Well-Being//

It’s time to open up about mental health at work

One in four of us will suffer a mental health need each year. It's time to start talking about this at work.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn and can be read here.

I’m writing this blog on the eve of my vacation. Over the next two weeks I’ll be surrounded by family, taking long walks, and making my way through a stack of books. I cherish my annual August holiday because it is a time for me to reflect and recharge.

To be honest, I’m overdue for a rest. My last true vacation day was January 1. I had to cancel my spring break unexpectedly. This has taken a toll on me not just physically, but mentally. My mind is fatigued. I’m tired even though I average 7-8 hours of sleep each night. I’m less patient than normal. It’s harder to clear the noise from my brain so that I can be focused and creative. All of these signs made me stop and think about my own mental well-being and the topic of mental health in general.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively or fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. I also recently read this sobering statistic: 1 in 4 of us will experience a period of mental ill health each year. While I realize this may not be very scientific, if I apply this to Accenture, it means that over 100,000 of our 411,000 people may need support each year.

Accenture makes a tremendous commitment to help our people be successful both professionally and personally, on our journey to become the most truly human organization in the digital age. We’re listening to our people about what they need to be their best. And, providing the tools needed for our 411,000 individuals serving clients in 120 countries to feel supported across the multiple dimensions that define what it means to be truly human – focused on the mind, body, heart and soul.

On the topic of mental health, our UK and Ireland team is leading the way at Accenture. I’m very proud of their work, so I’ve asked Tony Horan, our UK and Ireland Human Capital and Diversity Lead, to co-author this post and share their best practices.

Tony, please take the pen.

Tony – Best practices from our UK and Ireland team

Thanks Ellyn. Mental health is a topic close to my heart – not just because I am part of the team who works to build our people’s confidence and capability on the topic. In 2011, I had to take time off for work-related stress due to burning the candle at both ends for an extended period of time. On reflection, my body gave me many signals to slow down. Thinking I was indestructible, I ignored them, and ultimately ended up in an ambulance to hospital after a severe panic attack. My passion for mental health awareness comes from the desire to help my friends and colleagues avoid a similar experience. So, I’m very happy to share our best practices for talking about and supporting mental health at work in the UK and Ireland. Early on we recognized the line manager plays a critical role in supporting an employee’s mental health. It requires strong emotional intelligence to identify signs that might suggest a problem, a trusting relationship to start a discussion and really listen, and finally the confidence and knowledge to provide the right level of support. So, we put a lot of focus on line manager awareness and understanding, along with these four initiatives that really resonated with our people:

1. Mental Health Allies: In 2014, we introduced a Mental Health Ally programme to raise awareness of mental health challenges across our workforce, and to provide knowledgeable ambassadors available for private conversations with employees experiencing mental health difficulties. Today we have 1,300+ trained ally volunteers who talk with our people and point them to support channels. Each wears a special “mental health ally” lanyard that identifies them as someone who is informed and approachable for anyone who wants to talk. The photo at the top of this blog features a few of our allies.

2. Always Learning: It’s important for our line managers and mental health allies to stay informed and grow their skills. We have an extensive library of on-demand toolkits focused on common challenges people experience at different points in their career and life. Additionally, an external mental health expert runs monthly calls on a variety of topics such as financial wellbeing, eating disorders and post-natal depression.

3. Digital One-Stop Shop: Our employee health and well-being mobile site offers a direct one-stop shop for all well-being information, so individuals can self-service their needs if they prefer. In addition to internal support tools, there are also links to external apps –from anonymous support forums to mindfulness and sleep apps.

4. “This is Me” Campaign: We needed to help normalise topics that can be difficult to discuss in the workplace. In this campaign, mental health role models at all levels in our company share their experiences via a short “selfie” video that all 411,000 employees can access. We’re seeing people open up about tough personal experiences that have impacted their own mental health – such as discrimination, abortion and depression to name a few. This campaign has been transformative in providing a voice for others. We also believe it’s important to set concrete and aggressive goals. We recently announced our aspiration to have 20% of our workforce mental health trained and 80% mental health aware in UK and Ireland by 2020. We are on an exciting and collaborative journey, and it has been great to learn and share best practices across Accenture.

Back to Ellyn

Thank you Tony – for opening up about your own story and for the ground-breaking work the team is doing to bring mental health conversations and support into the workplace at Accenture. Creating an environment where people can ask for what they need to be their best is the essence of what it means to be truly human.

We have a tremendous opportunity to learn from each other, so please share your best practices or lessons learned below on how to spotlight and support mental health in the workplace.

You can also connect with us @EllynJShook1 and @t0nyh0ran.

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