Published on October 12, 2018
By: Kate Rand, People Director
At Beyond we are relentless in our journey to be our best selves, both as a business and as individuals. We believe diversity and inclusion is bigger than a quota, or a statement on your website. This is is also our belief about mental health awareness.
Someone asked me a few weeks ago to define D&I at Beyond, and my response was this:
“At Beyond, the definition of D&I is to remove exclusivity and barriers, and encourage new thinking and perceptions, it is not about race, gender or age, it is about people. And without our people being their most creative and innovative selves, we are nothing.”
The point here is that it is never ending, and it is about removing the barriers and silences around these topics. Much like the D&I conversation that has no end, neither does the creation of safe spaces and support for the whole spectrum of mental health. There is only the continual journey to raise awareness and remove the stigma attached to the perception of mental health, so that everyone can begin to talk about their experiences more openly, and we may all be able to support each other through the darker times. That’s the dream.
Mental health awareness week, and world mental health day are great catalysts for change and for elevating the topic. It is about ensuring you keep the great work you achieve on these days progressing. At Beyond, we’ve decided to elevate and promote the conversation around mental health in two key ways.
World Mental Health Day: The Catalyst
As someone whose close family and friends have suffered from varying levels of depression, anxiety and stress, this is a topic close to my heart. I hear stories of what it was like twenty years ago, and the experiences people had trying to manage their mental wellbeing in offices, with so little support, and more often than not, judgement from those who are there to support (HR I’m looking at us right now). If I then fast forward to World Mental Health day, and look at some of the conversations and initiatives we had running in Beyond, I know we are light years ahead. But there is still so far to go.
Mental Health: Perception Vs Reality Panel Talk
The events we held on Wednesday this week had been a long time in the making. We used this day as a springboard to get the topic out there. It started with a panel talk, in which we welcomed four lively panelists, to discuss the perception of mental health Vs the reality.Questions ranged from how has the perception of mental health changed in the last decade, to what the common misconceptions are around mental health.
There will be a separate write up from the panel talk with the questions and answers, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but the summary was that the world – and specifically the UK – are becoming better at talking about mental health, but organisations could do more. They need to be careful not to see it as only important for a week, or a day and to then put everything back in the box that they unpacked with their employees until next year. That many people in larger corporate companies were still finding the judgement and prejudice was impacting their confidence to speak up, for fear of damaging their career.
When reflecting on the event, I wondered if it was a coincidence that all of our panel speakers, who were so open with their own mental health journeys, were all self-employed founders or consultants. It was a thought provoking start to the day, with much discussion afterward and audience participation.
A Better Tomorrow
A concept originally created by Justin Berkovi, a Product Strategist at Beyond, it was something we had discussed many months before as a product, and a way to support our team members in what can be a very stressful and high pressured environment.
The thinking behind it goes like this: in the agency world, there is a great deal of pressure on the client facing teams to be on their A game at all times. The power dynamic between clients and employees is one that lends itself to huge pressure and anxiety mounting up. Historically, this pressure and anxiety isn’t openly discussed. People would go to the pub, “let off” some steam, or go home and have to work through the feelings themselves. This can be a very toxic environment, especially for the less tenured team members, and everyone can feel very isolated. Being told your work is not good enough can very easily be interpreted as you’re the one that is not good enough, and without those thoughts being checked through conversation, they can very quickly spiral.
Outside of this scenario, or any working scenario, there are also the stresses and strains of life added on top. Everyone has these, yet the status quo is to live your best life on Instagram, and put on your solid gold smile. The fact that you, and many of your colleagues have probably at some point in the last few months gone home and cried or had sleepless nights because of all of the above, doesn’t seem to coincide with the shiny image portrayed to the rest of the studio.
The concept of A Better Tomorrow is to help raise awareness of the daily challenges, stories and experiences that everyone is going through in a non confrontational way. The messages are then shared in an open space, and everyone is invited to give “hugs” to the messages that they resonate or empathise with. There are no right or wrong ways to use the hugs.
We launched the website to Beyond a week before World Mental Health Day, and shared it with all of our studios across the UK and NA. Messages came flooding in, and as we begun to put them up on the walls, people came over to read and to show support for the bravery of their peers. As more people saw the support and the messages, it spurred others on to share their experiences, meaning it is still going now, and we are not planning on taking the messages down any time soon.
The shared experience in the London studio has meant that many people have had conversations about the messages, and opened up about their own situations. We put the messages in a break out area that is used for lunches, and have seen an uptick in productive discussions around the topics during lunch breaks.
The title of this article is about the continuation of mental health and wellbeing, so it stands to reason I must share our plans ahead.
We have a number of ongoing projects to help us embed some of the learnings from Wednesday, and to build on the progress we’ve made in opening up conversations since both Mental Health Awareness Week, and World Mental Health day. Culture change is an iterative process.
Rebranding our Sickness Policy
It might sound trite, but why should our paid sick leave only be available for physical illness? Having pulled the data, and discussed with our team, we realized that people take days off for mental health and pass it off as a cold, or hayfever. Let’s empower them to be transparent, so I can keep a pulse check on the mental wellbeing of our studio, and also to encourage awareness and good practice.
We’re very progressive in our approach to mental health, and the Time to Change pledge gives us the ability to pull all of our work together in to one clear action plan, and show our people we’re committed
We will be the first agency to go through this, and potentially the first agency to gain accreditation if we are successful. Regardless, it is a great way to get outside advice on your approach to physical and mental wellbeing in your organisation, and to see how you can make long term, sustainable changes.
We are also going to keep working on the improving and developing the Better Tomorrow product that Justin has created, as the first use of it in Beyond was a resounding success. Please take the minute to watch the video.