Throughout September we are celebrating best practice within OH by publishing profiles of the shortlisted entries for this year’s Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards, ahead of the finalists being revealed in October. Here, then, are those that have made the shortlist in the “Best mental health initiative” category. Good luck to everyone next month.
Ad Gridley is a writer and inspirational speaker who seeks to support and educate people about the harmful effects of cannabis, based on his own experiences with addiction and his subsequent schizophrenia diagnosis and mental health issues.
His lecture focuses on his story of illness and recovery and is aimed at students in occupational therapy, mental health, social work, psychology and psychiatry and other health disciplines. Participants report that the information he gives students and his inspiring story “changed the way” some of the student nurses operated and his presentation brings to life ideas that students would normally only read about in a textbook.
His book, The Geographer – The Descent into Madness, was published after six years work of collating his memories of mental ill health, and has allowed him to spread the word about his lecture and conference presentations.
Our judges said his story was “powerful and authentic” and praised Gridley for drawing attention to the link between recreational drugs and mental health, which is often overlooked.
More than a quarter of the convenience store chain’s workforce work a night shift, putting them at increased risk of mental and physical health problems, addiction, loneliness and financial and relationship issues.
An audit revealed many felt “forgotten” or “invisible” and had problems sleeping. This prompted the company to take action. Partnering with charity The Wellcome Trust and engagement consultancy The Liminal Space, the Co-op developed “Night Club”, which brings together night time workers with sleep researchers from Oxford University to help improve the quality of their sleep and their wellbeing.
The staff are educated about circadian rhythms, the impact light has on sleep, how diet affects sleep and alertness, and how a lack of sleep affects mental health and the natural body clock. Light-based experiments and chrono-typing tests are used to establish individuals’ own body clock, and one-on-one consultations are held.
Some 210 sessions have been hosted, engaging with 1,680 colleagues. More than 40 trained sleep champions have been placed across Co-op Logistics to promote the benefits of sleep to their colleagues, and anecdotal evidence that has emerged at the project’s early stage suggest sleep has improved.
Our judges were impressed with how the initiative highlighted the connection between good sleep and good mental health, and the fact it was focused on night workers, a cohort too often overlooked when it comes to health and wellbeing.
Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service
After finding that fewer post-incident support sessions were being held, employee assistance programme (EAP) utilisation had reduced and sickness absence had crept up, Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service formed a wellbeing steering group, headed up by the chief fire officer, and an employee wellbeing support network of staff volunteers, to make wellbeing a priority once more.
The group found that operational crews were still reluctant to access support after a traumatic event, as some thought it would be seen as a sign of weakness. Furthermore, the EAP wasn’t being used because of confidentiality fears and a lack of understanding of the range of support offered.
The service therefore launched a campaign to promote the available post-incident support. This was included within mental health-related training, inductions, employee networks and managers encouraging crews to engage with the sessions. The outcome has resulted in increased participation, with 21 sessions held in 2018, 24 in 2019 and eight sessions during the first five months of 2020.
A new EAP provider that could offer a call back service was selected and promoted throughout the organisation, which resulted in a 10.3% utilisation in 2019. The outcomes for those accessing counselling show that the generalised anxiety disorder average score improved from 2.4 to 1.1 and the average patient health questionnaire score improved from 1.8 to 0.8.
Our judges praised the organisation for challenging a long-established culture and for getting senior level support for its initiative.
Facilities management company Emcor UK operates a large fleet of vehicles and recognises that its drivers need to have good quality sleep to remain alert and avoid road traffic accidents.
Finding that 41% of its employees reported getting less than seven hours sleep per 24-hour period, a sleep working group, formed of a dozen employees from across the business, was established. The group decided that the issue could be best tackled by the development of an information booklet, supported by a 30 day sleep challenge to encourage colleagues to adopt healthier sleep habits.
A booklet on the importance of sleep and a branded camomile tea bag were sent to each employee’s home. Team talks on the importance of sleep were also delivered and the company’s marketing and comms teams ran a countdown ‘Snorevember’ campaign to raise awareness of healthier sleeping habits.
The programme has since been launched electronically to help employees and their families improve their sleep habits in the wake of the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has brought.
Our judges were impressed with the amount of work that went into developing the programme and the connections being made between good sleep, good health and wellbeing and health and safety.
Despite not experiencing any specific mental health concerns in its workforce, canned fish brand John West wanted to ensure its employees were supported both in work and at home should an issue arise.
It added a powerful mantra to its existing health and safety ‘Golden Rules’: “Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Take time to refresh your mind”. The company also established wellbeing champions to promote wellbeing in work through regular information sharing; promoted a positive culture through encouraging ‘random acts’ of kindness and leaving motivational notes on colleagues’ desks; and arranged wellbeing days with guest speakers throughout the year.
The company partnered with mental health advocate David Beeney, founder of ‘Breaking the Silence’, a platform that helps employers understand mental health, who spoke to about his experiences battling mental ill health and offered practical steps on creating a culture of openness and trust. Beeney is also supporting the wellbeing champions with further training.
Wellbeing featured heavily in John West’s 2020 annual conference, and is now a standing agenda item within team meetings. Further support has also been offered throughout the coronavirus pandemic, including virtual coffee mornings, buddies for new hires and new guidelines to discourage phone calls between 12pm and 1.30pm and after 5.15pm to give employees their personal space. In 2019, less than 15% of staff reported anxiety at work or at home. Employee engagement scores also increased by 11% from 2018 to 86%.
Our judges recognised that the programme had been effective in kickstarting conversations around mental ill health, and had achieved impressive results.