What does mental wellness at work actually mean?

What does mental wellness at work actually mean?
Opinion: Career Leaders

NABS’ head of support sees the stark effect on mental wellness in the media industry and outlines ways managers, colleagues and the industry can tailor their approach.

In these fast-paced and uncertain times, mental wellness is as important as it’s ever been. But what does mental wellness look like, especially in a work context? How can we as an industry do the critical work necessary to support the mental wellness of our teams?

Mental wellness gives us the ability to function well; to enjoy work and personal life; to thrive. It’s the cornerstone of a contented mind, a productive teammate, a life worth living.

Mental wellness is a state of mind. It is also an active practice. It’s about finding a set of tools that work for you that give you some space and calm. It’s important to care for yourself regularly, to keep yourself topped up.

If you’re a leader, you have a responsibility to allow your staff the time and space to look after their mental wellness, and to be a role model in this regard. For example, be positively vocal about having time in the diary for your therapy session, or taking some of your meetings as walking meetings to incorporate fresh air and movement into your day.

You can face serious mental health challenges, but still experience mental wellness at the same time. Equally, mental wellness isn’t linear and can change over time. What we can do is to hopefully ward off any crises by continually bolstering our own mental wellness and that of our teams.

In our fast-moving industry, we’re at the forefront of change. We’ve had much uncertainty thrown our way in the last few years, much of it traumatic, including lockdown, the murder of George Floyd, and the cost of living crisis. The effect on adland’s mental wellness has been stark.

Mental health is the pressure point of our industry’s strains and demands, and what pressure we’re facing, NABS’ stats are the proof.

Calls to NABS have risen dramatically, with more and more people in need of guidance and a listening ear from our support team. In Q1 of this year alone, NABS experienced a 100% YOY rise in people getting in touch for support with their mental wellness.

Emotional support tops the reasons for people coming to us, with just over half of the emotional support calls we receive relating directly to mental health.

It is now a critical situation

We cannot allow people’s mental wellness to dip further. When mental wellness is compromised, it’s very difficult for someone to think clearly, to get the most out of their day, to contribute to working life and to perform in their roles, not to mention to handle any of their personal needs.

It’s critical that we address this situation: as managers, as colleagues and together as an industry. Rightly so, teams are increasingly asking for emotional support from their leaders. The new generation coming into our industry expects mental wellness support as a minimum standard. Our mission is clear. So how best to go about it?

NABS’ team of support advisors, who I’m proud to lead, hear from thousands of callers each year. Our two common questions to all of them are: “what do you most need?” and “what’s the impact on you?”

For many people, it will be the first time that they’ve been asked these questions, or have had time to reflect on their needs.

This approach should be at the centre of everything that managers do. Mental wellness support needs to be tailored to the individual. It needs to be based on empathy and understanding.

Take time to get to know your staff and to ask them: when it comes to support, what do you most need? Where are you struggling, and how can we help? It all starts with a conversation, with getting to know someone with genuine interest.

Understand that mental wellness is a fluid situation. Somebody’s answers to the above will change over time. Our collective duty is to regularly check in with people to understand how their situations are evolving, and how the support they need will change as a result.

You don’t need to have all of the answers. This is where we can work in partnership to bolster your teams’ mental wellness. Your job is to hold space for concerns, to listen, to do what you can, and then to direct your people to any specialist support they may need.

Encouraging someone to call us at NABS can allow space for a deeper and continued conversation, where we can be a constant help at the end of the phone as well as directing to other support services, such as therapy if appropriate.

NABS is currently conducting its community consultation, designed to find out what our industry needs for its mental wellness, now and into the future. Sign up to the survey and encourage your teams to do the same through this link here.

 Annabel McCaffrey is head of support at NABS.

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