Insight | 22 May 2020

Where's your head at?

Henry France 800

Henry France

Head of Strategy

Tags: Agency

Wheres your head at hero

With mental health awareness week drawing to a close, our mental health champion, Henry France, talks about wellbeing in the workplace and why it’s always been front and centre to our culture here at Distinction.

When I started out at Distinction, we were a small, close-knit team of six for whom work and play were closely intertwined. Supporting each other looked like regular after work drinks in the local where we could all fit round one table and talk till the cows came home (none of us had children back then). We often chewed the fat about work stuff but more often than not about our personal lives too. Without realising it, we were naturally taking care of one another’s wellbeing and a formal mental health plan didn’t seem to be needed.

We need a bigger boat

As we continue to grow though it’s become apparent that, as mental health champion, I need to put a more structured wellbeing plan in place to make sure that the stigma around mental health is removed, sharing struggles without fear of judgement is common place and it’s just as ok to say you need to take a mental sick day as it is to take a physical one. It’s still a common worry that any time off due to mental health will be kept on your records and reported to future employers who might see it as detrimental to their hiring you.

In other words, we need a vessel, a boat if you will, to keep us afloat in choppy waters and carry us safely as we navigate our way through our working lives. Mental health at work isn’t just a hot topic, it’s here to stay as part of our everyday narrative and, after much research, I found a framework that fits with our culture and it will be implemented shortly.

Our mental health action plan will be a living and breathing document that’s edited as our plans evolve and reviewed on a regular basis. It’s built on the standards, recommendations, evidence base and best practice guidance found in the 2017 Thriving at Work Report produced by Paul Farmer, Mind CEO, and Lord Stevenson on behalf of the UK Government. As mental health champion, I’m excited to get this rolled out to or our team and shared to our wider audience so watch this space.

Working in the time of coronavirus

Our team spans four generations from baby boomer to gen z, each with its own set of challenges during this lockdown period. From single parents trying to juggle a full time job and homeschooling, to people falling into the vulnerable/shielded category, to individuals living on their own miles away from their friends and families. We each have our own set of circumstances and, as a company, it’s vital we recognise and support our team as the individual humans we are.

We all lead busy lives and, whilst in some ways this situation has forced us to stop and live in the moment more, it’s also forced us out of our comfort zone of routine and social interaction. We’re not in the office, our children aren’t at school and the structures we had in place to facilitate our daily lives have either changed beyond recognition or have been removed altogether. It’s tough at the moment, many of us are experiencing peaks and troughs of mood and emotions that we haven’t felt before.

Let’s be human about this

With this in mind, I felt it important to reassure our team that we recognise it isn’t business as usual, we are not all ‘fine’, and shared with them this message:

  • You’re not working from home – you’re at home trying to work during a crisis
  • Your personal physical, mental and emotional wellbeing is far more important than anything else
  • You shouldn’t try to compensate for lost working hours by working longer
  • You will be kind to yourself and not judge how you are coping based on how you perceive others to be coping
  • You will be kind to others and not judge them based on how well you’re coping
  • Your team’s success will not be measured in the same way as it was when things were normal

I encouraged the team to pin this to their desktop or anywhere that a visual aide would help them remember what’s expected of them and, perhaps more importantly, what’s not.

Let’s get together

We’re a digital business used to working remotely, so it was relatively easy to send our troops home with all the physical tools and equipment needed to continue delivering for our clients. But we’re also a very social bunch used to sharing tea and coffee runs, communal Friday breakfasts spent wrestling croissants away from the agency dog (we miss you, Romie!), a thriving monthly restaurant club and the usual office banter where the whole office can crack up at the silliest thing. And so it’s that social interaction we’re missing the most.

Already using Microsoft Teams internally and Zoom for our international clients, like many working teams out there we’ve found both tools essential for our social activities as well as business. Every weekday at 9am and 4pm we have a team drop-in on Zoom. It’s not mandatory to attend but it’s there if needed. Sometimes we even sit in companionable silence during these sessions whilst working on our day job – just to almost feel like we’re in the office again!

We’re holding weekly evening socials from quizzes to magic shows to cooking and eating together. It’s actually bringing us closer together as a team as we peer into each other’s homes (and caravan in my case) and get regularly interrupted by children and pets. But most importantly of all, we remind each other we’ve got this, we’re still laughing and we’re all looking forward to the party of all parties when we’re eventually allowed back into Distinction HQ.

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We miss our team lunches!