Whatever way you make a living, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your mental health for it. As the conversation around workplace wellbeing continues, organisations across the country are loosening their ties, breaking the mould, and re-thinking what it means to go to work. And they’re clocking in right on time
Workplace wellbeing is en vogue at the moment – and so it should be. The NHS found that one in three of the UK workforce will be formally diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime, and work-related stress and mental illness account for more than half of all sick-days.
With greater awareness of how mental health affects us all daily, a new wave of forward-thinking organisations are surfacing. We spoke to four companies who are putting workplace wellbeing on the programme.
Bring your dog to work day, every day
With 24% of the UK population owning a dog, the juggling act of balancing work with pet-care is no easy feat. Consider that, alongside the wellbeing benefits of spending time with dogs, and a solution may just start to appear.
Two years ago, Lawrence Jones, CEO of UKFast – a cloud hosting firm – began noticing that a number of dogs had begun visiting them in the office.
“They were no trouble, and we quickly realised how much of an energy boost they brought,” Lawrence explains. “People light up when they see a pet sleeping under someone’s desk!”
So UKFast made the gutsy decision to create an open-door policy for employees’ pets. To keep things in check the policy came with a series of guidelines, including the requirement that all pets must be fully vaccinated and insured, must be supervised at all times, and that the team must sit down and have a chat to ensure everyone is comfortable before any new canine co-workers arrive at the office.
“It wasn’t long before more pets appeared – we even had a lizard in our finance office for a day!” says Lawrence. “While it would be easy to assume that dogs become a huge distraction from the work that needs to be done, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that having them around improves people’s moods and boosts productivity.”
Freelancing can be a lonely business. While freelancers are free from some of the pressures that may accompany traditional employment, they can also miss out on structure and socialisation. With the advances in technology, a lot of us can now take our work with us anywhere, and in a bid to cater to the growing pool of remote freelancers, co-working spaces have been springing up in our towns and cities.
“We are inherently social animals, hard-wired to be happier in a group,” says Chantal Robinson, Operations Director at LABS. “Co-working offers the opportunity to be part of a community.”
Plants in offices can increase productivity by 6%, and creativity by 15%
LABS is one such co-working space, but with a difference. With three locations across London, each set in a beautiful modern building, flooded with natural light, LABS have decided to put the emotional wellbeing of the people who come to work in their spaces at the top of their agenda.
In addition to providing serene spaces for people to settle down and get on, LABS host a number of wellbeing initiatives including group breakfasts, weekly yoga sessions, community socials, and even on-site osteopathy.
“Burnout and stress are serious issues among professionals, and I’m pleased to see the glamorisation of the ‘always on’ attitude is coming to an end,” Chantal says. “People often do their best work when they feel their best,
and that’s what we want for our members.”
Our environment has a huge effect on the way that we feel, with a report from CMI Workplace finding that strong workplace design can boost employee happiness by 33%.
With that in mind, Liftshare – a site that helps people find carpooling buddies – made the decision to do things a bit differently when it came to designing their office.
“When we had the opportunity to turn a derelict building into something creative and stylish, we wanted to ensure it was a positive working environment where our staff were encouraged to feel part of the Liftshare family and thrive,” Candice Herring, Liftshare’s HR and Office Manager explains. “We needed a space that was comfortable, agile, and fun! We achieved this with a combination of an open-plan collaborative workspace, together with several homely breakout areas.”
All this is topped off with a slide that runs between floors. “Being a sustainable transport company, we simply had to find a way to get from A to B in a fast, fun way!” Candice adds.
And the team at Liftshare know that it’s working. Six years ago they moved from a turkey shed in Attleborough, Norfolk, to their current office in Norwich, and they noticed an instant shift in staff morale. Performance and productivity were steadily rising, and within four years their profits had increased more than tenfold.
“We find it’s the little things that count; the healthy snacks on tap, Pilates classes every week, a bench outside to make use of when the sun shines, and three of our staff are mental health first aiders,” says Candice. “We believe we have successfully fostered a healthier workforce of committed, motivated, and loyal staff of whom we are extremely proud.”
Gender-blind parental leave
When you’re starting on the monumental journey of having a family, the last thing you should have to worry about is the implications it will have on your career, or whether you will be able to make ends meet. But navigating parental leave can be a bump in the road. Mothers can feel under pressure to return to work much sooner than they would like, and fathers are often offered the bare minimum for paternity leave.
Online handmade marketplace Etsy is one of the companies leading the way in introducing a parental policy fit for modern families, not just by offering the same policies for mothers and fathers, but by also including those who are adopting.
In the course of their career, UK workers spend 84,171 hours at work
“At Etsy, we are proud to be a leader when it comes to employee benefits,” says Raina Moskowitz, Etsy’s senior vice president. “Our 26-week, gender-blind, parental leave not only helps us attract and retain talent, but also enables us to support employees wherever they are in their personal or professional life.”
It makes sense. For many people, raising a family comes before most other things, and workplaces that take the time to recognise this are head and shoulders above institutions who have neglected this huge detail for so long.
“We want to support and enable parents, regardless of their gender, to play equal roles in building successful companies and nurturing their families,” Raina explains. “This fits squarely within Etsy’s mission to keep commerce human.”
A work in progress
The fact is, things aren’t going to change overnight, and breaking the workplace cultures that have for so long caused stress and anxiety that intrude into the rest of our lives will require a systemic shift. But change is happening. Whether you’re part of a innovative organisation that has good mental health etched into its founding principles, or you’re the person in the office who checks in with co-workers when you can see they’re going through a period of stress, workplace wellbeing is on its way in.
For information on looking after your mental health at work, and resources for organisations, head to mind.org.uk/workplace