Are you really looking after your team… or just ticking the mental health box?

Image for Kate Bastable By Kate Bastable

Wellbeing and wellness are staple watchwords in today’s workplaces and thankfully more and more agencies are realising the importance of looking after their teams’ mental health. But to look after your people – really, truly look after them – you need to be approaching mental health support in a meaningful and insightful way. Yes a bowl of fruit in the office is a nice idea. But an apple won’t redress the balance of a long, difficult working week. Here are some ways you can approach your mental health support and really make a difference…

Back in the olden days, workers had to fight for the right to some time off. They might have been given half a day to go to church, but leaders pushed back against more. Fortunately, times have evolved, and continued evolving. Far from being a flash-in-the-pan trend, wellbeing is a pivotal part of our workplace health. Shrugging it off as a fad, or paying lip service to it, will likely lead to a mass exodus as talented-but-tired people head for a more rewarding workplace.

Creating your wellbeing plan

When you develop your wellbeing plan, remember the mantra ‘prevention is better than cure’. Look at putting strategies in place that can help support your teams’ mental health, as well as measures you can take to help people who are struggling.

Here are some things you could include:

Mental health first aiders

Training up mental health first aiders in your agency is a great idea, giving them the tools, skills and insights to help develop a good mental health plan or policy. A good mental health first aider is approachable, empathetic and kind. This isn’t about diagnosing or prescribing. In the same way a first aider at work wouldn’t put a broken bone in a cast or give a physical illness prognosis, a mental health first aider isn’t expected to deliver counselling or understand complex mental health issues.

Rather, your mental health first aider needs to be able to sit and listen. It’s not their job to pass judgement or recommend treatment, except in extreme circumstances (if someone is in danger of hurting themselves or others then obviously they need to get urgent medical care).

Regular breaks

Agency life is busy and when deadlines are looming it can be tempting to give these immediate priority. But the reality is life will always be busy and deadlines will always be there.

Make sure your teams are encouraged to take regular breaks throughout their working day and create a communal area for tea breaks and lunches, so colleagues aren’t eating at their desks. Introduce things like monthly or weekly company lunches where everyone sits down together (no work talk allowed!)

And for those with meeting-heavy jobs, make it a regular practice to have breaks in between. Instead of scheduling meetings for an hour, make them 45 minutes so there’s time to breathe in between.

Set realistic utilisation rates

Utilisation rates are the amount of time an employee spends on chargeable work. It’s impossible for anyone to spend 100% of their time doing this, but all too often rates are set at 80% or even more. A surefire route to burnout. This can cause bad feeling, with staff feeling flogged into working solidly all day without breaks.

Remember, your creative teams are your bread and butter, and their brains simply won’t operate if they’re too tired and stressed. But it applies for all your teams – client services need a break between one client and another. Good, effective utilisation is what keeps you profitable. Better to set lower rates but make them productive.

Be inclusive

While you might know exactly what’s happening across the agency, not everyone will. Have regular company meetings to let your teams know how your agency is performing and what your ambitions and opportunites are. Share the wins.

You could even set an ‘employee of the month’ – maybe it sounds cheesy, but it’s great for team members to big each other up and support each other. Try to avoid phrases like ‘going above and beyond’ though, or anything that could be seen as promoting or rewarding those doing overlong hours or pushing themselves to the limits.

Try team building

Everyone groans collectively at this one, thinking they’ll have to do the old ‘fall-back-and-catch-you’ exercise. But getting everyone together and building some team spirit really is a good idea. How about helping a local charity for a day, enjoying a picnic in the local park, getting together a work quiz team, or running a Bake Off competition? Ask your colleagues for ideas about what they’d like to do and try something different each time.

Signpost support

Let everyone know who your company mental first aiders are and explain they can have a private, confidential chat with them if they need to. Encourage people to follow NABS on LinkedIn (the wellbeing support group for the advertising and media industry). If you have more of a budget, you could work with a company like Mindhub, who can help you devise a strategy for physical and mental wellbeing.

Make it meaningful

There’s nothing wrong with offering yoga classes, or fruit, or letting people finish early sometimes. But these things are part of the bigger picture. Staff who’ve regularly been expected to work late won’t benefit much from finishing half an hour early. Make sure your whole company culture and ethos embraces your wellbeing activities.

Are you expecting too much? Are you offering good career progression? Do people feel happy and supported in their jobs? Do they get enough time off and work-life balance? And while it’s tempting to say yes to every client demand, set some boundaries. Telling a stretched and tired creative they need to fit something else into their day, quickly and at high quality, is enough to send them running for the hills. Put your employees’ wellbeing first.

Ultimately, wellbeing should be embedded into everything your agency does, from working hours to client expectations, food and drink to fresh air. It’s good to be busy and thriving, but it’s not good to have people that are flagging and falling. Getting your mental health strategy in place will make you a responsible employer and a great place to work… and that’s what boosts productivity more than anything.

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