Pip Hulbert: Mental health support needs a year-long focus

Mental health is rightly becoming a priority for every kind of business, yet conversations around the topic are still too often shrouded in stigma.

That has got to stop. Talented people are the beating heart of business, and we want everyone to feel that it is okay to raise their hand if they feel overwhelmed. I firmly believe that a happier workforce is a better workforce. However, talking about and acknowledging mental health and its most obvious manifestation, stress, is not enough; a responsible business needs to put in place formal processes that offer practical support.

Good support is also about investment. Two years ago, Wunderman Thompson decided to wrap all of our physical and mental wellbeing initiatives into a clear programme that we launch at the beginning of each year. We also built a bespoke wellness studio as a physical signal of our commitment. Wunderman Thompson’s ‘Well Beings’ initiative launched in January 2018 and offered activities throughout the day; everything from resilience workshops, gut health, sleep school, meditation and more.

While we launched ‘Well Beings’ in the new year, when the January blues bite hardest, it is important to make mental health a priority throughout the year, and we adapted the programme to respond to the changing needs of our people, month by month.

But having the fanciest programme means nothing if employees feel guilty about leaving their desk. Wunderman Thompson, therefore, offered activities in bite-sized formats, so that people could take 15 to 30-minute breaks during their day, guilt-free.

Many employees internalise their stress and put on a brave face during difficult moments; good leadership involves reaching out and reminding them that there is no conversation they cannot have. It is about creating an open culture, where staff feel they are not alone.

Building on this, we marked Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 by bringing in ambassadors who trained our employees to incorporate small wellness activities into their daily routine, including yoga desk stretches, mindful walking and power napping. The little things are often cynically dismissed as a fad, but they can make a big difference when part of a holistic plan.

For 2020, our focus is firmly on mind, body and soul; but for any initiative to make a real difference, it is important to support it with practical tools that are easy to incorporate both in and out of work. That is why we are adopting the Headspace app, which provides guided meditation and mindfulness. We are helping everyone at Wunderman Thompson to use it and turn its teachings into effective habits.

January comes with its own challenges, and we believe our carefully planned approach to the mental and physical health of our people will help build resilience. But it is also important to look beyond the most depressing month.

We need to maintain a year-long focus on wellbeing that is built into the very culture of the business if we are to be serious about supporting everyone in the workplace.

Pip Hulbert is chief executive officer of Wunderman Thompson UK