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Minding our mental health: lessons in supporting our employees

We understand the importance of mental health at the FT. We aim to support our people knowing that happy, healthy employees are the most engaged and productive. More importantly, we know it’s the right thing to do.

Conversations around mental health at the FT should be a normality. We’ve made a lot of progress since we kicked off our journey toward ending the stigma around mental health: As we approach our second Mental Health Awareness Week (which we will be marking globally), and with lots of work still left to do, it’s worth taking stock of where we are.

We all have mental health. Whether it is good, bad or otherwise, our mental health impacts our lives everyday. It was therefore important for the FT to not only create an awareness of mental health in the workplace, to create a safe space and nurturing environment, but give people the tools, skills, and knowledge to talk about mental health in an empathetic and supportive way.

We started the conversation
In May 2018, the FT marked it’s first Mental Health Awareness Week - themed ‘Take Time to Talk’ - starting the conversation around mental health. The week consisted of talks, digital resources, and cake trolleys that encouraged people to take time out of their day to reflect and have a conversation about their mental health. We recorded talks so people who couldn’t attend either because they’re in our regional offices, or on leave could take part later.

Mental Health First Aiders
We trained 11 mental health first aiders from different areas across the business in the UK. Like physical first aiders, we wanted support on every floor of the building. This was additional support beyond management, HR or occupational health. Like physical first aiders, we hoped no one would need this resource - but it’s sure good to have them around when people do.

We also offered mental health awareness courses and trained mental health champions so everyone can learn about and be more aware of people’s mental health. Moving forward we’ll begin offering masterclasses to managers, enabling them to better identify and support team members who:

  • Are struggling with stress, anxiety and poor mental health
  • Need to take time off due to their mental health
  • Are ready come back into the workplace but need help in doing so

This year, FT Mental Health First Aiders will look to go global as we aim to roll out training in the US.

Mental Health Employee-Led Networks
At the FT, we have many employee-led networks. Off the back of our efforts around mental health awareness week and First Aider training, a mental health network was created. The network is made up of people from across the business and provides so much valuable insight into what our people are thinking, feeling and how we can support. Launching at the end of 2018, the network raises awareness of mental health in the workplace through; internal social media channels (Slack and Workplace), resources, promotion of HR initiatives such as the employee assistance programme, and events.

Speaking of events…
Did I mention we’ve had senior leaders in the business openly discuss mental health? The mental health network were instrumental in making this happen. A fantastic end of year panel event where board directors, leaders, mental health first aiders and employees shared their stories and how they have managed through poor mental health during their careers. Amazing.

We looked at the data
From the data, it was clear we needed to act differently. Mental health issues were the number one reason people took sick leave; comparatively against other businesses in the industry, this was well above average. Data also told us people were struggling with workload management, stress and anxiety.

Now our data paints a more positive picture - that we’re moving in the right direction. Our most recent employee survey tells us that we’re better at supporting people in managing their workload, and that more people feel the company really cares about their mental wellbeing. We’ll keep working on it, but globally it’s great to see our efforts are having an impact.

It has to be part of the FT Culture
I’d say we’re on our way. So far this year we’ve rolled out a new approach to flexible working, our new offices support many of the different ways people like to work, we’ve significantly enhanced paternity leave to relieve some of the stress and better support parents returning to work, and we’ve trialled the meditation app Headspace with a view to rolling this out globally. In addition to our onsite occupational health person, we currently offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and six free counselling sessions alongside our 24/7 confidential helpline and online portal.

We know there is more to do and we have plans.

Right now, we work for a leading, global brand in an industry that is going through constant innovation and disruption. As exciting as this can be, the unknown can be scary. It’s our role as an employer to safeguard our people knowing we wouldn’t be able to create, innovate, and disrupt the way we do, without them at their best. That’s being the happiest, healthiest, most engaged employees they can be.

Written by Christina Nicholson, FT Learning and Talent Advisor