The Environment Agency has lots of policies and guidance on positive mental health but to truly embed this within the organisation it wanted its employees to feel empowered to ‘own’ mental health and start grass roots conversations and take action. A handful of volunteers stepped up to establish and lead an employee-led network for mental health. The aims of the network were clear – to raise awareness and challenge stigma and discrimination. This is now an employee-led network with over 1,300 members.
Why did you decide to undertake this action?
We wanted to create a positive wellbeing culture where every employee is able to bring their best self to work without fear of stigma or discrimination. To do this we recognised that changing the culture on mental ill health needed both a top down and bottom up approach. We have lots of policies and guidance on positive mental health but to truly embed this within the organisation we wanted our employees to feel empowered to ‘own’ mental health and start grass roots conversations and take action. A handful of volunteers stepped up to establish and lead an employee-led network for mental health. The aims of the network were clear – to raise awareness and challenge stigma and discrimination. Mental health affects everyone and membership within the network soon began to grow.
Who did you want to benefit from it?
The Mental Health Network is an employee-led network supporting all employees of all grades within the Environment Agency, whether they have had experience of mental ill health or not.
The network uses the intranet and newsletters to share colleague stories of mental ill health to help raise awareness and to provide the message – ‘you are not alone’ to anyone experiencing similar ill health. The network provides a listening service through its Wellbeing Supporters for colleagues who want an empathetic ear to turn to in times of emotional distress. The Wellbeing Supporters also offer coaching to line managers to help them understand the impact of mental ill health and the importance of workplace adjustments.
Who was involved in delivering it?
An Executive Sponsor for the Network provided visible leadership and support to help establish the network. Our internal comms team provided support in the development of a ‘brand’ for the network to help spread the word of its existence amongst our 10,000 employees. The setting up and governance of the network itself was led by a handful of willing volunteers with experience of mental ill health and the ambition to ensure everyone within the Environment Agency felt able to talk about their mental health and receive support when they needed it.
What did you do?
Initially we set up some governance around the network to provide clarity on roles both individually and as a network. Using our intranet and with support from Internal Comms teams we published a survey, which could be completed anonymously, to understand what was important to our colleagues and what would have the biggest impact on their wellbeing and mental health. From this we established an action plan. Progress towards this action plan was communicated to the business using the intranet, newsletters and at face to face events. Our Executive Sponsor was able to raise the profile of the network within the management community as a valuable resource to support positive mental health.
The network recruited local leads in area offices to help spread the work of the network through events usually linked to national campaigns such as Time to Talk Day and Mental Health Awareness Week.
What has been the result?
The network has grown considerably since it was established six years ago. Now 1 in 8 employees within the Environment Agency are a member of the network.
Many are subscribers to our Yammer page where open and honest conversations on mental health happen. Yammer is chosen by many of our members as a means of asking for information and guidance from other colleagues on things such as resources, on-line courses and local events. Anyone seeking emotional support via this method has a response in minutes from a colleague offering a virtual shoulder to lean on.
The listening service offered through the network has over 100 volunteers and continues to expand. Awareness of the service is increasing, which is reflected in the data we collect. More and more people are volunteering to share their story of mental ill health in order to support others and to raise awareness.
Attendance at local events has also seen a marked increase over the last 6 years. Initially attendance was only 5 – 10 colleagues but most recently, as part of a Time to Change organisation-wide un-conference, 15 offices took part with attendance ranging from 30 – 60 colleagues at each site.
Our latest webinar on positive psychology, which is open to all employees, received over 800 requests for invites. This is the largest audience for any of our previous webinars on mental health and in our view reflects a sea change in the culture surrounding mental health within the Environment Agency.
Externally more and more organisations are approaching us to learn about how we promote positive mental health and foster a culture of wellbeing. Our success in the Mind Workplace Wellbeing award, securing Gold status every year, has helped us to raise our profile externally as an employer of choice.
How have you measured impact and success?
Participation on the Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index has been extremely useful to gain employee feedback on our wellbeing culture and the tools and services we provide. In addition to this we circulate our own employee survey to seek feedback on employee health and wellbeing.
Our listening service collects data on use of the service and common themes being discussed to help build an organisation wide picture of where support is being sought.
In addition to this we use Occupational Health and Employee Assistance data to identify what support tools and services are being used and if any need to be reviewed.
We also gather feedback from internal training and events on which aspects worked well and had the greatest impact for the individual.
Hits to our intranet pages and views of Yammer provide an indication on the popularity of a topic shared by the Mental Health Network.
Anecdotal feedback sent to the Mental Health Network is recorded and feedback to our volunteers shows recognition of the important role they play.
What did you learn and is there anything you would do differently if you were to go back in time?
Over the last six years we have learnt the importance of visible senior leadership and how this has raised the profile of the network and embed it into the business. There is no greater encouragement for our employees to talk about mental health than when the CEO is openly sharing their story.
The greatest learning point has been with the Wellbeing Supporter role and providing the right level of support and governance for the volunteers’ wellbeing as well as for those who are receiving support.
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