Mental health is a work matter

Mental health is a work matter: it enables us to thrive in our careers. Our team of mental health first aiders share their tips on looking after your employees.

7 min read
April 29, 2021

At Beyond, we’ve made our people’s mental health our priority over the years, encouraging colleagues to take wellness days to slow down and reset and making sure everyone knows that we have a council of trained mental health first aiders on call.

Over the past year, we’ve shifted our approach and focused on specific trigger areas to support colleagues working across the globe. In celebration of May’s focus on Mental Health Awareness, here are our top five tips on helping your employees deal with mental health problems, whether they are planning on returning to the office or continuing to work remotely.

1. Create a check-in culture

Much of the world has been living under some form of lockdown or stay-at-home order for the best part of the last year, so it’s not surprising that colleagues have reported feeling lonely. The simple pleasure of chatting about the weather over a cup of tea, or catching up with people from the agency face-to-face, has been denied to us all for so long.

We’d encourage you to actively check in with your colleagues to see how they are feeling, to probe behind the automatic: ‘Fine, how are you.’ Offer support if you can: listening to someone is a very powerful way to connect and help, even if you’re not able to offer advice.

As Mental Health First Aiders, we started by encouraging our colleagues to fill in a short questionnaire about mental health needs. We found that our team wanted additional emotional support outside of that provided by line managers and our Senior Leadership team. So we spoke to everyone individually to check how they were coping with lockdown life. The majority of our colleagues were just grateful to chat to somebody outside of their project and discipline teams. For those people finding it more difficult, we were able to provide helpful tips, resources and continued support by being there to simply listen.

2. Protect people’s time

Double bookings, overlapping and overrunning meetings are familiar to everyone working in agencies. When we went fully remote, this didn't change - and instead of taking a lunch break and being visibly away from your desk whilst we were in the office, we had the four same walls to contend with and no let up to the barrage of Slack messages and emails.

Almost immediately, Beyond noticed the onset of toxic presenteeism fatigue. We recommend combating this by adding in Golden Hours to everyone’s diary: a two-hour block over the lunch period to ensure that everyone can step away from their computer, take a proper lunch break and/or go for a walk. To help with calendar etiquette, we recommended using Google's speedy meeting settings, giving everyone a break between meetings to recuperate when context switching. This has made a huge difference at Beyond in discouraging people from the temptation to screen-stare all day.

We also recommend that employees follow a ‘work five-a-day’, meaning that they schedule in five breaks to their calendar throughout the day, whether it be ten minutes of meditation, five minutes of stretching or playing with a puzzle. These short breaks, focusing on something else, help people to reset their minds.

3. Staying connected is not a one-size-fits-all

Trying to find ways to create an engaging workplace alongside a ‘normal’  lifestyle from your front room is a real challenge with different people’s lifestyles: do they live with others, children, friends, partners, pets? Are they juggling homeschooling, work and regular home duties? Do people have time outside of work to jump on a work social call - and do they have the energy?

But communication is key and we’d recommend making sure that you connect with people through multiple channels, culturally, professionally and socially, at a time that works for them.

When we first went remote, we scheduled three company meetings a week to keep everyone connected, in addition to a monthly global meeting with our CEO. Within three months of the studio being closed, we realised that people were becoming less engaged - and we were running out of content. We spoke to our team to find out the cadence that would work best for them and moved to two regional meetings a week and a quarterly worldwide. In Europe, we kept our Wednesdays meetings all about the work, leaving Fridays for fun content celebrating our people and quizzes while in North America we incorporate work and fun content into one Thursday session.

Our socials at Beyond are optional and we have tried to do something for everyone. We’ve had gym sessions at various times of the day, after-work bingo, a breakfast cook along and a kitchen dance and drinks! Where possible, we allow Beyonders to include their whole household on a social call. We had pumpkin carving back in October where parents involved their children; it was great to showcase their creations. We also understand that not everyone has the time to join in, and make sure that everyone knows that optional really does mean that!

Finally, we send out monthly care packages to our colleagues, changing the theme and contents month-to-month, including fruit baskets and snack hampers, baking kits, educational books and mindful colouring books.

4. Let parents parent

One of the advantages of truly flexible working is that parents can see their children for the important moments. We always offered people flexibility so they can go to their children’s school concerts, have a cup of tea with relatives or go to the dentist. But now that people are working from home so much more - and expect to be for the long term - we’re able to offer the flexibility to make sure that people can connect with their children daily, whether that’s on the school run or during a snack when their children are home.

By celebrating our colleagues in their entirety we hope to encourage people to structure their days so they can excel at their work and at being a parent, or fulfilling the other caring responsibilities they may have in their lives. We’d encourage you to promote truly flexible working so people feel - as much as possible - as if they’re able to do their best at everything rather than compromise all aspects of their lives.

We’re also aware of the challenges that lockdown - with less childcare - has brought to parents. Being flexible and encouraging colleagues to prioritise their children when they need to is the only way to deal with this: superhuman multitasking is unsustainable over the medium term and this helps to protect them from burnout.

5. Address the problems together

Remember that your colleagues are reacting to the culture around them and keep the conversation open. Our team feels strongly about antiracist and LGBTQ+ movements, including ‘Black Lives Matter’, Pride and ‘Stop Asian Pacific Islander Hate’. We want to keep listening and be honest about our knowledge gaps:  we fully acknowledge that we need to do more to educate ourselves and make our employees feel safe, supported and empowered.

Many people at Beyond are dealing with race-related anxieties, so we created a learning experience to help us be better and do better when it comes to addressing our prejudices. Through extensive research and speaking to fellow Beyonders, we curated insightful resources on our internal learning management system, which we will continue to build on, to help our employees begin this lifelong work.  

We’ve also introduced an additional public holiday at Beyond, to mark Juneteenth and commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the US. The holiday was first celebrated in Texas, where on that date in 1865 slaves were declared free, three years after the terms of the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation came into law. This day off, to be taken as close to 19th June as possible, is to give Beyonders time to reflect during the working week on the meaning of this day.

We have our own LGBTQ+ community called Beyond Pride and our workforce is made up of LGBTQ+ allies and community members. We work to embed the best practice from Stonewall and HRC into our business through our policies and our workplace culture so that every single person feels they belong. We’re happy to talk to you about initiatives that you could adopt to support your team.

As the world slowly opens back up and we return to a new normal of working life, there will be more mental health obstacles as well as revelations. We are now a remote-first agency with representatives from each department on hand to create a good virtual employee experience. With every new twist and challenge this pandemic brings us, we will adapt and work together to design new mechanisms to support our people.

7 min read
April 29, 2021