One in four people reading this will suffer from stress, depression or other mental health conditions at some point in their lives. Do you, or someone you know, currently have a diagnosis? Chances are you have at least one person in your day-to-day life that is working through one of these conditions, (Disclosure: at least three of us at StrawberrySocial do).

You may have become an expert at managing your illness both at work and at home. But have you shared this with co-workers? And would you have the confidence to ask your boss for a mental health day if you needed time off to recover, away from the challenges of the workplace?

Although mental health at work is becoming less of a stigma, we as a society have a long way to go until depression, anxiety and stress can expect the same support in the workplace as say, someone with a more ‘widely understood’ ailment. Colleagues will rush to help someone hobbling around the office on crutches, but with depression, for example, the sufferer is fighting an invisible battle and their struggle may only manifest itself in negative behaviours. This in turn may make colleagues and management even less likely to recognise, sympathise, or offer help.

It is important for the overall health of your organisation to understand that mental health issues are not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of trying to stay strong for far too long. In addition, mental health issues can cause a lack of concentration, reduction in productivity and prolonged physical illness to name a few (and the relationship between physical complaints and mental health has been much discussed). It’s been well documented that mental health affects every aspect of our lives.

It’s not disingenuous to equate physical injury with mental illness. The professional world has been struggling to understand mental illness in the workplace, and create best practices so as to best assist their workers. When #Thrivingatwork released its report on mental health in the workplace they found the number of people forced to stop work as a result of mental health problems was 50% higher than for those with visibly physical health conditions. This report urged employers to commit to six core standards around mental health – essentially, to start taking responsibility for the mental health of their staff:

  1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan
  2. Develop mental health awareness among employees
  3. Encourage open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling
  4. Provide your employees with good working conditions
  5. Promote effective people management
  6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing

While the above list is definitely a step in the right direction and we recommend companies start with the above, it’s important to note that simply ticking off a box of items isn’t going to solve each issue for each case. The above can only be effective if there is a company culture which embraces this change. Workers may feel uncomfortable sharing their mental illness with colleagues and supervisors, so it’s important for leadership to take a stand and work to change this perspective.

At StrawberrySocial our culture is built around inclusivity, transparency and respect; which comes from the top, and is shared among the entire team.

We support a number of high-risk clients in the charity sector (case studies can be found here) which bring with them a special set of challenges involving online interactions with people experiencing mental and emotional distress of their own. This can, in turn, take a toll on community moderators. The StrawberrySocial approach aims to help our team respond to difficult situations online, and manage their wellbeing at work through regular check-ins, open conversations, and providing a space of trust between leadership, and community moderator.

Shaz Collier, Head of Client Services at StrawberrySocial, has worked as part of a task force to implement a company-wide Employee Resilience Programme in a previous role (and manages the one at StrawberrySocial). She said: “We’re lucky to have a highly talented team and it’s important to us that our workforce is empathetic towards our charity forum clients, but remain personally resilient, as sometimes the subject matter can be distressing. We’re well aware our moderators are at risk of compassion fatigue, occupational burnout and reduced job satisfaction. Even the best moderators can and will experience frustration, depression, or helplessness.”

“The team trusts they can confide in me anytime and I’ve managed to implement solutions where they have shared their concerns. This helps team members to move past their feelings, feel positive about moving forward, and successfully do their work.”

Shaz added: “Our policy is not to wait for them to approach us, but we reach out to them by keeping an eye out for various trigger behaviour changes or warning signals that could mean our moderators are at risk. Our communication style means they know they’re not in trouble, but we’re concerned and want to prioritise their wellbeing.

We will empower our people to switch projects where possible. You are not weak or unable to do your job if you experience any of these challenges. We’re all in favour of mental health days and both Rebecca (StrawberrySocial MD) and I take them when needed.”

Rebecca said, “It was hugely important to me when starting the company that the staff and freelancers we worked with could enjoy a flexibility I rarely had in my 30 years of working for others. Mental health was seen as an excuse and often inadvertent bullying was an issue. Many people are unfairly ‘written off’ for having mental and/or physical issues, but some of the most productive people I know are battling an illness. Facilitating a flexible and supportive work atmosphere shouldn’t be a trial. It enables everyone to have a fair shot at being the best they can be and to discover and explore their talents. The world of business is often very short-sighted and needs to change – given the right working conditions, both people and companies can thrive. This is something I truly believe in.”

Do you offer any of the above recommended mental health standards at your organisation? How has this helped improve the overall performance of your team?

Other blogs:
It’s 5 o’clock Somewhere… (or) Managing Remote Teams
Moderating the Moderators – The future of emotional labour
Case Study: Working with Mind
Social Media and Suicide Prevention: What’s being done and who’s responsible?