Paws for thought – giving colleagues a voice on mental health

Do you have open conversations about mental health in your organisation?

Today I have a guest post for you by Jamie Angus, Internal Communications and Engagement Manager at PDSA, he’s here to share how they marked Mental Health Awareness Week this month.

After beginning his career in the world of politics, he learnt his trade as a PR and comms officer in the public sector. From there, Jamie entered the world of social housing, taking a particular interest in employee engagement. He eventually made the move into the private sector spending nearly three years as an Internal Communications Manager at Carillion (in Jamie’s own words, this clearly did not end well!). He’s since found a new home at the century-old pet charity, PDSA.

I’ll hand you over…

Paws for thought – giving colleagues a voice on mental health

I’m a 34 year old man. The most likely thing to kill me…is me.

This is just one the harrowing and sobering statistics which is helping to create what feels like a burning platform for organisations to finally recognise that the wellbeing of its people isn’t a fluffy ‘nice to have’ – it’s absolutely crucial to the long term health and sustainability of the organisation itself.

Mental Health Awareness Week took place between 13-19 May 2019.

For a number of years, there’s been a growing bank of evidence which links wellbeing (physical and mental) to good business performance. Whether that’s through boosting recruitment and retention, driving employee engagement – or reducing accidents and risk in the workplace. These are all absolutely valid points.

But fundamentally, and above all else, looking after the wellbeing of our people is just simply the right thing for any organisation to do.

The widely used statistic that 1 in 4 of us will experience some sort of mental health problem this year is frightening enough. But when you extrapolate that out across your own organisation – the numbers feel much more real.

I’ve got around 2,000 colleagues at PDSA – that rises to nearly 6,000 if we include our amazing volunteers. That’s around 1,500 colleagues who will, according to the statistics, be struggling with some sort of mental health problem this year.

Add in to the mix that the veterinary profession are four times more likely than the general population to commit suicide – and you begin to understand why it’s so important that we create a culture and workplace environment where it’s ok, not to be ok.

For a number of years, we’ve done various activities around mental health at PDSA. We have the usual suspects – stress awareness training modules, wellbeing check-up surveys and alike – but now, for the first time, we’re actively encouraging our colleagues to talk openly about how they feel.

Time to Talk
Our Director General, Jan, pens a blog every fortnight. Back in February she wrote, for the first time, about her own experiences with mental health as part of #TimeToTalk Day. The response was overwhelming. The conversations started to happen. Colleagues replied to Jan directly, they took to Workplace to share their own experiences – and we measured that our Employee Assistance Programme website saw more traffic in the week after that blog went live – than it had seen during the whole of February in both 2017 and 2018.

The power of the personal story trumps all other in my opinion.

Internal Comms don’t always have to be the authors – as we saw at PDSA this week. The people who came forward in February wanted to tell their stories – so this week we gave them that platform.

Each day we emailed out a new personal blog or vlog from a different colleague. We then shared that story on Workplace for others to come forward with their own stories – or to simply praise those colleagues who have had the confidence and bravery to share their most vulnerable experiences.

From living with OCD, depression, PTSD, panic attacks – and living with a bi-polar parent – each story was powerful, thought-provoking and moving. I couldn’t have written those stories for them. Yes we can help edit, and do a few tweaks on the style – but sometimes – the role of internal comms is to handover the channels and enable the authenticity of our colleagues to shine through.

We’re at the start of our wellbeing journey at PDSA.

As one of our vets wrote in her blog, “often, animal welfare is put above our own…we spend a lot of time talking about preventive care for pets, so why not ourselves?”

We’ve started that conversation – and it’s up to us to keep that conversation going – both centrally in the comms we deliver – and amongst our teams and managers too.

Measuring what matters
We often talk a lot about measurement in internal comms. Yes we’ll review our open rates, click-throughs to our EAP and the engagement we’ve had on Workplace this week. But the measurement which really matters – is if just one person is given the confidence to speak up about how they’re feeling – then that, for me, is what success feels like.

I have no real words of wisdom (there will be memes aplenty on social media which will be more profound than anything I can come up with) – but if there’s one thing you do after reading this – is make a hot drink, watch my colleague Kat talk about her experiences – then ask just one person how they’re feeling today. It might just make all the difference.

Post author: Jamie Angus.

Thank you very much for sharing your story Jamie, there’s lots to takeaway from what you’ve written, thank you.

You can find Jamie on Twitter@jamie_angus.

Further reading about mental health via All Things IC

First published on the All Things IC blog 24 May 2019.



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