According to a report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, mental health issues are the reason for a third of all “fit notes” issued by GPs – fuelling concerns that employee wellbeing initiatives are not working.

In-house yoga, healthy eating guidance, flexible hours and table football in the staff room are unlikely to work unless wellbeing strategies permeate every corner of organisational culture.

As a charity delivering quality mental health and wellbeing services to around 2,000 people, Touchstone has to practice what we preach in regard to our own wellbeing initiatives.

Fundamental to our culture is the belief that people will perform better at work – and are more likely to be physically and mentally well – if they can be their true selves.  We encourage our 174 employees to bring their life experiences into work and use their personal issues to help implement wellbeing activities.

As long as people do their job – and do it well – we embrace the kinds of personal challenges that might be perceived as problems by other employers.  Our staff can talk openly about their mental health, about the practicalities of their home lives, such as caring for an elderly relative or sick child. Even highly sensitive issues such as domestic violence are not off limit, if an employee wants to talk about them.

We monitor the number of staff with experience of mental health difficulties as well as other relevant “life experiences” as part of our organisation-wide staff survey. In 2017/18, 40% of staff identified as having mental health problems. Several employees have severe and enduring mental health problems – we also have staff who were formerly service users, including in senior roles.

Yet we also have low sickness rates – lower than 3.5% for the last three years.  Our attendance rates are 97% and over, and we have increased our staff retention rate, which means we can recruit and retain talented people.

Here are some of the ways in which Touchstone supports our employees’ mental well-being:

 

A culture of compassion

Touchstone has a culture of compassion that is embedded at all levels, including management and frontline managers, who are genuine when they ask if someone is OK. They are trained to see behind victim-like behaviour, bullying, aggression or lack of motivation.  They can spot if someone may be struggling with their mental wellbeing or facing real hardships at home.

 

Access to specialist help

Employees have direct access to mental health first aiders and other colleagues with specialist knowledge. Some of our mental health first aiders are trained in suicide prevention techniques such as Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST).  If someone is having suicidal thoughts they can go to the right people to gain the appropriate advice and be signposted to the necessary external services, if needed.

 

Leading from the top

Employee wellbeing is not the sole province of HR practitioners. Senior management leads from the top with chief executive Alison Lowe talking about her own mental problems when she conducts staff inductions. As well as helping employees to immediately understand workplace culture and values, her personal disclosures show that with the right support you can recover from, or cope with, the trials and tribulations that life throws at you.

 

Encouraging discussion about external tragedies

Many of us will have experienced an emotional response to tragedies such as terrorist attacks or disasters such as the Grenfell Tower fire.  Employees can talk about such events in a safe environment with colleagues supporting each other and alert to differences in behaviour, such as someone being unusually quieter. We encourage debate and practical tips on mental wellbeing on Yammer, our internal social network.  For example, last year following the London Bridge terrorist attack, the charity’s operations director used Yammer to urge staff to switch off television and social media as a means of helping alleviate feelings of panic and fear.

 

Listening to employees and acting on their ideas

Managers listen to employees’ ideas, and act on them.  An eighth of Touchstone’s employees are Muslim and a number of them raised concerns about a rise in racial hate crime, leading to an increase in anxiety.  As a result we developed an ‘Islam, Islamophobia and Mental Health’ training course in partnership with MEND (Muslim Engagement & Development) and feedback from over 25 staff from diverse backgrounds.

 

We promote LGBT+ equality and inclusion in the workplace with an employee-led Pink Pals staff allies group, set up in 2014.  The last Stonewall survey – offered annually to organisations who are Stonewall Diversity Champions – reported that 100% of LGBT+ staff are confident to report bullying and/or harassment under Touchstone’s leadership.

 

Guest blog from Kathryn Hart, HR Director at Leeds-based mental health and wellbeing charity Touchstone, the only mental health charity in the top 10 of the Sunday Times Top 100 Not For Profit Organisation to Work For. The charity is ranked 20th in the Stonewall Top 100 Employers list, and for the second consecutive year, is number one in the Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers List. 

You can find out more about Touchstone’s work at www.touchstonesupport.org.uk and follow them on Twitter @Touchstone_Spt

You can connect with Karen via LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-hart-b1997543/   and on Twitter  @Kathryn_Hart_HR