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Talking to your employer about depression can be daunting. But when Adam Spreadbury found himself dealing with depression for almost five years, his workplace stepped up and supported him.

Spreadbury, a senior manager at the Bank of England, went on to be co-founder of the Bank of England’s Mental Health Network, which was established seven years ago to normalise conversations about mental health for the organisation’s 4,000 employees.

In fact, the Bank has had a commitment to mental health for many years — it’s had in-house counsellors for almost 50 years — but it was also keen to change the cultural stigma associated with mental health by encouraging more people to share their stories.

Now the organisation has 90 wellbeing champions and a mental health peer support network of 60 employees who are all trained up and ready to listen.

Giving people the confidence to have tricky conversations is really important, Spreadbury says. “It’s about creating a common language and understanding how to set boundaries, manage pressure and reduce stress.”

Every May, the office exterior is lit up in green to show support for Mental Health Awareness Week, and the Bank is part of City Mental Health Alliance, which compiled the Thriving at Work Guide for companies wanting to implement change.

Spreadbury says: “As Mark Carney [the Governor] states, we are here to serve the British people, and we have big decisions to make, so it’s important to have an inclusive environment that is beneficial to people’s wellbeing.”

When it came to developing an in-house programme, the Bank involved mental health training charity Mindapples, whose clients include large companies and charities.

Andy Gibson, founder of Mindapples, says: “Your mind is your greatest asset, and you need to maintain it. People working to tight deadlines, making big decisions and making money for the business need to be intellectually capable.”

Through masterclasses, workshops, management training and keynote talks, the charity introduces aspects of cognitive science, psychology and neuroscience and facilitates discussions about how to apply them.

At Havas, a global advertising company, Wednesdays are focused on mental wellbeing. On the hour every hour, staff can join sessions about focus, relaxation or creativity, or take guided mindfulness sessions in the tech-free wellness lounge.

The company is one of a number of companies prioritising mental health and wellbeing as bosses realise that optimum mental health is key to success.

Ewen MacPherson, people director of Havas Media Group, explains that the company is hoping to minimise the chance of employees experiencing burnout and build resilience.

“We think about performance in terms of mental and physical energy,” he explains. “With zero energy levels, output will always be zero.”

Four years ago, MacPherson approached wellbeing company Push Mind and Body to create a bespoke programme of talks, workshops, one-to-one and digital learning that’s now embedded in the business, with 30 wellbeing champions, 100 mental health first aiders plus coaching for all line managers.

During 2020, all 2,000 employees at the London office will be offered mental health training, and last year Havas provided 2,500 unique wellness hours.

Companies might expect to see a fall in sickness days as a result of investment in employee mental health. That’s a false measure, argues MacPherson, who suggests considering figures such as staff turnover.

According to mental health charity Mind, 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems fall out of work every year.

MacPherson says: “By destigmatising mental health illness, sickness levels might go up if more people come forward instead of suffering in silence. That’s positive, and staff turnover has reduced from 30 per cent to 5 per cent.”

Natalie Wharton founded City-based Wharton Business Consulting in 2017 after building her career in the Big Four professional services firms. An advocate for flexible working, she encourages her 35 associates and six employees to stay physically and mentally fit by providing access to an online coaching platform with fitness routines, nutrition advice, training modules and video workshops on mindfulness plus guided meditations.

“Many of the people I work with left the Big Four wanting more headspace,” explains Wharton.

Creativity, laughter and play are vital tools for mental health and workplace wellbeing, according to Jessica Shaw, founder of Pact Creative Training.

“Play lowers stress, boosts confidence, supports wellbeing and brings laughter among colleagues, which is hugely beneficial, allowing people to connect in a different context,” Shaw says.

“When we play together, we’re totally in the moment, and that in turn lowers stress.”

Shaw runs 45-minute lunchtime sessions in London organisations such as Aesop Agency, Clifford Chance and the Refugee Council.

“My mission is to get bosses to see the benefits of play for mental health and as a way of humanising workplace culture, while reaping the benefits of high productivity and employee happiness.”


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