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Mental Health Awareness Week

Discover how Something Familiar prioritises mental wellbeing in the workplace during Mental Health Awareness Week. From exciting activities like cold-water swimming and rock climbing to encouraging open conversations, they share their journey towards building a supportive and mentally healthy team.

How are you feeling? Really.

Wellbeing, and particularly mental wellbeing is something that’s come into focus since the pandemic. With people being much more aware of it, supported by things like Mental Health Awareness Week (this year May 15th to 21st), there are now far more conversations and articles about it than ever before. And most positively, there are lots of businesses putting energy into it.

We’re one of those businesses, and perhaps because Something Familiar was formed just before the pandemic, the wellbeing of everyone here has always been something we’ve tracked and worked on. It’s an ongoing focus for us, and we’ve consciously put lots of activities and measures into place to ensure that we can all maintain a healthy mental outlook.

In our previous post, Kris briefly talked about his interest in mental health, and his positive experience doing a mental health first aid course. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the things we’ve been doing to help maintain our team’s mental wellbeing in the potentially stressful agency environment.

We’re fortunate in that the ‘young’ agency environment has always been a fairly relaxed one. So things that other businesses are introducing to help employees feel better about being in the office, are ideas that we’ve always embraced. Who hasn’t been in agency with a dog or three wandering about (ours is a Romanian rescue dog called Moon)? Been buzzed by someone on a skateboard? Or nodded along to the agency’s playlist?

More exciting than you think!

As great as those things are though, we’ve reached the stage where the approach needs to be considered and evaluated. Which admittedly, doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing in the world. But although it does demand initial focus, the benefits, the activities and the rewards of it all are certainly worth it.

We’re going to talk about some of the things we do, and how they all feed into the wellbeing of all of us here.

But before we do this, we’re sharing in case what we do inspires you to try similar things. This isn’t to highlight how amazing we are, but to show how fairly simple things work really well for us.  The idea is just to start having conversations about mental wellbeing and help to ‘normalise’ it in the workplace.

So what do we actually do?

There are two main strands to our approach. The first is the activities we do (often, but not always together), where the wellbeing element is below the surface. It’s all about bonding, or challenging ourselves and just having/sharing experiences.

So we have cold-water swimming, rock climbing and a running club, but we also have a trip each year (Bruges last year), plenty of casual socials, training and in the summer months we have shorter working hours so everyone has more time to do these kinds of things.

The whole team is encouraged to get out of its comfort zone so none of us feels in a rut. If someone loves hitting the half pipe on their BMX, or risking their vitals with Taekwondo, then we don’t want to get in their way. Literally or metaphorically. Why? Because that’s what makes them feel good.

Talking it out

The second strand is more formal (but not entirely, as you’ll see), but it wouldn’t work without the looser activities above. By ‘formal’, we simply mean that we’re addressing mental wellbeing directly. Everything here relies on people being comfortable enough to truthfully talk about how they’re feeling, and to open up to others. And that’s exactly why the activities we do are important – they build those bonds of friendship and trust that open the doors to the kind of conversations which could make somebody feel vulnerable in front of others.

These take many forms, and have evolved over the time we’ve been working on this. For example, for a long time we’d been having a beer of the month – just a simple sit-down beer once a month to talk about the projects we’d been working on. It then became more focused, with ‘thank yous’, encouraging the team to talk about people who’d made the work possible. It then evolved further to include feedback and to actively reflect on projects; the good, the bad and yes, the ugly too. It can be awkward of course, especially at first, but now everyone realises why we’re doing it.

We also make it a priority to ask people how they’re feeling, but with the aim of actually finding out! If someone asks, we need to answer truthfully, and out of 10! If someone’s feeling low, or angry, we want to know so we can leave them alone, make them a cup of tea, or give them whatever support they need.

This kind of thing doesn’t work unless people are willing to tell the truth, and we have a culture here in which everyone feels comfortable enough to do that. We all understand that it’s not prying, it’s looking out for each other. That’s actually one of the best things that can come out of this higher level of awareness: recognising the signs in others (and yourself) and not being afraid to flag them up.

Getting started…

There’s no denying, it can be a leap to go from saying ‘good morning’ to someone to asking them how they feel, how they really feel, and it can’t be done overnight. But it’s important that we’re all on that journey. For anyone looking to start the process, we created a Wellbeing Workshop for Miro which will give you a framework to talk about wellbeing, and help you to put a plan of action together with the rest of your team. It’s a good first step, and ignoring the fact that we created it, it’s a great starting point if you’re looking to develop your business’ wellbeing plan.

Another great source of info on wellbeing is mind.org.uk, which gave us a lot of insight when we were building the workshop.

…and keeping going

One thing to note is that the things we need to remain happily mindful change over time, so our support should continually evolve. What worked last year may not be as effective this year. We’re always looking to bring in new ideas to keep those conversations going, whether they are silly social events like a charity-shop tracksuit-a-thon (which we’re seriously considering, see below), to different ways to share the mental tools we’ve all developed, such as our workshop.

And that could be where you come in. We’ve mentioned getting out of our comfort zones, and we’re looking for something new this summer. We’ve shortlisted some ideas, and are committed to doing the one that gets the most votes. So just take a second to head to LinkedIn and click on the one you think we should be doing. Whichever one we end up doing, the experience will benefit us… even if it isn’t at the time! If you have an idea you think we should be considering, then please let us know and we’ll add it to the poll.

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