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"Mental health at work suffers when people don’t have a choice"

For Mental Health Awareness Week Karan Tattersfield and Sally Vincent explain Grey London’s approaches to employee wellbeing

Karan Tattersfield, Grey London

Chief People Officer

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By some strange parallel universe experience where the void of the last two years (say no more) is slightly blurred in our minds, we are back in the game again! Or are we? Two years in virtual lockdown and limited freedom like none of us have ever known we have emerged into Summer 2022 and an unprecedented cost of living crisis and a humanitarian catastrophe that feels helpless to watch play out in front of our eyes. It’s not surprising in the slightest that mental health for our teams stays firmly on the agenda.  

As we move into mental health awareness week we’ve been thinking more about exactly what can this look like and how do employers/people teams navigate around this in a way that doesn’t feel token or ‘done before’ which we’ve got to admit is not easy! The mere mention of more Teams/Zoom workshops isn’t that helpful (yes we are with you, they have a place just not all the time). We’ve all had our fill of these over the last two years and while they worked in that moment we’re now focusing on bringing back people together in person.  

The power for us to create an environment where people can be together and feel included has really been where our attention is right now. Belonging and Inclusiveness. Heart-warmingly we held an Eid Al-Fitr celebration marking the end of Ramadan. Everyone bought in food to share and sweetly for that small moment in time there was a bond and connection, oneness. Across the company, we all joined in and the power of that moment we recon had a far more reaching effect than any online workshop ever had. Synchronicity and being together is what we’ve missed. 

Mental health at work suffers when people don’t have a choice

Karan Tattersfield, Chief People Officer and Sally Vincent Head of People, Grey London

We also had the pleasure to attend the Smart About Health Women’s Health Tank presented by Dr Laura, an enigmatic NHS Doctor on a mission, who has started her own business to educate workplaces and bring some traditionally closed topics out into the open. Hearing first-hand the experience from women who have worked through breast cancer, fertility issues, period problems in the extreme and baby loss was massive. 

Naturally, policies and frameworks were on the tip of everyone’s tongues, but interestingly do you know what really made the difference? A cup of tea and simply someone to listen to them.  This was the single thing that all these brave women wanted and needed. Back to human connection and empathy again. The powerful healing of having another person just listen without judgement and be there was what they felt employers needed more of. The braveness of the lady who was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 41 with two young children impacted everyone, she just needed to be listened to. This is huge for People teams who often feel the weight of having to ‘fix’ problems all day long and come up with weighty solutions. Yes, for sure that is part of it but don’t underestimate that sometimes fixing involves simply being. 

Our approach remains a holistic one. We’ve boosted investment into training more Mental Health Allies, targeted wellbeing workshops (the sleep one was packed!) and continued to invest into Self Space which gives access to therapy on demand.

We looked at bringing people together at work, we are still hybrid working and for now, we’re staying with this. When we did a Survey Monkey 98% of our teams told us that they never wanted to return to 5 days a week in the office and 99% of people wanted to choose which days they came in. Not a massive surprise. Mental health at work suffers when people don’t have a choice. They are told firmly what’s good for them and how they need to work rather than given the flex to reach a target in their own way. Sure, employers have been frightened about people never ever appearing in the office again and creating a virtual ghost workforce but in reality, we’ve seen something different. The flex of having the choice of two days (one fixed team day and one flex) the choice remains with the teams and thus a sense of balance. We love this and by putting the trust in everyone we think we’ve got some positive equilibrium and goodwill that understands there are moments that are best left in person, but a choice remains. 

There is still education to be done at work and there are still outdated approaches to people that rely on presenteeism and showing up. Trust is fundamental to what we do and without that we advance nowhere. The best support to mental health is kindness, empathy, and compassion. Creating a workplace around these principles is what we strive for at Grey and while we can never say we’re there we feel we are headed in the right direction. 

Guest Author

Karan Tattersfield, Grey London

Chief People Officer

About

With over 15 years experience in leading Human Resource teams, Karan joined the Grey team as Chief People Officer, Europe in September 2021. Karan has worked across a diverse range of industries including, luxury travel, property and event production before joining the WPP family in April 2019. Fully believing in creating a better way of working Karan has been influential in leading highly progressive and successful people strategies that have enabled teams to thrive and progress whilst not impacting on mental health. Karan has extensive experience in leading people teams to successfully embed and advance key areas such as Learning & Development, Recruitment and Employee Relations. A naturally empathetic and collaborative approach has allowed Karan to positively influence leaders to change perceptions and breakdown barriers of unhelpful and often dated human resource approaches. She is a huge advocate of mental health and achieving balance at work. She is also an industry speaker and panel participant on embedding people strategies in creative environments. Karan is Mum to two boys and lives in North London. She has a deep love of skiing, marathon running and mountain climbing.

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Mental Health workplace