• Jemima Tyssen Smith

Mental Health Awareness Month: Insight from Simon Bennett

Hey all! It’s currently Mental Health Awareness Week, and given everything that’s happened with COVID and lockdowns and social distancing, I’m sure I can’t be the only one who’s had mental health at the forefront of my mind a lot this past year.

We’ve been a remote studio for seven years now, but the impact of being truly stuck at home - as opposed to working from home by choice - has definitely brought a sense of isolation to this year that simply wasn’t there before. Put that alongside a pandemic, and you have a recipe for a lot of anxiety and low mood all round. So, yeah, we’ve very much been aware of mental health, both as a studio and as people - but while awareness is good, it’s not much use on it’s own.

The bottom line is that, as an employer, being aware alone isn’t enough - you need to also be taking action.

So, what have we been up to? Well, there are two main pillars of our strategy to help keep everyone as content and mentally healthy as possible both during these current very strange times (and hopefully once we return to normality too).

The first pillar is active, practical changes to support mental wellness. This is fairly straightforward - we’ve made a series of concrete changes to how we work and how we provide support to employees to help maintain general mental wellbeing:

  • Flexible hours - Being able to dictate the pace and timing of your own work day massively helps to reduce stress. It enables parents to balance work with home school during lockdown, and with play and quality time all year round - thus reducing stress. It allows people who suffer from seasonal depression the opportunity to take a two hour lunch in winter, and get outside during the sunniest part of the day. It means people can fit their work day around a therapist visit, and still have time for lunch.

  • Mindfulness and meditation sessions - We’ve been running fortnightly opt-in mindfulness and meditation sessions, which have proved to be a big hit. These sessions help reduce stress and soothe anxiety, and staff have reported feeling a generally improved sense of wellbeing afterwards.

  • Headspace app - We provide a free subscription to the Headspace app for any staff who want it. This is great for brushing up on tools learned in our mindfulness sessions, or for those who’d prefer not to do their meditations on a zoom call, it’s a great alternative!

  • Yoga - We’re aware of the beneficial possibilities of exercise when it comes to mental health - since this has been tougher to access during lockdown, we now offer opt-in yoga sessions for any staff who wish to attend. Yoga is a great choice as it is very beginner friendly to those who might have limited space or struggle with heavier exercise/cardio.

  • Team Fun, Breakfast Club and the Online Pub - We run a variety of different zoom social events, and the aim is to provide something for all tastes. It’s really easy to feel isolated in the current climate, and having a range of activities available (everything from a full-team online escape room challenge, to sharing a snack and a natter with colleagues before or after work, to a pub quiz and cocktails/mocktails) really does help bring everyone together.

The second pillar is less concrete, but every inch as important, and it’s this - listening, caring, and encouraging an atmosphere where we as an employer can be a source of genuine help during times of stress or mental illness. Because, let’s be real, you spend a lot of your time at work, so it’s no surprise that job stress can be a huge factor in causing or exacerbating mental health issues.

So, what does that look like? Well, honestly, a lot of it just looks like listening to people, and then doing our best to understand their problems, and to help in whatever way we can. Mental health issues are incredibly varied - everything from temporary stress about an upcoming deadline that causes some mild anxiety, to life-threatening and long-term mental health conditions. So, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ way to approach helping an employee who’s struggling with these problems. And, let’s be honest, the person having the issue probably has the best insight as to what we can do to help. Sometimes helping is as simple as having a manager check in and lend a sympathetic ear. Sometimes it might involve more involved solutions - people might need anything from fully paid time off, to a reduced work week, or other material accommodations that help them to focus on their mental wellbeing.

And look, we don’t always get it right - that’s inevitable. But we’re passionate about improving, and about making Roll7 a place where people can genuinely feel comfortable to ask for help. It matters to us that Mental Health Awareness isn’t just something we pay lip service to for one week a year. It’s a commitment year round, every year; and awareness is just the start, because we follow that up with understanding, and with action.