Like the majority of companies last March our 1 office in the centre of Leeds turned into over 50 offices across Yorkshire overnight, as Lockdown 1 was introduced and everyone’s life got flipped, turned upside down.
The past year at Ponderosa has allowed us to both review and steadily revolutionise the support for our employee’s mental health and wellbeing, whilst also serving as a stark reminder for us all of the importance of doing so.
Studies have shown that only 49% of employees within the UK feel comfortable talking to their employer about their mental health, with 27% of employees telling no one about their issues.
One of the main aims of the past year was to redefine a ‘normal workplace’ and work towards cultivating an inclusive and supportive culture around mental health within the company, that will encourage our colleagues that they are safe to speak openly about their mental wellbeing. The notion of leaving your problems at the door is as old fashioned as it is unrealistic, especially for the last year where for some people their office and their bedroom are one and the same.
The first step was to first work on raising mental health awareness throughout the company, but also to raise awareness of the actions that we were taking to support colleagues. Once lockdown restrictions permitted, we ensured that we had a trained Mental Health First Aider, by sending a colleague on a two day training course, providing them with the skills and confidence in supporting a team member who was suffering from a mental health issue.
All senior members of the team also received training from Leeds Mind to ensure they had the required management skills for supporting and managing staff with stress, anxiety and depression. We also began running Mental Health Awareness workshops for all staff, to give them the knowledge of signs to look for both in their colleagues and in themselves, as well as practical skills and coping mechanisms for managing issues. These small, intimate groups gave opportunities for a number of people to speak openly in front of others (in some cases for the first time) about mental health issues they had faced in both their personal lives and in the workplace.
For the majority of the past year our colleagues have existed solely as pixels on our screens, so we have been keen to reintroduce regular social activities to help support people’s wellbeing. Buddy Chats and Tea & Talk sessions were run every week to keep people connected in lockdown, as the 5 minute chats whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, or grabbing lunch with a friend were distant memories. As an entire company we have also been gathering for monthly wind downs on the last Friday of each month, with the first of these being a very competitive virtual Escape Room.
One point we have made sure to reaffirm is that whilst it’s common to take paracetamol for headaches, different people need different things for mental health. Everyone has different triggers, different symptoms and requires different support and treatment, so a one size fits all approach simply doesn’t work. To combat this we are rolling out Wellness Action Plans (WAPs, if you can pardon the acronym), that allow colleagues to detail any situations that impact negatively on their mental health at work and the support they need.
Much like the day-to-day work requires us to always be agile, we are regularly encouraging feedback on what is and isn’t working for our colleagues in terms of mental health support, so we can adapt it accordingly. The past year has served as a stark reminder that you never know what’s around the corner.
People that are struggling the most are often the least likely to reach out for help, so it’s a case of offering as many opportunities for them to do so. Not everyone will be ready to, but we hope by encouraging open conversations about mental health and creating a safe, non-judgemental environment will go a long way to supporting those that need it.
Once again this year to commemorate Mental Health Awareness Week, our Senior Developer Shane Nicholl is running 7 Marathons in 7 Days across Leeds and West Yorkshire, to raise money for Mind.
“After many years of suffering, I was eventually diagnosed in 2014 with Depression. Since then I have found that running is the one thing I can always rely on to keep the black dog at bay, or at the very least tire him out if he tries to run with me.”
“The idea for running 7 Marathons in 7 Days came back in 2017, where having started regularly running marathons and ultramarathons for Mind a couple of years before, I was looking for the next challenge.”
“Despite what people think, running isn’t necessarily something that comes naturally to me, but the resilience I have built up over the years to live with my mental illness is one that is well suited to running long distances.”
“After last year’s success I had hoped that things would be a little more ‘normal’ this year around, but I’m still going to have to run unsupported, avoiding using shops for refuelling as much as possible and keeping socially distant where I can. Thankfully I’ve remembered to book the week off work this time though, so I don’t have to stress about having to get up at 4am this year.”