Shifting the culture around mental health at innocent

Most of us go to the gym or eat our 5-a-day to look after our physical health - our mental health should be no different. It’s pretty important because just like any one of us could break an arm or get sick, we can all face problems with our mental health. At innocent, we want everyone to feel supported in a way that suits them. Our Laura talks about her experience of looking after the mental health plan at innocent.

I joined innocent as an Office Angel and haven’t looked back since. As a Culture team, we look after Fruit Towers and the people in it. Everything from planning events like our annual weekend away, to making sure that our new starters feel at home, whilst supporting a culture that’s inclusive, honest and values led. Oh, and we like to have a bit of fun too.

When I found out I got the job, I had no doubts about packing my bags and moving to London. I knew I was joining a company that I’d really love working for, and as my first real job I thought this was a great place to start. I hadn’t really thought about where I’d be going next or where the role would lead, but so far I’ve had lots of opportunities within this role to expand and try new things. From initially expressing an interest in the importance of mental health in the first few weeks of being here, I now oversee the mental health plan for innocent across all regions. And I love it.

Since having this responsibility, I’ve been given the freedom to genuinely lead and suggest ideas for improvement, a nod to how things work at innocent. I really appreciate the trust that the business has given me to look after our mental health offering. Since joining as an Office Angel, my role has now been changed to Office and Culture Specialist to incorporate the increase of diversity and responsibility in the role.

So, onto the important stuff.  Here are three big things that we’ve been up to at innocent.

1. Building a culture of acceptance: The first step, and I’d argue the most important step, of setting up mental health support in any business is to create a culture of acceptance. It won’t be news to you that mental health has been seen as a ‘taboo’ subject in the past, and unfortunately to some extent this is still the case. It can be difficult to talk about our mental health, which is why the statistics around mental health prevalence and diagnosis are so shocking. Given the power that businesses have, it’s really important for companies to be one of the driving forces and lead the way to having a more open and accepting culture around mental health. That means putting employee wellbeing right at the top of the agenda, and having a safe space where employees feel comfortable to talk about their mental health and how they’re feeling. At innocent, one way we did this was by creating and sending weekly ‘mindful moments’ to everyone’s inbox. These are weekly tips and tricks to remind us all to look after ourselves, and is just one way to help normalise the topic and allow mental health to become part of everyday conversations.

Encouraging cultural change around mental health comes, in part, through having leadership buy in and senior level support. Senior employees championing or sponsoring mental health in an organisation really reinforces the importance of the topic and it becomes difficult to set a behavioural precedent without this. When we were just finding our feet with our mental health offering at innocent, in one of our MMMs (Monday Morning Meetings), myself and our People Director stood up in front of the company to chat about our mental health offering, and were open and honest with where we currently were and what the plan was. At innocent, I was fortunate enough to not have to put a case together to stress the importance of investing in mental health, but I know that this can be more difficult in other organisations. Sometimes it takes time, patience and statistics.

2. A global approach but local action: It’s really important that companies consider the cultural differences across all their offices before diving in. innocent is now a global business, which means we have employees all over the world, reaching as far as Hong Kong and Japan. It would be silly of us to assume that the culture around mental health is the same in all of the countries we work in. The fact is it’s really not. Some countries are further along on the journey to accepting that mental health issues are just as important as physical health issues, this is the case in the UK and the Netherlands, for instance. This means that each office is at a different stage with their plan for mental health support, and this is looked after by the Office Angel in each office, just as I do for Fruit Towers (our London office). Below, I’ve chatted a bit about what this support looks like for Fruit Towers.

3. Expert training and support: We’re now at a place where I’m really proud of the level of support offered to innocent employees to support their mental wellbeing. If someone is going through a hard time and wants to chat about how they’re feeling, we have an internal network of support we’d encourage people to use. From people partners to line managers to peers, everyone at innocent is encouraged to go on the mental health training course that we offer, learning the basics about how to look after yourself and others. With everyone receiving the same level of training, this means we’re all responsible for looking out for each other, and equally we hope this means that people feel comfortable and encouraged to approach each other for support.

We didn’t always have this internal network of support. I was given the freedom to look for a new provider and make suggestions as to what needed changing, and what I thought was really right for innocent. We now work with a lady called Charlotte, and together we created the course content specific to what suited innocent.

Often, this topic can be sensitive, so it’s important to have options for our employees to chat to a professional outside of work in confidence. This is one of the reasons why we have our Employee Assistance Programme. The EAP gives every employee in our London and Dublin offices access to a 24/7 helpline to connect them to a professional and a whole lot of wellbeing related articles.

Another option is to chat to our course trainer Charlotte or one of her colleagues, in a confidential one to one chat. These sessions are great as people can go for any reason, no matter how big or small. Charlotte’s there for the bigger issues people might be facing, but she’s also there if you want to have some time out for a natter or to get something off your chest, whether this be work related or personal. Making these so open and natural builds momentum around the topic, which reinforces the message that it’s okay to talk about our mental health.

So what’s next?

Investing in mental health isn’t a tick box exercise, so we need to be able to adapt. Like any business, we’ve had to be pretty adaptable during a global pandemic. Mental health training in the office wouldn’t have been much good for a workforce all working from home, so we needed to adapt to this ‘new normal’ (sorry). Working with Charlotte, we made weekly bitesize 5 minute videos with tips and tricks on how to look after your wellbeing while working from home. So the next thing for us is to continue adapting and be open to change, because setting up a mental health plan is a journey (and one we wouldn’t claim to always get right the first time).

We’re always looking to improve our offering and keep up with what’s going on in the world and the latest stuff that’s out there. Last year we introduced Mental Health First Aiders to the business. Similar to how we have physical first aiders for to help with physical aid, employees are able to complete the two-day training course to become trained in delivering mental health first aid. Exciting stuff.

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