It is believed that 20% of employees in the UK harbour a sense of skepticism around people taking time off for their mental health. This leads to many employees afraid to open up to their managers and instead prefer to open up to mental health champions in the workplace.
In order to reduce the stigma attached to our mental health at work, employers must educate their employees. Talking about it doesn’t make an impactful difference in solitude. Instead, brief employees on the symptoms, causes and remedies surrounding mental ill-health but also raise awareness on the ways in which positive mental health can be maintained.
HR professionals predominantly create and implement wellbeing strategies within businesses however there are other alternatives that harness human connection minus seniority, in the form of Mental Health Champions.
What are Mental Health Champions?
Mental Health Champions are a point of contact between the employer and the employee to raise awareness and normalise the conversation around mental health in the workplace.
When an employee is experiencing workplace distress they can turn to a Mental Health Champion where they can be offered appropriate advice and help as an early intervention.
Where employees may not feel comfortable to speak with a manager or senior, Mental Health Champions act as a confidante for internal support. In some cases, Mental Health Champions can also provide Mental Health First Aid if appropriately trained.
Though Mental Health Champions are not expected to be experts in mental health, their main role is to signpost the relevant support and help when a mental health issue begins.
Anyone Can Be A Mental Health Champion
It is important to encourage employees to volunteer themselves as a Mental Health Champion. The idea isn’t for them to diagnose an individual or ‘fix’ them, however, those who have experienced mental health issues themselves may find they are well placed in this position. Naturally, when we learn and talk from experience, it becomes easier to understand. For such a stigmatised subject, those in this role are helping to end this stigma and normalise the conversation.
What Does Being A Mental Health Champion Involve?
Becoming a Mental Health Champion is voluntary. Therefore, it is really important the role brings positive change for both the champion and the workplace. As individuals are choosing to invest their time, striking the balance can be challenging but if implemented correctly the experience can be extremely empowering.
As an employer recruiting for Mental Health Champions there are some key steps to follow to implement a solid Mental Health Champion program that we have outlined.
Create Your Program
Begin by establishing how much staff time your program may require. If you have one or two employees responsible for the program it is really important to consider their regular workload is reduced in order to be able to fulfill their duties as a Mental Health Champion.
You will also need to consider any budgeting or financial resources that may be needed for the champions to complete relevant training to support them in the role.
When creating your program, the best way to decipher your requirements is to run a survey with those who are going to benefit from it. Referred to as a ‘co-production’ approach, the influence you’ll receive from employees will ensure you’re able to fulfill their needs and requirements.
Once you have collated your data, set up a meeting with the relevant individuals and define the most important elements (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How). These can include generic questions such as; what does the role entail, and who is responsible for which tasks.
Think about how the program will impact any current policies or employee assistance programs you have. Work together to create timelines, deadlines, goals, and targets in order to review at a later date once you’ve launched your program.
Develop Your Program
How might you go about recruiting your mental health champions? It might be a good idea to undergo a recruitment process so that employees understand the role and what is needed to fulfill it. Not only does this allow employees to prepare, it gives each a fair and objective chance.
Create a role description and promote the opportunity around the business by circulating emails, newsletters and posters with information on how they can go about applying. It is entirely to the discretion of the business whether you hold interviews or employ your mental health champions through application alone.
Would your mental health champions require additional training? Whilst they are not expected to be professionals in the mental health, it is important they have the relevant skills and knowledge to aid someone who requires support and is seeking solace.
Deliver your Program
Once your organisation has determined who will fill the place of your Mental Health Champion(s), be sure to effectively communicate it with the wider teams. This can be done through internal news bulletins, posters, and team meetings.
Determine how you wish to filter information to your teams. Perhaps for short snippets you can use social media posts, posters or flyers. For more lengthy pieces perhaps you could write a blog post or host open conversations within teams. Furthermore, host seminars and webinars with external organisations or run organisations to help stimulate healthy conversations around mental wellbeing.
Like any new program or scheme it is really important it is monitored and reviewed regularly. You can review your program annually to ensure it is meeting and achieving the goals and objectives that were set when it was implemented.
It is also very important to monitor the wellbeing of your Mental Health Champions. Check-in regularly to ensure they are happy in their roles and if they require any additional support. This can be done face to face or through an anonymous questionnaire.
What Can I Bring to The Workplace As A Mental Health Champion?
Whilst organisations are paving the way to reduce mental health stigma in the workplace, many companies lack the resource to invest in solid strategies. It is important to encourage employees to involve themselves in mental wellbeing initiatives.
Management can often be strapped for time, but Mental Health Champions provide a valuable source of confidential support and encouragement for their peers. Therefore not only are they able to promote wellbeing in the workplace but the positive difference they may make can be extremely rewarding.
Encourage employees to get involved in such wellbeing initiatives that create a safe space to foster an empathetic working environment. Often employees prefer not to open up to their managers but prefer a peer-based approach.
By forging a supportive workforce, Mental Health Champions are able to promote a greater understanding of the needs and feelings of others.