Mental Health Awareness Q&A with Joy Lewis-Middleton, TrakCel’s Head of People & Talent

World Mental Health Day 2022

For World Mental Health Day 2022, the chosen theme is “making mental health & well-being for all a global priority”. The theme was selected by the WHO (World Health Organisation) in recognition of the strains that the COVID-19 pandemic, growing social and economic inequalities, protracted conflicts, violence and public health emergencies have placed on global mental health.

Getting employers to engage with their teams and other stakeholders to promote and support mental health and well-being is critical to ensuring that we progress to a better state of mental health support and awareness as a community. As a business though, it does require specific effort and investment to be made to ensure that mental health and well-being remain high on the agenda so we took the opportunity to chat with Joy Lewis-Middleton, TrakCel’s Head of People and Talent to understand what is in place and underway to help support our team.

How important do you think it is for employers to consider mental health within the workplace?

Very! I’m sure it’s on the top list of issues for every HR professional out there. It’s no longer an issue that businesses can ignore. Mental Health Awareness is a huge priority for TrakCel. We all come to work here knowing that ultimately there is a patient at the end of everything we do, and I believe it makes us more aware and willing to talk about mental and physical health. Working people spend so much time in work that having a supportive culture with an active focus on wellbeing with mental health support is vital.

What do you think are the main challenges for employers around mental health support?

Businesses have faced so many challenges the last few years with COVID, adapting to lockdowns and new working practices that maintaining that focus on wellbeing hasn’t always been easy. At the same time, COVID brought mental health, social interactions and wellbeing to the forefront as we realised how much harder it was to gauge how people were feeling when we were all working remotely and coping with the impacts and worry of the pandemic.  This was when five of us trained up to be Virtual Mental Health First Aiders (eMHFA) to offer more personal, practical support to our employees globally.

There is still a stigma around mental health that all business leaders need to continue to address. Asking how someone is in a one to one or during a catch up, can go a long way to helping someone to open up. They won’t if they don’t feel it’s safe to do so.

What sort of methods are TrakCel as an organisation implementing to try to promote healthy work/life balance for better mental health?

We’ve embraced Hybrid working, there is no ‘one size fits all’. We ask every  one of our UK team members to work from the office at least once a month so that we can check in with them and see how they’re doing. Some colleagues are here five days a week, once week or once a month! Now that travel has opened up,, we’re getting to meet up with our US colleagues more often too and build that team feeling.

We’ve improved our benefits package and offered more flexibility with it for example the holiday buy/sell scheme to suit people’s needs.

We have a wellness hub and EAP (employee assistance program) with our benefit providers, and we promote the support and activities from meditation, work out programs, healthy eating guides, trained counsellor support to advice with budgets and finances. Our pension provider also offers a free financial health check.

How about the everyday stresses and strains, is there anything an employer can do to help ease the impact of those?

I’m a big advocate of taking a break. Sitting at your desk all day is not healthy – it’s not good for your physical or mental health. Take your breaks! Stand up during meetings, sitting on a gym ball for part of the day or using a standing desk can make a huge difference to your posture and health. We shouldn’t forget the link between physical and mental health.

We’ve set all meetings to be 25 minutes or 55 minutes (and so on) in duration to allow people that short break. We encourage people to book in focus sessions so that they can work without interruptions for a couple of hours and to respect that the 30-minute free lunchtime slot you’ve spotted in someone’s calendar! Same goes for time zones, a 9.00am UK start doesn’t work well for our West coast colleagues!

Are there any other things that employers can do to promote mental health awareness?

Build it into the everyday culture, have the conversation. We are all human and we all have good and bad days. We all need to take care of our mental health.

Support people when they’re stressed, concerned, unwell. Signpost them to the services available in house or externally (the charity sector excels here).

Just asking how someone is and listening goes a long way. If we don’t ask, we don’t know and can’t help. People aren’t always good at talking about how they’re feeling, it’s the first step. Don’t ignore signs that someone might be unwell or struggling with their mental health, early intervention can make a big difference. If you don’t’ feel that you can have that conversation, ask your People/HR team or MHFA’s for support.

Is there anything else that TrakCel should do?

There are a range of things that organisations can do and depending on their size some are easier to implement than others. We ran mental health surveys during lockdown which shaped our approach to hybrid working, we should run them again and run them regularly. We will also be providing more training to Managers on mental health awareness. Managers are so key here; they interact with their teams frequently and are best placed to notice changes in behaviour which might suggest there’s a problem.

Our Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) team will also make a difference here – highlighting improvements we can make, being somebody else to talk to, helping to increase that feeling of belonging and inclusion.

Our next challenge is supporting our teams through the stresses which will be brought by the increased cost of living, and we’ve already started looking into this and sharing information giving practical support.

There’s always more we can do, and we’ll keep focussing on positive mental health, that’s for sure!

Many thanks to Joy for taking the time to talk to us!

More information on World Mental Health Day is available from the World Health Organization or the World Federation for Mental Health but the general purpose of the day according to WHO is to “raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health.” TrakCel are pleased to use the day as an additional prompt to open conversations with our team around the support that is available and what more could be done to play our part in progressing towards a culture that promotes positive mental health and well-being for all.

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