When the world throws hate; don’t throw back, just be kind

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Following the Manchester terrorist attack at Ariana Grande’s concert on Monday night; I am astounded yet not surprised at the response of the people of Manchester.

Manchester is a unique and beautiful city that has been rocked by this attack, but a clear unity and defiance of it’s people has created a stronger bond that evil will not be able to break apart. My heart goes out to the victims families, friends and colleagues in this time of tragedy.

Another element of this is the incredible response of the emergency services who have worked tirelessly to support those injured and the bereaved families. These services should never be taken for granted and to face these circumstance would take tremendous courage and bravery yet they carried it out with the utmost professionalism.

Out of the darkness came acts of heroism from all backgrounds, even homeless people gave everything the could to help save lives as the emergency response arrived. This is a time when everyone should look out for their local communities.

I sit here writing with my usual cup of tea and on my desk is a picture of my husband and I with my two beautiful step children, Charlie and Sophie who are the same ages of those who attended the concert on Monday. Sophie is a huge fan of Ariana Grande and we can often be found dancing along to her music around the house or watching her on Nickelodeon TV; Sam and Cat is one of Sophie’s favourite shows.

I also sit here looking at their faces and thinking how blooming lucky I get to see them soon when there are parents out there who will not see their children again.

It’s easy to get caught up in the media headlines and forget about what really matters in life, I guess one of the lessons we should take from this tragedy is not to take anything for granted.

The good people of Manchester will stick together and love will always overcome hate.

Taking care of your mental health wellbeing #MHAW17

Whilst it is important to promote the wellbeing of others, you cannot adequately support other people without having your own mental health as a priority. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and on the blog I am releasing some quick references to generate awareness of the subject but also to present practical advice for you to use, regardless of your profession.

Mental health awareness is something we can all promote and actively be a part of, whether it is for you or to support someone close to you.

How we are feeling can vary in our day to day lives, it often depends on circumstance in that present moment, or it can be impacted by significant events such as the anniversary of a bereavement. According to the Mental Health Foundation statistics; one in three of us will experience a traumatic event at some point in our lives, this is not just an incident, it is something that stays with us for the rest of our lives.

When we are in good mental wellbeing, we are able to cope with the stresses of everyday life, are able to adapt to the environment and situations around us and feel engaged with the environment around us. If we are not in a good mental state, it is easy to feel detached from people and the environment, lack confidence in our abilities to cope with daily life and most of all, unable to freely express emotions and maintain relationships.

Keeping this in mind, it only underpins the importance on supporting your own mental health, here are some quick and easy tips to help you support your mental health wellbeing:

  • Talk about your feelings; if you are experiencing a difficult time, having an open conversation with your friends and family can halve the problem and they may be able to offer help and guidance to support you. Just by having a conversation can make you feel a lot better
  • Learn to accept yourself; this is such an important part of our mental health wellbeing. Don’t compare yourself to others, this only damages self-esteem. This is so difficult with the influence of social media and this “perception of perfection” is not realistic, be yourself and acknowledge your positive qualities
  • Exercise; I run three times a week now and have done since January. I’ve never felt better, I’ve never been a gym bunny but getting out in the fresh air can really change your perspective on things and has a positive impact on my mental health, I find I worry less, sleep better and most of all, it’s an activity I enjoy
  • Diet; having a well-balanced diet has really complimented my new exercise routine and it makes me feel healthier and happier
  • Relax; as with everything these days there is an app for that! You don’t need expensive yoga classes or massages (although these are great too!) try Buddhify which can really help you to switch off and relax. This app has really helped me especially on those days when it’s difficult to clear the mind of the working day

It’s time to talk about mental health

The promotion of mental health awareness has sprung into the spotlight recently, with the support of celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Heads Together campaign from the Royal Family; it is a difficult topic to ignore and is a startlingly bigger issue than we initially realise.

It is a significant but positive step that people are starting to openly discuss mental health issues, but what can we do to underpin this in the workplace?

Next week, 8th – 14th May 2017 is Mental Health Awareness Week and now is a good a time as any to start thinking differently about this issue and addressing the stigma attached to it.

Mental Health is not a new topic and with ever increasing pressure of daily life; whether that is home life, working life, relationships, studying; as well as a perception of perfection from social media. I believe it is a positive step of highlighting a prominent issue which is an underlying theme to everyone’s wellbeing.

A CIPD study has highlighted the impact on business of poor mental health in employees. The study found that:

  • 37% of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues
  • 57% find it harder to juggle multiple tasks
  • 80% find it difficult to concentrate
  • 62% take longer to do tasks
  • 50% are potentially less patient with customers/clients.

The study also found that, for the first time, stress is now the major cause of long-term absence in manual and non-manual workers.

