Levelling up: Why mental health is just as important as our physical health

To mark #WorldMentalHealthDay2019 our Senior Learning Designer, remote-working guru and Wellbeing Champion Helen Marshall talks about our latest work in this area, presents a report from the Mad World London Summit 2019 – and shares her own thoughts on the part learning has to play in rethinking the healthy workplace.

Wellbeing and mental health are an important part of our everyday lives, yet they often take a backseat in our professional roles. There is a definite shift in attitudes occurring in workplaces, as employers recognise the business impact of mental health and wellbeing issues. But there’s still huge amounts to be done.

BITC has found 39% of employees have experienced poor mental health due to work in the past year. The main reasons cited were: pressure, workload impacting ability to take leave, and lack of support.

Brightwave has been part of an exciting project working with Samaritans and seven of the UK’s largest retailers to combat that lack of support in the retail sector.

Wellbeing in Retail is a guide that acts as both a dip in-and-out resource to help when they like OR a full piece of digital training that can be carried out from start to finish. It gives workers tools to manage their own mental health, support others who may be struggling and signpost where to find help.

“Are you okay?”

Retail is the largest private sector employer in the UK and the development of this online guide was inspired by joint research from the John Lewis Partnership, Marks & Spencer, the Co-op and Next, which revealed that over 50% of the 2,000 retail workers who responded could not recognise the signs of someone needing emotional support, and around 25% would not feel confident approaching an upset colleague.

Our aim was to create a resource that increases the individual’s ability to recognize signs that something might not be quite right, and give them skills to reach out when needed. The resources in the guide track responses to four key questions relating to people’s confidence levels as they move through it.

In light of our previous, award-winning experience working with Samaritans, we’re hoping for some positive results.

It’s a Mad World

Stemming from my involvement in Wellbeing in Retail, I had the chance to attend Mad World Summit, the EU’s largest B2B event that drives workplace mental health and wellbeing strategies, innovation and investment. It was a great day, full of positive energy and a real feeling of momentum, with a range of brilliant workshops.

In my first session, Is neurodiversity just an extension of human diversity? Matthew Trerise, working as an Autism & Neurodiversity Consultant, focused our attention on the question of whether neurodiversity is just an extension of human diversity – and, do we really need the distinction? There seems to be a definite need for organisations to adapt recruitment processes because here ‘one size does not fit all’. Microsoft were highlighted for their Inclusive Hiring Programs, which centres on looking for people’s strengths rather than identifying weaknesses against ‘the norm’.

The queries Matthew raised also have implications for the type of training we deliver. How can we make it more accessible, or use different techniques in our designs to engage people who may have more analytical, logical and detail-focused minds? Again, there’s not a one size fits all approach to eLearning, which is a real challenge.

What does good look like?

I found the most value in Amy McKeown and Claire Douglas’ session What good looks like: How to produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan. This session really showed me the challenges organisations are up against and how large a task creating a plan could be.

In the same way that learning interventions should ideally be delivered as a campaign where key messages, reminders and activities are tied into every day working life, so too should mental health plans. They should integrate neatly with the cultural mindset, and implementation should be long-term and consistent, rather than solely launched with a short-lived ‘bang’.

VOI not just ROI

Lastly, Wolfgang Seidl’s incredibly insightful and funny workshop Maximising impact and budgets with a joined-up physical, mental and financial wellbeing strategy touched on how organisations shouldn’t just be looking at ‘big’ data, but ‘meaningful’ data which focuses on the human as a whole.

I was struck by his insightful interpretation of the statistic that ‘62% of people reported being affected by mental health issues’:

“If this were a physical illness, like TB, an epidemic would have been declared.”

And that rings true – mental health for one reason or another seems easier to disregard. Interestingly, it was also pointed out that organisations shouldn’t just be interested in the ROI of their activities but the VOI: value of investment.

That seemed like a fitting end to my day at the summit: thinking about how value is measured from both an employee and employer perspective. Perhaps learning design could focus on the value of investment, too?

We are exploring the issue of learner fatigue and culture hacks to re-energise the workforce at our next Learning Studio Session.

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