Amy Leech, employment law associate and Shoosmiths’ mental health and wellbeing champion, considers the benefits of having an employee led mental health champion network within your business.
As an employer, you will have lots of opportunities to look after your employees’ mental health. However, many organisations are still just paying lip service to it. Lots of businesses are sending employees to mental health talks or providing employees with an additional “wellbeing” day off. But do short term activities such as these really go to the root of the problem?
I am not suggesting that a business’s approach to mental health can be changed overnight. It is an ongoing and ever evolving focus. What sets great employers apart from the rest is those who grab these opportunities with both hands and really attempt to make a difference for their employees’ wellbeing in the knowledge that doing so will increase productivity and loyalty.
Employers need to listen to their employees to understand what negatively affects their mental health and consider what solutions could reasonably be put in place to help alleviate such effects or at least to help those individuals perform to their potential in the workplace. Employers need to be open minded and provide a non-judgmental and supportive environment for employees to open up about their mental health. An example of something employers can do to work towards such an environment is to set up a network of mental health and wellbeing champions within its business.
What are mental health and wellbeing champions?
At Shoosmiths, we have a network of employee mental health and wellbeing champions. There is a central committee made up of employees across Shoosmiths’ different offices. The committee is co-chaired and organises national events and activities relating to mental health and wellbeing.
Sitting underneath the umbrella of the committee are mental health and wellbeing champions within each local office - I’m one of these champions for the Milton Keynes’ office. It is the champions role to input and feedback to the committee, as well as communicate and put in place at a local level, any activities organised by the main committee. As champions, we seek to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace and at the very least try to be a listening ear for our colleagues should they need it.
All mental health and wellbeing champions at Shoosmiths are volunteers. We are not mental health first aid trained, but will sign post colleagues to appropriate organisations and support as necessary. Some employers do have mental health first aiders within the workplace. If this is something that interests you, whether as an employer or as an individual, you can find courses here.
What are the benefits of having a mental health and wellbeing network?
In our modern world, employees increasingly expect their employers to focus on creating a healthy workplace for them to thrive in. Part of that expectation is naturally concerned with mental health and wellbeing. By creating a network of champions in the workplace, employers are creating a communication bridge between themselves and their employees.
Employers may find that many employees who volunteer as champions have experienced or are experiencing mental health problems. These employees will be invaluable within the network as they will be able to truly empathise with their colleagues and if they feel up to it, share their experiences and stories which others may relate to, in turn giving confidence to others to speak up too. These employees will be key to the success of the network and employers should trust their views and proposals in moving the network forward.
As a champion myself, I feel a sense of belonging to the network and a duty to my colleagues to support their mental health and wellbeing. I want my colleagues to feel that they can come and talk to us champions about anything, however big or small they think it is.
It can be tricky balancing it sometimes with my normal workload so organisation is key. Luckily I have other champions alongside me in the Milton Keynes office so we can organise and prioritise activities and time spent in our champion role between us, without it having a negative effect on our own mental health and wellbeing.
Employers should ensure they don’t forget about the champions’ mental health and wellbeing. Scheduling regular check-ins with the champions is essential as these individuals will be carrying out this role alongside their normal workload and may potentially hear some distressing experiences from those they support. Employers should make sure that the champions are supported as much as they support their colleagues. Regular mental health training for the champions will be useful as it will allow the champions to gain the confidence, skills and knowledge they need to perform their role effectively.
Budget and financial support
Where possible, employers should look at assigning some budget to the network. Whilst there are plenty of activities and initiatives champions can run without financial backing, additional financial support can allow champions to be more creative and ambitious in the support that they provide to their colleagues. Smaller employers may worry that they can’t afford to put lots of money into this side of things but any contribution and support helps. Mental health and wellbeing should be a high priority on all employers’ agendas so any financial support, even if it is funding for just one significant activity a year, will help!
Mental Health Awareness Week 2022
The theme this year for Mental Health Awareness Week (9 to 15 May 2022) is loneliness. The focus across the UK will be the impact of loneliness on mental wellbeing and how it can tackled. Loneliness can happen in the workplace, likely even more so in a world of increased remote or hybrid working arrangements.
A network of wellbeing champions goes to the heart of this focus issue. The network itself brings together colleagues whose paths may not normally cross on a day to day basis and allows employees with different mental health experiences to connect, share and support.
There is no judgment among us champions. The champion network itself aims to reduce the stigma around mental health and really does enable employers to take that first step towards improving mental health and wellbeing within the workplace.
If you are considering setting up a champion network or you are an employee and wish to present the idea to your employer, there is plenty of guidance out there to get you started. The mental health charity, Mind, has a guidance booklet on this topic which can be found here.
We are also happy to answer any questions you have relating to the champion role and setting up a network within your business.