I don’t believe that there is a one size fits all approach when it comes to mental health, over the years as a HR professional, I pride myself upon my ability to build strong working relationships in the hope that if anyone ever needed someone to talk to, then I would be a person they felt comfortable enough to approach should they need support. I’ve have faced some difficult situations with employees ranging from gambling addiction, alcoholism, post-natal depression, PTSD, financial difficulties and severe depression. Whilst these circumstances cannot be foreseen, I believe that if there had been adequate support mechanisms available in the first instance then the circumstances could have been handled differently.

This is not a subject that we have to tackle together; it has to be a joined up approach. As I mentioned some of the difficult cases I have worked on over the years, they weren’t just “people at work” to me. I took the job home with me, it had a big impact on my emotional wellbeing. I wasn’t sleeping or eating very much and at the time, I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my family and friends, now I am pleased to say that I have a very close and supportive network around me, and by having that conversation you feel much better than you did before you had it. It’s like a form of therapy. It’s important for everyone to have someone to talk to when they need to; bottling emotions up it will only cause further damage to your wellbeing and often with lasting effects.

Starting these conversations in the first place is essential; as an employer, this can be a difficult situation which has the “leave your personal life outside of work” label attached to it. In an era where authenticity is actively supported when things are positive, I don’t see why it should be this way when emotional support is required. By employees bottling situations up, are we not encouraging them to do it by using this label? By employers being equipped to handle mental health in the workplace, they are able to eliminate a culture of silence attached to mental health and are able to demonstrate that they are a caring and forward thinking organisation.

The number one reason for absence in the UK is stress which cost the UK economy £4billion in 2016 alone and on average 5.6 days absence per employee so this to me is a good enough reason as to why employers should be doing more to raise awareness of mental health issues. mental health charity, Mind recently reported some startling figures:

  • More than one in five (21 per cent) agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them
  • 14 per cent agreed that they had resigned and 42 per cent had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them
  • 30 per cent of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’
  • 56 per cent of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don’t feel they have the right training or guidanceWhilst I was researching the topic for this blog post, I uncovered so much information that is readily available for everyone, not just employers to use and there were three prominent themes that appeared; taking care of you, taking care of others and that two heads are better than one.

I’m not stating that we should go from one extreme to the other by writing extensive policies, being in employees faces every time they appear under the weather etc. It’s just a case of having the right support mechanisms should they ever be needed; simple things such as equipping line managers with the right tools to have these conversations, having a robust employee assistance service available and having access to tools which can be utilised by employees.

Here are some simple steps that HR professionals can do to enhance the awareness of mental health in their workplace:

  • Promote an Employee Assistance Programme – these are not particularly expensive and provide an impartial and specialist resource that all employees can use anonymously. Whilst you will not be aware of how it is used, you should be able to obtain report indicating the type of calls that are being made to allow a more proactive approach
  • Download some management support guides and place them on your company intranet, these are free and available on the Mind charity website
  • Host a webinar on the subject of mental health, you can host one yourself or you can sign up for one via Mind, Acas or CIPD. Invite your managers to join you to encourage a joined up approach
  • Be proactive with return to work interviews, if an employee has been absent due to personal issues, stress or depression, ask them if there is anything you can do to help support them and if you are unsure, seek support from your Occupational Health provider

For more information on how you can implement a mental health awareness campaign in your workplace there are plenty of resources available on the Mind charity website, Acas, CIPD and of course Heads Together. Let’s make a small change to make a big impact.

Goodbye April, hello May! It’s time to set shiny new goals, and why it’s important

Goodbye April, Hello May

“Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan.” Margaret Thatcher

It’s a fresh month and I have a new outlook on my work life as I approach my final CIPD Level 7 module. I have to say that it has been a long, yet worthwhile journey and I cannot wait to see that certificate of completion.

I am a big advocate of setting new goals each month, it helps me to focus on things that are important; this is so I do not lose sight of where I am going as it can have a negative effect and in turn that can have lasting impacts, it helps me to avoid those “I wish I’d done that sooner!” or “I’ve done all of this work but nothing to show for it” moments. It helps me align my time in the right areas so I feel I am continually aiming for the next step.

Anyone can set themselves goals; you don’t need to be told what your goals are, you just need to have the ambition and drive to aim for them. Goals are applicable to all levels from students, those starting out in their careers, new mothers, directors; anyone can set themselves goals, it’s prevents stagnation in life and keeps things exciting!

So here are my goals for May, nothing fancy, but incredibly important:

  1. Start each day with a fresh mind set: There’s nothing worse than having a bad day at the office and carrying that emotional baggage with you for the remainder of the week, just let it go!
  2. Make 3 Northamptonshire CIPD Mentoring matches this month
  3. Invest more in my health: not just physically but mentally; stop mentally pacing and combat the thought process with a walk in fresh air, it’ll make me more productive
  4. Work smarter, not harder: this is a really simple task such as preparing my blog posts in advance and enabling a more proactive approach
  5. Don’t waste time! If recent events have taught me anything it is, live for the moment, do more things that are spontaneous!
  6. Steps Ahead awareness: I have two visits planned this month in Northamptonshire, let’s hope it helps generate further awareness of the programme

I look forward to sharing my results with you at the end of the month.