Real Wellbeing Includes Mental Health Wellness

Society as a whole is increasingly conscious of “wellbeing.” Over the last few years the concept of wellness and wellbeing has reached new levels of popularity.

But wellbeing as an employer issuer isn’t something that can be tacked on to an existing brand strategy. To succeed, it needs to be holistic, sensitive and crucially, brand-led. It’s not just an external policy designed to pull in more consumers either – it’s a critical element of every brand’s internal policy, approach and culture. Wellbeing can, and should, be a boardroom priority and a key differentiator for attracting and retaining top talent.

So what do we mean by wellbeing? Being “well” spans everything – from how you deal with situations when you or an employee is physically or mentally ill, through to maintaining a healthy lifestyle to prevent such instances happening in the future. It’s not as simple as free fruit and a discounted gym membership.For both small and large businesses, going forward the focus will be on creating a business culture where people thrive, acknowledging the parity of mental and physical wellbeing.

What does this mean in practice? Brands need to develop a wellbeing strategy that empowers and supports employees, attracts and retains top talent, and crucially reflects their personality and brand identity – internally and externally.

When developing your wellness strategy it’s just as important — perhaps even more — to include mental wellbeing. Take into account these three elements.

1. Encourage openness

Wellbeing means developing and crafting a culture that gives employees the time and space to reflect on, and enhance, their own sense of wellbeing. It is important that we don’t trivialize wellbeing. The reason yoga classes, fruit instead of office donuts and similar activities are important is that they develop a culture that protects employees from more serious issues as the result of stress and burnout. But they can only protect, not prevent.

Mental health issues can happen in anyone at any time. Whatever you do, there will always be some people who suffer from a mental health problem. It is important to ensure you have trained mental health contacts at work who can support in a crisis, as well as ongoing programmes to destigmatise mental health illness and get the entire organisation talking about it as they would with a broken leg or any physical ailment. We spend so much of our waking lives at work, companies have to recognise that they are in prime place to be the first to spot any abnormalities and potentially support a colleague through a difficult time.

Make wellbeing the everyday: Think about your day to day ongoing wellbeing activities and make sure they reflect your brand and personality in an engaging way. Spend time and effort thinking about how you can create a culture that makes people comfortable with speaking up about difficult, personal topics – bringing mental health to the fore through open company engagement.

Lead by example: organise personal experience talks from senior management. Showing that mental illness can happen to anyone, even senior leaders, makes it easier for employees at all levels to open up and talk about their experiences.

Take mental health seriously. Consider having a few nominees trained in mental health first aid who can act as a first port of call for colleagues. Make your organisation’s policies completely clear and open – ensuring colleagues don’t feel worried about asking for help or raising their hand when they need some help

2. Make your plan practical

More than almost any other initiative, a culture of wellbeing demands attention to the practical details. Sure, posters are a great way to advertise a new contact or information service, but where do you put them? Think about how employees would feel taking down a helpline number in the kitchen. Put them in spaces where only one person goes at a time — it’s the reason some posters end up on the back of toilet doors.

HR is a fabulous resource, but faced with talking to an “official” HR representative about their mental health concerns, many employees worry about the potentially detrimental impact this may have on their career and simply choose not to talk to anyone at all.

Create wellbeing champions – a group of volunteers from all levels and areas within your organisation to act as the face of wellbeing. Not only can they coordinate and lead ongoing activities, but they can also act as a first port of call for any employees who need help, support or a listening ear. Free from judgment, direct line management of the employee and not linked to HR, this is a great way to create an open and supportive workforce culture.

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Build a plan that works for your brand and culture. Don’t try to make a heritage financial firm behave like a tech start up. Weekly lunchtime yoga classes might not work in a high stress, high intensity corporate trading floor – an Employee Assistance Program might be what is needed. Flex your offer to your culture – not the other way around.

Make it easy. Holding drop-in sessions in the office for client-based, time-pressured employees to come and talk about their worries is never going to work. Think about the lifestyle of your employees – are they office or client based? Are hours routine or up and down? Think about what their role demands of them, and flex your plans.

3. Make sure it’s “you”

Make sure all your wellbeing efforts are grounded with your organization’s personality, identity and reflect what makes you “you.” At its heart, wellbeing is a serious topic – failing to look after our bodies and minds puts us at risk of developing more serious long-term illnesses, both mental and physical. But that doesn’t mean that the way it plays out every day has to be equally serious. Rather, the opposite – it should reflect the character of the organisation, what makes it unique.

Is it your people? The relationships you develop with clients? The service or product you offer? Build this into everything you do. Make sure the experience you offer your employees matches the one you offer your clients.

Think about your brand’s personality – is it fun and playful? Serious and committed? Weave this into your wellbeing strategy. Maybe it’s a timetable of events and talks, maybe it’s a more fluid tech-based strategy such as an app. Whatever you do, make sure it reflects the culture and personality.

Take your purpose, and repurpose it. Think about how you can push and stretch your existing brand purpose to focus on wellbeing – internally and externally. Boots – the UK’s most well-known pharmacy brand – is responding to the issue of teenage body consciousness and mental health by leveraging the expertise they have honed after 170 years of health and beauty retail. “Our mission has always been to champion everyone’s right to feel good,” says Boots senior PR manager Kirsty McCready. “This campaign is the start of our journey to restate that brand purpose, and to shift our communications to demonstrate ways we can, and do, help different groups and communities feel better.”

Mental health and overall wellbeing have never been more important – we work longer hours than ever before, with more expected of us in those hours. Social media and the rise of an “always on” culture have led to new demands across all parts of our lives – work, family, friends. We spend 1/3 of our lives at work. If another 1/3 is spent sleeping, and the final 1/3 is split fairly thinly across our friends, relatives, children, spouses etc – suddenly that group of people you sit opposite, and see every day, become the people you see the most – and crucially, who see the most of you. That means that we are best placed to identify any behavioural changes, and spot issues as they arise, in our colleagues.

Developing a workplace culture that not only, but also, promotes wellbeing and mental health awareness and openness is key. To make sure yours is effective, ensure it covers ongoing as well as crisis support, is practical for your employees and, crucially, reflects your brand and personality.

Victoria Aspinall is associate director, BrandCap. She is passionate about helping brands unlock potential by identifying hidden insights and then using these to craft compelling stories and provide actionable recommendations

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