HR & Management

Mind control: Mental health starts with an honest and open office culture

10 min read

29 August 2017

It's amazing the impact good company culture can have on staff, Impression co-founder Tom Craig tells Real Business. They become more productive and loyal, not to mention healthier in both body and mind.

Research has long maintained the marketing world doesn’t own an “off” button – that it’s one of the worst sectors when it comes to blending work and home life. But Impression co-founder Tom Craig explains any resulting stress can be efficiently managed through an open and honest workplace culture.

He founded the agency alongside Aaron Dicks in 2014 – and since then the company has become a formidable player in the field. It has grown quickly and today, the duo head up a team of more than 30 employees. Needless to say, their health has been at the forefront of Craig’s mind.

In fact, he opines that a large part of said growth was focused around creating a productive, enjoyable, safe and nurturing working environment for staff. There’s a beer fridge, not to mention table tennis area. However, there’s more to boosting mental health than offering nifty perks.

We found that a culture supporting honesty and happiness benefits all – and that even the boss needs to keep their mental health in mind.

What do you think are the biggest factors leading to mental health issues?

That’s a big question! We make an effort to be open minded. We know mental health issues can affect anybody, at any time, so we make sure we have a culture that encourages honesty and support as appropriate.

What do you believe are the benefits of investing in employees’ health and wellbeing?

As an agency, our product is our time and our people. We recognise that investing in their health and wellbeing has the knock on effect of happier clients – and the ongoing growth of our business.

It’s not just about the service we provide our clients, though. We’re all at work eight hours plus, five days a week, so it’s worth creating an environment in which people feel comfortable and happy. We encourage creativity and collaboration, which is a big part of the culture we’ve built here, from things like open spaces and large sofas to table football and table tennis.

When we can keep our employees happy, we have a lot more fun as a team and we get much better results. Our commitment to wellbeing has also been a big draw for new talent. We pride ourselves on recruiting great people and having this focus on personal development and the office environment has really supported that.

In what ways do you invest in your employees’ health and wellbeing?

We believe health and wellbeing starts with an honest and open office culture. When our team feels they can open up and talk to us about any issue, we’re empowered to do what we can to help.

One way we’ve enabled this is through strong line managers and regular catch ups. We’ve got plenty of meeting space and people are welcome to go out of the office for chats they need to have too. This has worked well in enabling teams to raise concerns early on.

We also work with an HR professional, who has taken the place of a full HR department. Becky is available any time to speak to the team and, because she’s external to our business, is sometimes easier to approach with more difficult issues. Through her, we also have access to a wellbeing hotline, which is available to call when staff don’t want to speak to anyone here. There’s also a yoga and wellness specialist who they can visit for massages and meditation.

On a more practical level, we buy fruit bi-weekly. We also operate flexible hours. Between 10:00-16:00 we’d like people to be in the office, but if they want to start early and finish early, or vice versa, they’re welcome. That makes for a better culture, not to mention work-life balances. It means our team can better manage their everyday responsibilities.

Would flexible working be of great benefit to companies and employees alike?

For sure. We know our team appreciates having the more flexible approach to working hours, including things like the free fruit and the games areas. It just makes for a more enjoyable working environment overall.

It’s meant more effective working, greater productivity and the ability to attract a higher calibre of talent. Work-life balance is more important than ever before and as such, employers like us see the benefit in providing flexible hours when recruiting and retaining staff.

Read on for advice on addressing staff mental health

How would you advise SME bosses to address staff mental health?

I think it’s got to be about honesty. Whether you’re managing a very small, very new team, or a much larger, more established business, employee wellbeing has to be at the forefront of your plans. It’s important to remember anyone could be affected by mental health, and to be sensitive to that at all times.

My advice would be to work hard on that type of culture and lead by example. Being available to your direct reports when they need support will encourage them to do the same with their direct reports.

I’d also suggest you consider someone like an HR consultant or a person who can guide you on your policies and procedures; we’ve found our HR consultant to be invaluable, from writing our employee handbook to handling challenging situations in the most appropriate way.

Do you believe that mental health as a taboo subject persists?

I think it’s something that’s definitely come a long way. You hear about mental health in the news quite a bit these days, especially in light of celebrities speaking out (only this week, we’ve had another case) and it gets people thinking and talking about it.

We all want to come across as professional in our place of work, and raising mental health concerns can seem counterproductive to that. I’d say it’s more likely that the individual makes the choice not to share their problems for their own personal reasons, rather than it being seen as a taboo subject.

Is it often the case that people don’t realise what their own mental health situation is?

To be honest, this isn’t really my area of expertise! All I can say, as a business owner and a manager of people, is that you’ve got to respect individual differences. Even if someone is struggling with their own mental health situation, there’s no one size fits all approach to helping them. The only thing you can do is be open and available to them.

What do you think can be done to improve understanding of mental health illnesses?

As business leaders, we certainly play a role in this. We need to be open to the fact that people do suffer and ensure we have the policies and support networks in place to deal with this appropriately and on a person by person basis. This way, we can talk about mental health and raise awareness.

What is the most common misconception?

I haven’t experienced this myself but I can see how people might think their mental health situation would affect things like their employability. Speaking from my own personal experience, we’d never judge anyone based on their mental health, just as we wouldn’t their physical health.

How do you unwind after a tough week?

Usually socialising with my friends, many of whom are actually people from work! I also enjoy watching movies and playing squash – though as a business owner, spare time is sparse these days!

Do you have any rituals to improve your mental health?

I wouldn’t say rituals, but I am aware of my own mental state and do my best to not be working all the time. I believe it’s important to take time away from work, whether that’s a full on holiday or just going out for lunch with guys from the office and getting away from the screen. Most of the time, I will go out for a walk during the day, just to clear my head.