The record attendance indicated just how relevant this topic is in the current situation. This was reinforced when Gareth opened the session with a poll asking the audience what the major organisational concerns about the next 6 months are:
- Staff wellbeing and mental health – 59%
- Reduced revenue levels due to further recession – 38%
- Managing remote teams on a permanent basis – 32%
- Impact of Brexit – 24%
- Recruiting and onboarding new recruits – 21%
- Upskilling/reskilling existing staff – 18%
- Bankruptcy of customers/credit risk – 12%
- Sourcing funding for growth via debt or equity – 12%
- Unwinding of government support measure – 9%
- Operational liquidity and working capital issues- 3%
It is extremely interesting that 4 of the top 6 concerns are about people! Expert speakers have covered a few of these topics in our recent employer forums which you can find here.
Mental health and workplace wellbeing
We then got stuck into the topic of the session….
Our first expert speaker was Jen Christie of Rise Well talking to us about how to optimise employee wellbeing and performance during a pandemic. She started with a clear assertion that it’s not just vulnerable people who have suffered negative effects during the pandemic, “not one person hasn’t been affected”.
During her talk Jen ran a poll on what everyone’s biggest personal wellbeing challenges had been pre-COVID;
- Work-life balance – 46%
- Stress and overwhelm – 31%
- Rigid working patterns – 10%
- Commuting – 10%
- Stigma around mental health – 3%
Whilst it was good to see that even before the pandemic there was little concern about stigma around mental health, the two biggest challenges identified are unlikely to have been improved by the months of the crisis and the remote working forced on most people, making the topic of workplace wellbeing as relevant as ever.
Jen took us through a detailed discussion of 9 key strategies to adopt, including:
- Culture: senior role models and wellbeing champions. She stressed how critical it was to get buy-in from the top, and how powerful it was for senior leaders to share their own stories of vulnerability.
- Preventative versus Reactive. A comparison of Return On Investment of different approaches for us accountants!
- Communication. Poor communication can have a huge impact on mental health.
- Upskill line management and leadership. Having open conversations, being empathetic listeners, spotting signs and self-awareness.
We then heard from Sophie North of Luminate who started by explaining the physical and behavioural warning signs of mental health. Our host Gareth was able to spot a number of these in how he feels from time to time! (Download Sophie’s slides here).
Sophie’s priority pyramid resonated with many, particularly her key conclusions:
- Aspects nearer the bottom of the pyramid need more priority.
- Self-care should always come first, it’s the foundation for everything else.
She also gave some great advice on how to have conversations about mental health, stressing that the more it is talked about the more we can break down any stigma about mental health. Touching on wellbeing in every catch-up conversation helps to normalise discussions and help make colleagues comfortable with expressing their feelings.
Sophie gave a great suggestion for starting these conversations using “I’ve noticed…” and also talked about how important it is to check back in with someone following any conversation about their struggles.
Accountancy awarding bodies
After an incredible range of tips and ideas from our two expert speakers we invited the accountancy awarding bodies to contribute their thoughts:
Mark Foley from CIMA talked about the importance of being kind to yourself and kind to others, and the way his teams used ‘min-fist-pumps’ to regularly celebrate small successes.
Lynne Brown from ACCA talked about the 4 pillars of wellbeing they use; emotional, community, physical and financial.
Olivia Hill of AAT highlighted the importance of lots of communication around mental health. She also gave great advice about ensuring that Mental Health First Aiders need clear guidance of what will be expected of them in advance of any training.
Gareth Winters from CABA, the charity supporting Chartered Accountants wellbeing, stated that “to provide service to a client you need to be the best version of yourself.” Back to the importance of self-care!
Marc Jerrard from ICAEW wrapped things up talking about how the Institute has been putting the welfare of employees first; running book clubs, breakfast chat clubs, advent calendar craft clubs. A real benefit has been the way that this has allowed everyone to interact with colleagues that they normally wouldn’t be able to.
We also heard about some of the great involvement our speakers have in community initiatives such as shopping for elderly neighbours and looking after local deer. You could tell from the way they gushed about these simple activities just how personally rewarding they are finding them.
As well as hearing from our speakers we had some great, practical advice posted in the chat box during the session:
“I have joined an app which gives 5 tasks each day around meditation, gratitude and being aware of how you feel each day. It is great to have that accountability for your own mental health but with people you don’t know. I find it makes it easier. It’s set up by Mantality and is split into a male and a female app (Mantality itself focuses on male mental health but they had a lot of interest from women and so have created this second group).” Claire
“We have provided our employees with the Tictrac app which is a personalised health and wellness platform. They have access to at-home fitness, mental wellness – meditation/various podcasts from specialists, yoga, nutrition and activity challenges so for example there are monthly step/running/cycling challenges.” Carrie
Mental Health First Aiders
And there was a bit of discussion of Mental Health First Aiders:
“I think it’s really important to set out to expectations for Mental Health First Aiders on what the role involves, but also communicating guidelines out to the business more widely too so that people understand what the role of the MHFAider involves and, crucially, doesn’t involve!” Sophie
“On that point Olivia re. finding the right MHFA’s and wellbeing champions, I have written an article about how to find the right people in your business, hopefully this helps: Five tips on how to recruit & manage a team of wellbeing champions in your organisation” Jen