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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