To mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we asked our Content Team Leader, Stephen Foy, to write about his own experience of mental health in the workplace. At Acquiro, we’re always striving to be better, we know it’s more than just saying we take it seriously – we want to held accountable by our staff and we want to do as much as we can to offer a safe, supportive environment.
Though many of us would enjoy the easy life, for the majority, work is an essential and unavoidable part of our routines. Assuming we all get the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night (nope, me neither) – our working life takes up ⅓ of our day, 5 days a week.
With such a huge amount of time spent at our desks, in office spaces, construction sites, schools… Wherever you work, it’s important that you, your peers and employers look after and out for each other’s mental health.
Given that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week from 10-16 May, it’s fitting to focus on how we can manage and raise awareness for a topic that, in the past, has so often been taboo. Thankfully, in modern times the subject is much more approachable, and at Acquiro Digital, I’m pleased to say we’re a company that takes mental health very seriously.
We’re people, not computers
You would be forgiven for thinking that the world of marketing is corporate and cold, and for many years, that was probably the case for a huge amount of employees, whether working under an agency or not.
As an individual who has struggled with mental health and had this impact on my working life somewhat, I know all too well the stresses, expectations and cold shoulders you can experience when dealing with such an issue professionally.
When employed for a large digital marketing agency (that shall remain unnamed), I approached a senior team member to confide my struggles, all in the interest of transparency and honesty, as it was clear that my work and ability to cope were being affected to some extent.
This is NOT how agencies should operate, rather, it’s appalling and a prime example of exactly what not to do. I’m thankful to say, this isn’t how we do things at Acquiro.
At my previous employer, we were given large workloads and often unrealistic client hours to manage. I struggled to juggle the goings-on in my outside life and professional life and inevitably began to fall behind in my workload. This led to some extra hours staying back in the office to make sure deadlines were met and work wasn’t overdue, and these extra hours didn’t go unnoticed.
Given that seniors were aware of my health, rather than enquire as to why I was falling behind and what they could do to help, I was simply met with the statement that “I shouldn’t be struggling because everything is covered for in our clients hours.” Great, thanks a bunch, allow me to just switch my brain off and plug into the mainframe, eh?
This is where so many companies fall short; they forget that their employees aren’t computers, we’re people. We experience emotions, and heartache, and bouts of bad health, and unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do to stop this.
Nurturing a caring culture
Now operating as a senior member of the SEO team at Acquiro Digital, other seniors and our directors are all conscious of just how important mental health in the workplace is. If somebody is struggling, they shouldn’t do it in silence, and if they need the time off work – they’ll get it.
Given my personal experiences, I’ll always catch up with my team and check that everybody is okay in terms of their workload. Nobody should ever have too much on to the extent that it affects their life outside of work, and if the workload is unrealistic or they have a little extra on their shoulders that month, I or another member of the team will help pick up the slack and we’ll ensure that deadlines are completed together.
We have the capacity to cover each other’s backs, we don’t work in isolation and get swamped and swallowed up in a suffocating bubble of stress and solitude, and that’s exactly how it should be.
In what’s a far cry from my old company and the countless times myself and other content writers found ourselves falling behind with zero support, at Acquiro, we have space and breathing room to be creative. With less stress and more hours available, we can go the extra mile for clients and create original artwork or put in some additional, all-important research on a particular content piece. Not only does this reward the client with a better quality of content, but it also provides some respite, keeps the creative juices flowing and (more importantly than anything) keeps the team healthy and happy.
No team should ever get to the point that they’re endlessly churning out uninspired content, page description after page description and blog post after blog post, simply to meet client hours and struggle to do so within the set parameters.
Taking care of staff and yourself
Though there’s a lot of apprehensions and many stay silent over mental health problems, there are plenty of steps we can put in place to help people, even if they prefer not to talk.
Of course, talking about our feelings is pivotal and a hugely important part of accepting our struggles, taking control and doing what we can to stay healthy. Talking isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s the opposite – a brave step towards admitting to issues and improving our health.
For those who aren’t ready to talk, thankfully there are many alternatives and measures both employers and employees can take to ensure that everyone’s mental health is taken care of.
- Stay active – Exercise is massively important, helping to release feel-good endorphins, burn away stress and excess energy, as well as improving concentration and sleep too.
This doesn’t mean gruelling sessions or half marathons either; just 30 minutes of exercise a day can go a long way to improving our mental health.
When it comes to promoting this in the workplace, cycle to work schemes are always a great idea, as are free or discounted gym memberships. At Acquiro, we have desk bikes tucked away in our breakout room, great for simultaneously exercising and working, while people regularly go for a short walk on their lunch break too.
- Eat healthily – How we eat affects how we feel both short-term and long-term, and a healthy diet isn’t just good for our physical health – it’s good for our mental health too.
At work, some find it a struggle to maintain structured meals and a healthy eating pattern. Whether that’s because they’re doing the school run and rushing around on a morning or they didn’t have time to pack dinner the night before, and this has a knock-on effect.
As a workplace, we recognise how important it is to eat regularly and healthily, so at Acquiro HQ, you’ll always find cereal and fresh fruit in the kitchen (as well as the odd biscuit or doughnut, obviously).
- Take breaks – Experts recommend that we should take regular breaks at work, especially if we’re working in front of a computer screen. A short five or ten-minute break for every hour that we work can go a long way towards improving our concentration and mood.
Whether that’s getting up to make a brew, setting aside some time for a chat (at Acquiro, we religiously discuss what everybody is having for tea at 3 PM) or taking yourself away to a quiet space or breakout room for five minutes, a change of scenery and a change of pace is beneficial to our mental health.
- Work as a team – Working relationships are really important and key to our mental health, and fostering a supportive team that cares for and looks out for each other is a real win for any workplace.
If somebody is struggling, it’s always reassuring to know that there are people to confide in and lean on, and having a close-knit group of work friends that we can talk and vent to (whether that’s concerning work or outside life) can be a priceless commodity.
Information and help
If you, a workmate or anybody you know is struggling with their mental health, there are plenty of places to obtain further information when it comes to taking care of yourself and taking care of your staff from organisations such as Mind.
There’s also a wealth of helplines that are staffed by trained professionals, should you ever need to talk:
- Samaritans – 116 123 (free to phone, 24hrs a day 365 days a year)
- SANEline – 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day)
- The Mix (under 25s) – 0808 808 4994 (Sunday-Friday 2pm–11pm) or text
- Nightline (students) – web chat
- Papyrus (children and under 35s) – 0800 068 4141 (weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm-10pm and bank holidays 2pm–10pm) or text 07786 209 697
- CALM (those who identify as male) – 0800 58 58 58 (5pm–midnight every day) or web chat
- Switchboard (LGBT) – 0300 330 0630 (10am–10pm every day) or web chat
If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis related to a specific condition, you can find information from the NHS on mental health conditions as well as access to urgent mental health helplines.