What is Octopus Group doing about mental health?

The latest CIPR State of the Profession report found that only 54% of PR professionals surveyed have a mental health policy at work. This is despite the fact that 21% have a diagnosed mental health condition, and almost a quarter have taken time off due to stress, anxiety or depression.

Many UK workers are stretched, strained and overwhelmed at work. That’s why, over the past few years, we’ve taken steps towards improving employees’ mental as well as physical health. Now, we’re upping our efforts; replacing our popular ‘wellbeing days’ with integrated, year-round initiatives.

Here’s Ellie McCluskey, Head of Talent at Octopus Group, to tell us more:

Ellie. What are we, at Octopus Group, doing to provide improved mental health support?

Mental health affects everybody. Perhaps it’s you, a friend or a family member. It also comes in all shapes and sizes. Maybe you’ve become super sensitive with your colleagues, or consistently angry. You may not care about your job anymore, or hobbies that were once important to you. You may have lost your creative flare. You may feel directionless. Or maybe you wake up with an inexplicable weight on your chest, palpitations or a knot in your stomach.

There are loads of stats around it. One in three employees feel more stressed now than they did two years ago, 43% say they feel stressed at work every day, and one in four will experience some form of mental health issue in any given year. If that proves anything, it’s that if you’re struggling then you’re not alone.

Basically, mental health isn’t just about people feeling ‘down’ or suicidal. As our work and personal lives overlap more and more, we as employers have a responsibility to do all we can to keep employees in their best shape.

So we asked ourselves, what can we do to help? How can we support our employees?

And the answer is…

The first part of our Mental Health support plan is to educate and enlighten Octopedes around the immense landscape that is mental health.

What does it look like? How does it feel? Why it is such a phenomenon of our time?

By doing this, we’ll look to remove the stigma around mental health. It affects us all, so don’t feel ashamed. It isn’t a taboo subject. You won’t be judged or fired by being honest about the issues you’re having.

And this leads on to the second part of our plan, which is to encourage talking. We want to get people swapping stories with friends, or trusted colleagues. And to get senior team members to share any mental health experiences they or their friends may have had, if they’re comfortable with doing so. Each month we’ll invite an Octopede to share their story on our internal comms platform.

Lastly, we need to provide a support circle. That means making sure we have a team of people who are equipped to recognise and react to mental health problems. We’re training up a team of Mental Health First Aiders from across the agency. They’ll undergo a two-day training course, and will make themselves available to anyone who may need their support or someone to talk to.

We’re also getting a virtual reality mindfulness pod.

A virtual reality whatnow?

Yep. A VR mindfulness pod. That is not, I repeat not to be used for games.

Basically, we think that mindfulness can play a huge role in helping people to maintain good mental health. It can be a short-term or long-term management technique, but it can also be an effective preventative measure. In the same way we are encouraged to stay healthy by eating well or staying active, mindfulness is a way to keep our minds in good shape.

Our pod will immerse employees in one of three soothing environments: a tranquil beach, a lush woodland campsite or a zen garden, while an expert guides them through a meditation.

After as little as two minutes in the pod, they’ll emerge feeling more relaxed, refreshed and ready to take on the rest of their day.

Can we not just go to a tranquil beach?

Nice try.

Well it all sounds exciting. But how will you measure its success?

Scientific evidence shows how mindfulness can significantly improve stress levels, focus, creativity, productivity, communication skills, relationships, sleep patterns and mood, to name a few. Our main purpose is to do all we can to make our employees the very best they can be, so it’s in our interest to encourage, even incentivise, interaction with our pod.

The VR element itself delivers on this – who doesn’t love a play around on a bit of VR kit! But aside from that, we’re going to award Karma Kredits (sic) to staff who use the pod, and these credits then feed into performance reviews. This way, we can draw a genuine link between the practise of mindfulness and our employees’ performance and development.

Last question. From your personal experience, what are the business advantages of good mental health?

For any business, your talent is your biggest asset. If you look after them, they will look after your business.