Wellbeing in the workplace

Wellbeing in the workplace

As mental wellbeing becomes a growing priority for City businesses, some companies are creating roles that are fully focused on supporting and improving the wellbeing of their staff. Bird & Bird, the international law firm, is one such firm and we talk to Wellbeing Officer, Kay Johal about her role, how it came about and her ‘Walk and Talk’ philosophy.

CP: Kay, your role sounds like an interesting one, how did it come about?

KJ: Well, in 2017, Bird & Bird set up a wellbeing officer system which strives to make mental health issues less of a ‘taboo’ subject and to give those who may need support, an approachable and confidential ear to turn to. It is credit to Bird & Bird that they are wholly invested in the collective wellbeing of the firm.

CP: Have you always been interested in mental health? 

KJ: Outside of Bird & Bird I am a Counsellor within the Samaritans, a role which I have been in for just under a year.  I suffered a bout of sepsis earlier this year and it became apparent that whilst my physical health was recovering, the mental impact was longer lasting.  I wanted to get to the core of the issue without the need for medication (I was practically rattling from the meds I was on to get me over sepsis).  I wasn’t in a depressive state but it was enough for me to note that something wasn’t quite right and talking about it was the only thing that was going to start the chain reaction towards my full recovery.

CP: Working in the City often involves long working hours and pressured environments, how do you recommend that people look after their wellbeing on an ongoing basis? 

KJ: There is an expectation to live up the pressure cooker that is working in the City.  What works for me is twofold – walking and talking.  I make sure that I have a lunch break and I walk around the City – usually with friends or on the phone to my mum; it’s a small habit that has a wider reaching benefits, fresh air and discovering pockets of greenness! I also make sure I schedule regular catch ups with colleagues across the firm and of course there are always the other wellbeing officers to speak to.

CP: What warning signs do you look out for that a person’s mental wellbeing may be suffering?  

KJ: The clues can be fairly obvious – quieter than normal, lack of concentration, tiredness, emotional and a disconnect. However, it is more difficult to approach a person who is displaying those symptoms.  They may not want to disclose and that is of course their choice.  Sometimes a simple 'how are you' will suffice and open up a clear conversation.

CP: How do you suggest that staff to raise issues with you?

KJ: We have lots of ways of reaching out, direct email or IM is usually the starting point, however there are posters on each floor of the office, representing the officers who are sat on that particular floor, and there are initiatives on the intranet and comms that cascade throughout the firm.

CP: How do you go about tackling issues given the often sensitive and private nature of the problem?

KJ: We work together to manage the situation.  I will typically see someone for 20 minutes, signpost (if necessary) to various forums that may help, be that the firm's Employee Assistant Plan or external websites.  We then make an appointment (if the person feels it is necessary) to regroup in a couple of weeks.  It is important to note that the wellbeing officers are not counsellors but an ear that is neutral and non-judgmental.

CP: What advice would you give to someone who is worried about a colleague or family member? 

KJ: Invite them for a coffee outside of their immediate atmosphere and gently state that you are worried or have noticed a discord, how are they doing?

CP: Do you think the topic is becoming less taboo?  

KJ: Yes I do.  It is a matter which has widespread coverage of late, however there is always more that can be done. It is important to raise awareness and not stigma.  A key thing that I try to remember is that to not judge that which you cannot possibly understand.

Released On 14th Oct 2019

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