By Luke Brown, Community Project Manager
In any one year, over one in four people in the general population and one in six workers is likely to be living with a mental health condition. Looking after your own mental health and wellbeing doesn't just start at home -- employers also have a duty of care in fostering a sense of happiness and wellbeing amongst their staff.
I'm fortunate to work for an organisation that encourages an open, positive culture around mental health and wellbeing. East London Business Alliance and The BIG Alliance have an internal wellbeing group (WELBA) who kickstart initiatives to boost mind and body, for example, lunchtime walks, after-work games and providing free water canisters to encourage regular, eco-friendly hydration.
As it's Mental Health Awareness Week, WELBA has curated a week's worth of fantastic activities for staff to get involved in, including but not limited to a creative doodle session, laughter yoga, 'bring a dish to work' day, a suicide prevention talk, group cycling and a swimming session ... we were even able to purchase some office plants for our humble abode here in Islington (studies have shown they reduce stress levels, prevent sickness and boost productivity).
I asked my team at BIG Alliance about what they appreciate from their employer and their own top tips on looking after their mental health and wellbeing. Here's what they had to say.
How does ELBA/BIG support mental health and wellbeing at work?
Karolina Szostak, Education Programme Manager
Through WELBA and passionate individuals who share ideas and tips of mental wellbeing. It's now incorporated in the organisation's culture too. Each year ELBA/BIG take part in Mental Health Awareness campaign and it's driven by the senior leadership team.
Ayesha Begum, Education Project Coordinator
At the BIG office, we regularly play table tennis as a welcome break away from our screens! The office environment is very open and welcoming too, which means I feel comfortable knowing I can open up to the team about anything that's on my mind.
Marina Khan, Education Project Manager
I appreciate flexible working during Ramadan, our ‘radio station’ every Friday afternoon and dress down days.
Raymond Kinsella, SME/Business Development Programme Manager
BIG/ELBA has developed an empathetic culture making it easy to discuss and share issues relating to mental health. We also have an employee assistance programme
Syed Mahian, Education Project Coordinator
ELBA/BIG do a great job at supporting our mental health. The subscription to the confidential helpline is a great example. A friendly and supportive work environment also helps too.
Tom Browne, Community Project Manager
We regularly play table tennis, asking each other how we're doing and take an interest in each other’s well-being
Rebecca Lynch, Director
Now that summer is arriving, we’ve started having outdoor meetings. The team also play table tennis and do regular social activities together. Staff also get 2 volunteering days a year to give back.
What personal tips can you share about how you take care of your mental health and wellbeing at work?
Talk to people, take breaks and don't skip lunch, do something together.
I have a (not so) secret stash of chocolate and biscuits in my drawer, which I treat myself to every once in a while if I feel like I need an energy/mood boost! I also try and take regular breaks, even if it just means going downstairs to the staff room to make myself a cup of tea - it's so important to give yourself a break.
I always try to walk instead of taking the bus. In total, I walk for 1 hour and 20 minutes everyday for work (40 minutes in and 40 minutes out). I also ensure I have enough snacks/things I like to eat (healthy, of course) within CLOSE proximity. I encourage people to leave work on time!
Try to make work fun, be supportive of your colleagues and try to be positive
I listen to music, even just one or two songs - it gives me a little lift and detachment from my work tasks. I’ll often message a friend or family member at lunchtime to feel connected to others outside of work
Never suffer in silence. Talk about stresses and strains with colleagues or your line manager - remembering that often experiences are shared and you can learn from others about how they manage them. Take a break from your desk at lunchtime. Book regular holidays so you give yourself downtime - especially after a busy work period. Be organised! Find a system that works for you and it will ease pressure and enable proper planning so you can avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Personally, I like to go outside if possible during lunch to step away from the screen and get some fresh air. Being able to have light-hearted conversations with your colleagues also help A LOT! Additionally, socialising with your colleagues outside of work (like when we go kayaking!) can also be helpful.
Outside the office, what other things do you do in life to look after your mental health and wellbeing?
I go for walks (Capital Ring is amazing for that) and I do sport, even a short stop at the local outdoor gym on my way from work helps to keep my endorphins level up! It's a free and a very effective way to take care of one's mental wellbeing.
I enjoy staying active and play football once a week (hoping to become the next Mesut Ozil), and I go to kickboxing classes. I also keep a journal, which I would HIGHLY recommend if you don't have one already. I find that writing is such a good outlet for stress, and it means you can articulate your thoughts in a clear and organised way which can help to declutter your mind. Find things that work for YOU, and stick at it!
Keeping active! I visit the gym five times a week to focus on endurance, stamina and strength. I ensure there is at least one day in the week where I eat out/treat myself to something I like and I dedicate a mandatory 'sister day' with my immediate family. Lots of socialising, food and fun! I also connect with my religious beliefs through prayer. Sleeping is important as well as lots of water.
Exercise regularly (including walking, running and yoga), reading and generally being active.
To take care of my mental health and wellbeing outside of work I really enjoy exercising, reading and being active in general. I've always found that if I'm ever stuck in a bad place, trying new things or exploring new places (even if it's within London) really helps clear my head. Having an active social life can also help but I have recently learned that spending some time by yourself to relax and unwind can do wonders for your general mental health and wellbeing!
I go to a lot of gigs and concerts which not only do I love at the time but also for a number of days/weeks afterwards when one of the artist's songs might come on it takes me back and gives me another buzz. I also play football once or twice a week which helps me let off steam
Eat healthy, exercise and prioritise sleep! Everyone relaxes in different ways - mine is to cook and watch TV. Get outside - especially in summer. I love music and dancing, especially at festivals. We have long, dark winters so I take vitamin D to top on those missed sunshine hours - vitamin D helps with happiness.