Supporting Mental Health and Promoting Wellness in the Workplace - What More Could your Firm Do?
HFM Together: Supporting World Mental Health Day | October 7, 2021 - Despite increasing conversations surrounding mental health, engaging in conversations with employees about their mental health remains a taboo.
On 7th October, HFM Together returned for its fourth edition, this time tackling the important theme of World Mental Health Day. The event brought together experts from across the business and academic community to address topics ranging from how to reduce stigma surrounding mental health, to adopting-holistic wellbeing strategies.
The opening panel addressed how funds can support mental health and promote wellness in the workplace. To begin the panel discussion, Boura Kym Tomlinson Cann of Polar Capital explained that employee mental health and wellbeing should be prioritised to manage stress and productivity in the workplace. Cann shared how Polar Capital introduced various activities over lockdown to help staff feel more connected including virtual yoga and cocktail classes, as well as recruiting some inspirational speakers. Polar Capital also provide mental health training for line managers to provide them with the skills and confidence to deal with the challenges when engaging in conversations about mental health with staff.
Through hiring an external therapist, Cann shared how staff could anonymously access therapy through the company. All expenses are charged directly to the company, and anonymous statistics surrounding contacts (eg. age and gender) have helped Polar Capital identify what more they could do for specific groups. Monica Lakhanpaul, Professor of Integrated Child Health at UCL, added that unless managers can get the buy-in from senior management then no progress will be made. Happy and motivated staff will naturally be more productive, she added.
A company with a desire to engage with employees will always have a passionate leadership sitting behind it
To further the conversation, our panellists discussed the need to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and the need to create a safe and supportive environment. Mary Chambers, Professor of Mental Health Nursing at Kingston University, discussed how the pandemic has enabled greater discussions around mental health and mental stigma. However, a lot of stigma and fear in the workplace remains. Chambers said it is vital for companies to implement policies and protect employees from discrimination. She also suggested that senior leadership partner with junior staff to identify how to build a stigma-free workplace. Nonetheless, she also highlighted that boundaries should be set to ensure a good work life balance. For example, not emailing staff out of office hours.
Wellness consultant, Debbie Kleiner, shared how the main challenge faced within her role is that wellness continues to be seen as just a ‘tick-box’ exercise by many firms. A company with a desire to engage with employees will always have a passionate leadership sitting behind it. Research by Mind (the mental health charity) found that 50% of individuals had experienced a mental health concern in their current role, however, many were reluctant to speak with their line manager about it. To echo Boura’s earlier comments, Kleiner added that line managers generally struggle to engage in difficult conversations because HR are equally unsure about how to educate their line managers. As a result of the pandemic more employees are prioritising staff mental health, and post-Covid we have seen an uptake in mental health first aid courses, as well as an increased focus on cultural change. Firms should set up primary interventions to tackle challenges before they arise, she concluded.
Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted marginalised communities in ways never seen in the UK before
Lakhanpaul suggested that leadership teams should consider cultural preferences, how people live outside work and understand how life experiences can impact ethnic minorities. Inequalities within marginalised groups has increased through the pandemic, and stigma surrounding mental health remains in many cultures – especially for men who are socialised to be ‘brave’. Lakhanpaul suggested engaging with marginalised groups to better understand what would work for them, and for firms to tailor multiple approaches and strategies to support individuals.
To conclude the panel discussion, Natasha Atieno, discussed the disparities between gender and mental health. Generally, women are more likely to talk about stress and emotions, however, during the pandemic, men have started to open-up more. The panellists discussed how speaking with colleagues outside of their working environment helped to break down some of the barriers. A lot of men may feel like they restrain themselves to avoid showing weakness, whereas the same stigma is not associated with women.
About Champions project
HFM Together – World Mental Day was hosted in partnership with Champions Project, an England-wide project looking at the impact of Covid-19 and living through lockdown on children under 5 who are living in temporary accommodation due to experiencing homelessness. Living in temporary accommodation makes it difficult or impossible to follow national public health guidelines due to overcrowding and shared facilities. Led by Professor Monica Lakhanpaul, the Champions Project team are exploring how best to reach and help children and families living in temporary accommodation and are working in partnership with them to co-develop strategies addressing the health and wellbeing impacts of COVID-19 both in the short- and long-term.
To learn more about how to support mental health and promote wellness in the workplace, join us at the launch of the HFM European ESG Summit which will take place in the Barbican Centre on 1st December 2021.
Amongst various other roundtable discussions, Gareth Deacon, Investment Director at Blackfinch Group, will lead a roundtable discussion addressing how to promote positive mental health at work. Our broad speaking faculty will also address a range of other key challenges and developments from how to champion ESG, net zero policies, the sustainable finance taxonomy and diversity and inclusion strategies to provide managers with the relevant knowledge and guidance to successfully improve their ESG process both through their investments, and their business.
Register for the HFM European ESG Summit here.