a cause that is close to my heart, as both of my grandmothers had breast cancer in their middle age and survived it, at a time when many did not. For this I am truly grateful and I will walk for them, for my Mum, for me and for my daughters.

I am both excited and nervous at the thought of undertaking a marathon, albeit power-walking one rather than actually running it! I would obviously love it if you would consider sponsoring me and you can find my team’s fundraising page here.

I wrote my final post of 2011 acutely aware that I wanted to do at least one amazing thing in 2012…just over half way through January and I now feel certain that I will achieve at least two 🙂

Go on…do something amazing…it feels great!

The people that I love interacting with most on social media are those that are honest, brave, open, generous and supportive. Today’s post is by Katie, who many of you will know better as @HRHopeful and she has all of the above qualities and plenty more. Her 2011 has been full of horrors, but luckily some great highlights too.

I love Katie’s writing and am hoping that she may go back to her own blog in the New Year too ;).

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When I sat down to write this post for Alison I did so thinking it would be easy. I am a keen reflector and I usually get my best ideas and personal growth through reflection. However, it was hard for me to reflect on a year where career wise I have probably cried more than ever before, where I have felt completely lost in my own skin sometimes and where I have experienced a complete loss of control which led me to seek medical help.

I am a fiercely independent person and although I have a great support network my ‘go to’ support mechanism is to deal with it by myself. This (or so I thought) was working for me up to probably July where I started to realise how not in control I was.

To give a bit of context, I was working in a role that unfortunately was not a great fit for me both career wise, culturally and at times ethically. I loved the people I was supporting but kept butting heads with the management team and my personal line managers (4 within the space of a year!!) I doubted my ability to do my job, doubted my ability to make good decisions and doubted my place within the Human Resources field.

On reflection I was probably depressed for the majority of 2011 and didn’t even realise it. The poor decisions I made, which at the time I attributed to my failure or someone else’s, were more likely a product of me being so drawn into the problems I was facing I couldn’t see any positive solutions.

We then come to September where I had my ‘breakthrough’ moment. I had returned to my workplace after a wonderful week away in Amsterdam and was met with a tirade of questions about projects I had been working on prior to my departure. This led me to ring my husband for the umpteenth time in tears and he said the words I needed someone to say to me for a very long time “Get out of there, walk away! We will work this out, don’t worry; I will look after you.” And so I did just that…..I handed in my notice, packed my things and walked away. And with the love and support of my family, friends, GP and Twitter connections I have never looked back. (Also, I cannot forget to mention the awesome power of playing Wilson Phillips “Hold on For One More Day” on a daily basis!!!)

The story has a happy ending as 6 weeks after walking away from the cause of my depression I was feeling 100% more positive, vibrant, energised and focused on getting my spark back. I had also secured an amazing role with a company on my Top 10 Companies to Work For list. Since I started there in mid-October my whole life has changed. It has made me realise how important happiness is, and how damaging it can be when you live without it in your daily life.

My message from 2011 is not one of failure (as I thought it to be when I started writing) but one of courage, and knowing it’s ok to admit you cannot cope sometimes. Whether it is work, a relationship, a bad habit or something trivial…..take the time to give yourself a Mental Health MOT and act on matters which cause you discomfort, pain or self doubt. There will be someone out there I’m sure who will be there to look after you and work it out.

I wish you and yours a safe and mentally healthy Christmas and 2012.

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For Katie, who is brave enough to share her story and for everyone else who has loved hearing it…

Mental health worries me. It is estimated by MIND that 1 in 4 people suffer a mental health problem over any 5 year period and every year UK businesses lose £26 billion and 70 million working days because of conditions like workplace stress (www.mind.co.uk).  

What worries me most is not these statistics per se, although HR professionals should take them seriously as they have potentially far-reaching implications for the workforce of the businesses we operate in. What is of real concern to me is that these mental health conditions are ‘lurkers’; hiding beneath the surface of acceptable normality, still treated as taboos and often not talked about or discussed before it is too late.

This week marks the ninth anniversary of my brother-in-law’s death from suicide. He was 30 years old, owned his own house and worked in a good job. And whilst it is not my intention to write this post wholly about him, he does underpin all of my thinking on this issue. Because until that day nine years ago, even many of those closest to him had no idea what was in his head. He had depression and hid it well, as many do.

Which brings me on to my point and the key question I pose to myself and to all of you: do we do enough to support mental health issues in the workplace? Sure, we have an Employee Assistance Programme and we run workshops to generate awareness of stress and how to manage it both in one’s self and in one’s direct reports. We take our responsibilities seriously and look at stress in the context of health and safety and are a responsible employer. We fund employees’ private medical insurance and refer individuals to an outsourced occupational health service if they are unwell for any reason and work with them to effect a graduated return to work, if required.

Is this enough?

It ticks a lot of boxes, but I have a nagging suspicion that dealing with this issue effectively will take more effort than that, more engagement with experts to fully understand the scale of the problem and how we as HR professionals and responsible businesses can make a difference to ending the taboo which exists around mental health in the workplace.

I don’t know the answer, but I would love to know what you think.


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