Mental wellbeing and the role of internal comms

After reading the Spring edition of Voice, the Institute of Internal Communications magazine I realised how open we have become in talking about mental health in the workplace.

I will rewind back a little to the end of 2018. I was looking for a new opportunity after suffering from Generalised anxiety disorder and after some help and guidance from the lovely Rachel Miller I came across a LinkedIn article by Jo Hooper. Reading how open she felt talking about mental health at work and what I could do to help colleagues on their return to work struck a chord. A few weeks later I found myself sat with Jo for an interview to join her team and the rest is history!

Jo, who now runs mad and sad club to help companies talk about and take action on mental health at work, said: “I remember writing that piece – it was for World Mental Health Day in October 2018. I’d been back at work four months since taking three months off with anxiety and depression. It was a big step for me – to out myself as being mad at work – but it started a conversation internally and externally too. I’m so pleased that it resonated with people.”

Internal communications have such a powerful role in helping to shape workplace culture around wellbeing, working hand in hand with managers and HR teams. The CIPD ‘Health and well-being at work’ report highlights several shortfalls for mental health at work but recognises the role of internal comms in embedding wellbeing.

So, what can you do in your role to help put wellbeing at the heart of your organisation?

Jo Hooper uses a simple three-step framework when you’re thinking about mental health in the workplace:

Understand – use storytelling and simple human language to help people understand how a mental health issue can affect you in the workplace. It’s not all crying in the toilets, there are subtle signs to look out for that can show that someone is struggling.

Talk – support managers, in particular, to feel comfortable and confident having conversations with their teams about mental health issues, stress, overwhelm and supporting one another in the workplace.

Act – consider what action you can take internally to support those who might struggle, but also your staff population. Could you bring in regular line manager training? Could you roll out an ongoing comms campaign to show people the company cares about their mental health? What about resources to help people navigate the support available?

Look at Jo’s website for more advice and information on the bespoke workshops and support she offers.

Look at the long term picture

I’ve found frequently your HR colleagues will approach you with a new wellbeing initiative, desperate to roll it out across the company with some literature, a drop-in session and a new intranet area. Without knocking their enthusiasm establish what the longer-term plans are as many programmes cannot make an impact as they lose momentum after the launch.

Avoid just communicating on awareness days

Aligning your comms plan to national awareness dates is a good starting point but avoid falling into the trap of only sharing content during these events. Authenticity is key for internal comms and if you are sharing content throughout the year, it will be another step in helping colleagues feel more open about talking around mental health at work.

Make it human

The most powerful stories are those that colleagues and friends share, so try to get people on board in sharing their own personal experiences. If you thinking of where to start, approach one of your senior leaders who people see as personable within the business and perhaps get them to share why they believe it’s important to talk about mental health at work. Here is a great example of how colleagues can tell their stories to the rest of the organisation.

Don’t forget about line managers

One of the biggest groups of people that can really make an impact within your organisation is people managers. These individuals know their team members best and have the best insight into how people are feeling and what can make the biggest difference.

Some of the best things that I’ve found from experience that help managers include:

  • Give them advanced notice of any company-wide initiatives that are coming out, they will help tell you on how best to land the messages with their teams
  • Provide practical resources such as guides, briefing sheets or case studies that they can refer to for support
  • Create an online community that they can easily ask each other for support in a safe environment
  • Provide opportunities for feedback so you can help adapt future campaigns and identify other individuals to contribute towards future content

Alive with ideas recently ran a great campaign #loveyourlinemanagers and have some great ideas on engaging and supporting your people managers here.

As we have all seen, there is much more activity online and in the workplace around mental health which is great but we have a key part to play in making sure we aren’t just publishing content for the sake of ticking a box on the HR agenda.

The following resources have been a big help for me and worth checking out:

Mad and Sad club – Jo Hooper shares her advice for running a mental health workshop in house
AllThingsIC – Talking about Mental Health in Comms and looking after ourselves as a comms professional
Alive with ideas – How to navigate a mental roadblock, some practical tips for you to follow
Mind – Advice and support on a range of mental health topics
ACAS – Resources for employers, employees and line managers

Featured image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

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