Time to redesign our workplaces for true post-Covid flexibility
NABS Trustee Amanda Pitt shares ways media and advertising companies can build more inclusive cultures to better support their employees’ mental health.
Mental health problems cost the UK economy at least £118bn annually according to a report last year by the Mental Health Foundation and London School of Economics and Political Science.
This cost is equivalent to around 5% of the UK’s GDP, mainly due to the loss of productivity from people struggling with mental health issues.
A prevention-based approach to mental health can, most importantly, help improve someone’s mental wellbeing, but also a company’s productivity, retention and economic performance.
Whilst Mental Health Awareness Week is a timely reminder of the mental wellness, stress and burnout issues that can be fuelled by work, we know that intense pressures are not new to the media industry.
Couple this with job security concerns and the wider economic environment and you have a landscape where agility and resilience are as important to success as talent and hard work.
NABS support, Grow and Explore
In my role as a NABS Trustee, I’ve seen the stark reality of the current mental health crisis. Demand for NABS’ core services has doubled year-on-year, with more than 2,200 people (that’s the audience size of a West End Theatre) needing support in the first quarter of 2023. From this increase calling the support line, staggeringly the majority at 55%, are those with mental health concerns.
In response to this surge, NABS is expanding its shared learning experiences in two key areas.
The first is to broaden its Grow Initiative by including mental wellness issues alongside leadership and management development in workshops.
Secondly, new Explore sessions will include coach-led group discussion sessions. These are designed to help people understand mental wellness issues through collective exploration in a safe space.
The role that NABS plays is of course very much focused on the individual. The key to improving mental health in the workplace is to support companies so that they can make the systemic changes necessary.
This includes transforming their cultures to provide an environment and work experience that supports mental wellness. NABS is also delving deeper on critical topics influencing mental illness with All Ears a community consultation project for the All In Mental Health Action group.
This change can only be driven by leaders who have the commitment and vision to build workplace cultures based on trust and inclusivity. One such trailblazer is the newly-elected IPA president and GroupM CEO Josh Krichefski.
He recently announced his ‘People First’ agenda, where one of the three key tenets is “Opening Minds” and includes the goal to “Look after the wellbeing of everyone working in the ad agency business by focusing on and supporting initiatives that promote positive mental health.”
Additionally Chris Dunne, head of marketing for commercial TV marketing body Thinkbox, as well as one of The Media Leader’s Future 100 Club Leaders, won the inaugural pitch competition with his manifesto — calling for action from employers to “actively demonstrate to the people in your organisation that you care about their wellbeing, not only as an organisation, but as a human being.”
Inclusive cultures are key
Post-Covid, there is an opportunity to recalibrate and redesign work to provide a wide range of flexible options, from hybrid and remote working to four-day-week models. This gives people the freedom to make work choices that best accommodate their lifestyles and personal needs.
At the same time, for many people there are still legacy issues to be resolved from extensive homeworking during the pandemic and the associated psychological and emotional challenges.
As an example, some younger people are still finding it difficult to re-integrate socially with their peers in the office. This is a great opportunity for employers to invest in helping them to re-engage with the social and collegiate side to work.
Whilst we can’t always make someone’s personal difficulties disappear or change the macro trends, we can build inclusive workplace cultures where people feel trusted, safe and valued.
Therefore, there’s a lot that employers can do when it comes to supporting the mental health of our most important asset, our people, by creating an environment where everyone can be their true self and ensuring we are embedding mental health within the culture.
There are many useful resources available, to name a few, such as IPA, NABS, Mental Health at Work (MHAW), and their Mental Health at Work Commitment (MHAWC)
Employers play a critical role
Mental health illnesses cannot be seen like a physical illness. Although many of us have experienced directly or indirectly the effects, it’s harder to spot.
I have personally experienced mental health illness within my parents, my own family now, and my children. Above and beyond showing we care about someone as one human being to another, Mental Health Awareness Week is a timely reminder that we must continue to build upon and improve the support available, and that employers have a critical role to play too.
Amanda Pitt is a partner at global executive search firm Kingsley Gate and a NABS Trustee.