Lesley Vogwill, Operations Manager, e2e Total Loss Vehicle Management tells us more about the importance of mental health awareness especially now as we face yet further restrictions due to COVID.
Back in 2019 before any of us had heard of COVID or experienced lockdowns and their associated mental health challenges; e2e’s management team recognised the value in supporting and encouraging people to take care of their mental health. From a business perspective, the evidence across multiple industries was consistently clear that a happy and supported workforce is a productive and profitable one. In fact, at the time, St John Ambulance reported that improving UK workplace mental health management could reduce employers’ losses attributed to mental illness by 30%, collectively saving £8 billion a year.
We foster an open, inclusive and ‘free speech’ culture where we encourage everyone to bring improvement suggestions to the table, challenge management thinking and take ownership of making our customer experience exceptional. We knew that our people felt listened to, respected and cared for and that they were a close-knit supportive team; but we had identified a gap and an opportunity to make a difference to their lives both within and outside of the workplace by bringing a clear focus to mental health and well-being.
We started out to implement a strategy to support staff with their mental health and well-being in the Spring of 2019. As the first part of the solution, we canvassed staff about their attitude to introducing Mental Health First Aiders to the business alongside our existing First Aiders. Three members of the team volunteered to undergo the two-day interactive training with St John Ambulance and subsequently qualified to provide mental health first aid support. The course taught our volunteers how to be able to identify any early warning signs of a person needing help and to offer non-judgmental conversation and support until professional assistance becomes available. We found that the training acted as a springboard for making people feel it was ‘OK’ to talk about how they were feeling mentally and check in with each other. Having Mental Health First Aiders now feels as normal to us as having physical First Aiders.
Fast forward to January 2020 and the scale and potential impact of the Covid pandemic was beginning to be realised. By March we were in lockdown and our people were working remotely. This is when the mental health and well-being groundwork we had been laying the previous year, and some of the learning we had begun to gain, really came into its own. We were mindful of the challenges working in insolation could create and the anxiety that the unprecedented nature of the pandemic was inevitably creating.
Our Mental Health First Aiders were able to regularly reach out to all our people individually to check how they were coping and to offer to source and provide access to any advice and resources they might find useful. They were also on hand for staff to contact proactively if they needed help. We introduced ‘Team Huddles’ running three times a week for department teams to come together for virtual social chats – replacing the water cooler conversations. A series of staff inspired isolation competitions emerged as people shared their lockdown hobbies and pursuits – the Isolation Bake Off being a favourite memory along with a photo competition of pets as ‘Furry Co-Workers’. Naturally, Christmas 2020 was a Christmas like no other especially for those living alone. We sent everyone a surprise Wellness Box tailored to their personal preferences to help to spread a little cheer.
As we entered 2021 and home working continued with no end in sight, we decided we wanted to supplement our existing activity by giving our people access to tools that gave them a structured way to focus on their mental health. We were aware that lack of certainty and routine and/or the demands of family life and homeschooling could make it easy to forget to take time out for self-care. We provided everyone with access to the CheckUp service from TCup where they could record their status and monitor their progress by answering ten questions related to health, happiness and success. As a business, the management team received anonymised data via a dashboard allowing us to track trends and measure the success of initiatives to combat isolation and support staff.
In March 2021 e2e signed up to the ‘Race to the Base’, with members of staff committing as a team to run, walk or cycle 1,500 miles to raise funds for the Great North Air Ambulance Service, our Charity of the Year. The camaraderie gave everyone a huge lift and the competition between entrants on the leader board was a great source of hilarity. We were proud to raise over £3,700 for this fabulous charity and equally delighted by the positive impact everyone reported on their mental health.
In October this year, our people made their long-awaited return to head office. There was much excitement but we also prepared for some potential trepidation. We knew as much as people felt positive about coming back to the office we needed to provide mental health support as well as create a Covid-safe working environment. We took nothing for granted. We decided as well as seeking feedback on how things were going via one to one and team meetings, we would give people access to greater resources from T-Cup. This meant everyone could download an app onto their phones, making it easy to set reminders and complete their well-being surveys. The app also has the option to nominate a buddy who would be automatically alerted if your scores on your health and wellbeing questions were dropping below your usual norm – providing the opportunity to proactively check in on each other.
Continuing to build momentum with our mental health and well-being strategy in October we asked staff if they would like to attend a practical Mindset workshop. The workshop teaches attendees techniques to recognise and change negative behaviours, both for the self and within others, by helping to understand how to build a can-do attitude as well as achieve a happier work-life balance. The response was resounding and we have arranged two workshops to meet the demand to attend. Feedback from the first workshop held in November has been overwhelmingly positive with many saying they had ‘light bulb’ moments!
We are pleased to report that the return to the office was seamless both for clients and members and equally importantly, for our people. As I finalise this piece the Government has provided guidance to return to working from home in an effort to reduce transmission rates of the Omicron variant. It is a stark reminder that uncertainty continues and none of us should underestimate its impact and that of the last two years. We firmly believe that taking care of our people and their mental health and wellbeing is as important now, as we look ahead to 2022, as it was at the start of the pandemic. We have learned a lot but there is much more to learn and more to be gained on both an individual and business level, and we are 100% committed to the cause.