PLEASE NOTE: This article is featured in Executive Grapevine’s ‘Guide to Interim Management 2018’.
As an HR professional, having lived with periods of anxiety, and having had PTSD following a traumatic birth two years ago, I would certainly consider myself to be a passionate advocate for both mental health and diversity in the workplace and beyond. That’s why I place great emphasis on environments that are enjoyable, stimulating, and appeal to my extroverted nature. And it’s not just me, as I believe most people value a workplace where they feel able to share their experiences, and to talk openly about their emotional wellbeing.
That’s certainly the case at Eton Bridge Partners. I joined the business just over a year ago excited at the prospect of being able to apply my HR knowledge to our Executive Search practice, alongside the opportunity to specialise in the field of diversity – and mental health in particular. As such, I have spent the last year strengthening my external mental health and diversity network, blogging about my own and others’ experiences, and hosting a breakfast panel discussion focused solely on Mental Health in the Workplace. This series of events aimed at challenging employers’ perceptions is set to continue with our next panel session, already in the diary for May this year.
As a firm we recognise that it’s important to add real value to others through our work, and to not just act as the traditional, transactional conduit between employer and candidate. Such an external focus enables me to influence our clients, candidates and beyond, but it’s only part of the picture here at Eton Bridge Partners: we’re also working hard internally on diversity and mental health. In fact, I think what we do shows that you can effectively foster wellbeing and support those in challenging times without requiring huge investment in both time and money – the two traditional ‘opt-out’ clauses many small businesses use to exonerate themselves from their responsibilities.
As for how we tackle the subject:
- Firstly, we’re encouraged to build strong, personal relationships with our teams and across the wider business. Before joining Eton Bridge Partners, every new starter is allocated a ‘buddy’ who is accountable for ensuring that people quickly feel integrated and connected with the business. And not just over the short term either. Even after a year here my buddy relationship is still going strong, and we work closely together developing business and building stronger, more meaningful relationships with our clients.
- Secondly, we bring our whole selves to work. From the photo wall in our break out area displaying individual achievements, to the additional summer leave we’re given to encourage family and personal ‘me’ time, the firm really focuses in on those small things that make a big difference.
- Thirdly, we are actively encouraged to switch off when not at work, and to work flexibly in a way that fits with our individual lifestyles. It is rare to find a lunchtime when one or more of our team are not setting off to the gym, a run or a swim. Time away from the desk is seen as refreshing and useful – not a drain on resources.
- Next, we really talk. We meet every week as a whole business, so we all know how the business is doing. Everyone gets the same messages, from the same person at the same time, avoiding the confusion and uncertainty that can be created by a cascade process.
- Finally, we show we care. We participate in activities like community giving, fundraising and challenges as a team. We are active members of organisations like the Employers’ Network for Equality and Inclusion because we want to learn from other, bigger, different organisations. And when someone in our team asks for help, we find it – either through coaching, mentoring, or another route.
None of these things makes us immune from periods of mental ill health, but it does help contribute to our overall wellbeing, and builds resilience for when things do go off kilter. It certainly makes it easier to ask for help from our colleagues. It also helps us to better connect externally. I think we have a responsibility to listen to our candidates, to hear the often hidden messages in their stories, and to connect with the emotional vulnerability that comes with being out of work. Only then can we honestly look to help pick them up, confident in our ability to respect and protect their mental health, and to find their best way forward.