Reflecting on our collective mental wellbeing

Mental Health Awareness Week always provides us with an opportunity to reflect. Reflect not only on the state of our own mental health and wellbeing, but also of those around us. It was great to see how widely the week is now marked and just how far we’ve come in removing the stigma around talking about mental health with so many people sharing their personal experiences, stories and advice.  After what has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging years to our collective wellbeing, it was clear to see that the true impact of the pandemic on our mental health is now coming into focus.

There are many reasons I’m proud to work at O2, one being our strong focus on promoting a positive work/life balance and supporting employees’ mental wellbeing. In this most challenging of years, along with many others, we have worked hard to support our teams internally but it’s also been impressive to see how we’ve supported our customers.

Putting our customers at the forefront

As a customer led organisation, a key priority for us throughout the pandemic has not only been keeping customers connected but also supporting some of those hardest hit. Early on in the pandemic, we zero rated mental health, crime and support sites, to ensure people still had access to vital support services. Furthermore, we’ve committed to keeping many of them zero rated on a permanent basis. We also set aside customer service teams dedicated to supporting our customers with mental health disabilities.

Our Community Calling initiative in partnership with charity Hubbub, has helped us gift thousands of devices to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Since an initial launch in Southwark, it’s now live across the UK from Bristol and Leeds, to Glasgow and South Wales. It’s been vital in combating the loneliness brought on by multiple nationwide lockdowns.

Keeping our team supported 

Given work is where many of us spend the majority of our waking hours, employers have a huge role to play in making sure that it’s a supportive environment. We need to make sure our teams have at their disposal the tools and support they need to thrive. That’s why we made science-based wellbeing app, Foundations, free for all employees to use. It’s had great feedback from our people with them engaging in over 800 mental wellbeing programmes on the platform.

One reason Foundations worked so well is because it was fully endorsed and encouraged by myself and the rest of our senior leadership teams. Those at the top of any business need to show people that it’s okay not to be okay and encourage them to look for help where they need it.

Something that really struck me during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week was the open and trusting community we’ve created at O2.  Throughout the week, colleagues from across the business shared their own mental health personal experiences, video stories and pictures from their daily walks (in line with the connect with nature theme) on our internal social channel, Workplace.  We’ve worked hard to create an environment at O2 where our people feel comfortable coming to work and being themselves and it was fantastic to see our people supporting each other in such an open way.

Like many others, I’ve missed the physical interaction with others and the opportunity to regularly change my environment as we’ve moved to a fully virtual world. I returned to work from maternity leave during the middle of lockdown and, while this has enabled me to spend more time with my daughter, it’s meant I’ve had to connect with a new team and adapt to working in our notoriously fast paced industry remotely.  Technology has obviously played a key role in helping my team grow and, in many ways, this new way of working means we’ve seen new sides to each other that we wouldn’t have normally.

While technology has been so key, we’ve also made sure that we take time to step away from our desks. In my team we’ve initiated walking meetings, where everyone is encouraged to do their meetings while on the move outside, something that’s now being shared across the business. Among the other things we have done is establish support groups, run all hands meetings with an emphasis on talking and launched an incentive scheme to keep people motivated when isolated at home.

Looking to the future

As the world reopens, and the imminent threat of Covid-19 hopefully reduces, one thing I hope we can keep is the community spirit. A spirit that has in so many ways been a defining feature of the pandemic; where people check in with each other more.

It will undoubtedly be hard to go back to ‘normal,’ and it will be a normal that looks very different to the one we knew before. As we grapple with the anxieties and fears we’ve been carrying for over a year now I hope we all use this week to check in with ourselves and those around us, and consider what else we can do to support our ongoing mental wellbeing.

If you’ve come across any great initiatives or ways to support wellbeing at work, I’d love to hear them.