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Adult mental healthMental health and societyWorld Mental Health Day

Breaking down barriers in the workplace

10 October 2017

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is mental health in the workplace. A recent report by MIND found that 32% of men attributed work as the cause for their poor mental health.

Cardiff alumnus Miles Kean (BSc 1989), an Executive Director at Coutts, had work-related mental health issues for a number of years before he got professional help for an anxiety disorder. As he got better and returned to work he increasingly found people would tap him on the shoulder and ask to meet for a coffee. They wanted to know how he had coped and also speak to him about their own issues rather than initially talk to their line managers.

He took on a mentor who was the LGBT representative on the bank’s diversity and inclusion board. When the results from the bank’s staff survey in relation to stress and wellbeing were published it was obvious that there needed to be some real focus on this area. As a result Miles picked up the mantle and took ownership of this. He developed a strategy and built a team who were then asked to come in and talk to the main board of Coutts.

There was concern that people weren’t approaching their line managers about issues affecting their mental health. RBS, Coutts’ parent company, has excellent resources around employee assistance but they weren’t being widely used and no one was really driving the mental health agenda within the business at the ground level.

There was some visibility around improving physical wellbeing such as the global corporate 10,000 steps challenge but not much around mental wellbeing. Miles wanted to change that so that the two were given the same visibility and priority.

In consultation with the board, Miles and his team came up with a mental wellbeing strategy for the bank. To inform the strategy they went and spoke to a number of organisations such as MIND, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the Bankers’ Workers Charity (BWC) and the Lord Mayor’s campaign as well as many other financial institutions.

Following the approval of the strategy Miles and his colleagues implemented a number of activities to raise awareness of mental health, reduce stigma, and make sure line managers and employees were made aware of what training and resources were available to them. This included:

  • Creating a Wellbeing ambassador network. To date 90 members of staff have signed up for these roles
  • Meeting with the bank’s 380 line managers – Miles and Mike Heyworth (his co-lead on Wellbeing) ran 30 hour-long sessions explaining the strategy, signposting the resources available and discussing good practice and the importance of building resilience personally and for their teams
  • Creating videos that included personal stories of those who’d faced their own mental health issues, as well as members of the top team discussing how they cope and manage their work/life balance
  • Taking advantage of the wider mental health awareness and resilience training for line managers
  • Creating a wellbeing hub on the intranet bringing together all the internal and external resources available. This has been accessed 10,000 times by Coutts’ 1,950 staff since its launch in March 2017.

It was in April this year, that mental health campaigners Neil Laybourn and Jonny Benjamin got involved with Coutts & Co through a previous client of Neil’s who works for the bank, and who had attended Neil’s boot camps when he was a personal trainer.

They’d kept in contact via social media and Neil was approached by the staff member after reading about his London Marathon training, and wanted to help with sponsorship and engage on this topic. A meeting was set up to discuss how they could help. Neil and Jonny were then invited to come and give a talk to the staff during Mental Health Awareness Week.

The talk was well attended with over 150 staff present and over 30% of staff have accessed the video of the talk via the intranet.

Neil and Jonny also visited the RBS head office in Scotland and met with the Head of the Wellbeing Initiatives. This autumn they are undertaking further work with Coutts for their fellowship programme designed to help the children of some of the bank’s wealthiest clients.

The work undertaken by Miles and his colleagues is helping lead to the change in culture around this important area and a lot of this has also been aided by some excellent resources and support from RBS.  During the initial research the team undertook they were advised by various organisations that it is often some time before you achieve any meaningful change in awareness and attitudes, yet the outcome of Miles’ work has surpassed all expectations. In the latest six-monthly staff survey one of the key wellbeing measures had improved by 24%.

Much of this has been driven by Miles and Mike and the focus on authenticity they have brought to the campaign. They delivered all the training rather than bringing in an external team, which is unusual particularly for larger organisations.  It is also testament to Miles’ passion and commitment to improving the mental health agenda.

They are currently moving into phase two of the campaign which is around ongoing meaningful content and continued support. Miles says it is a sensitive issue, but he views this as a positive thing.  People either contact you because they want to help, or because they are seeking help.

Neil says that Miles’ work has made a difference at Coutts and it is so important that work around mental health is driven from the top. There are still many organisations where there is a lot to do in terms of mental health awareness and stigma, especially in SMEs where they don’t necessarily have the resources.

He and Jonny are continuing to do outreach work with organisations in the UK and are also being asked to go to international offices of UK companies. Demonstrating on World Mental Health Day, that workplace mental health is very much a global issue.