The success of our business is powered by our community of incredible people. That is something VINCI Energies UK & RoI has always understood. Over the years, we have sought to support our employees to achieve their ambitions and reach their full potential in many ways – but since last year, helping to look after their mental health and wellbeing has never been more important.
You have probably seen the statistic that each year one in four adults in England will experience a mental health problem of some kind. That was pre-COVID 19 and already alarmingly high. Although the true impact of the pandemic is still unclear, early indications are not good. In a survey published by Business in the Community (BITC) and Bupa in October 2020, 41% of respondents said they had suffered poor mental health symptoms either caused or worsened by work in the last year.
Since the first lockdown in March 2020, supporting employees to work safely and productively while maintaining a close connection to their colleagues has been a priority for VINCI Energies UK & RoI. Every Friday, for example, our Actemium and Omexom business lines invite everyone to eat lunch together virtually and in person when safely possible.
The strong relationships and peer-to-peer support this initiative engenders is, in my opinion, the foundation for wellbeing at work – but there also need to be structures in place to ensure employees get extra help in times of need.
A framework for effective employee mental health support
That is why, at the beginning of this year, we signed up to the Mental Health at Work Commitment, where we will work with mental health charity Mind to implement six core standards.
- Prioritise mental health in the workplace by developing and delivering a systematic programme of activity
- Proactively ensure work design and organisational culture drive positive mental health outcomes
- Promote an open culture around mental health
- Increase organisational confidence and capability
- Provide mental health tools and support
- Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting
Employee mental health toolkits and training
As well as accessing a wealth of resources from Mind, we have also incorporated the Mind Mental Health training within our Academy. Open to anyone who leads or influences a team, the training educates participants on the role of managers in fostering supportive cultures at work, building resilience, skills to look after themselves while helping others, and providing sources of support and information, such as a wellness action plan. 45 people have been trained so far, including our new Wellbeing Champions.
Wellbeing Champion and Calendars
We appreicate that our Business Unit General Managers cannot do everything, so have invited volunteers from each part of the organisation to act as mental health advocates and take responsibility foe their business unit’s Wellbeing Calendar of activities.
In our work, we empower our business units to act in their own entrepreneurial way and the same is true when it comes to health and wellbeing. The company overall will work towards the six Mental Health at Work standards set out by Mind but how the Wellbeing Champions choose to organise their Wellbeing Calendar to help us get there is up to them.
Our Actemium business units, for example, recently sent employees sunflower seeds with a QR code for growing information and an inspirational quote about strength and always facing the sun.
“Sunflowers end up facing the sun, but they go through a lot of dirt to find their way there” – J.R. Rim.
I think this is a really fitting message for our times. As the sunflowers grow, employees will share their progress and there will be a competition for the best sunflower.
Trusting our business units to launch their own activities from the ground up means they are better suited to employees’ needs and interests and will get better buy-in. As a company, it also gives us the opportunity to experiment with a broader range of ideas, disseminating those that prove the most successful.
It is hard to quantify the effects of these initiatives so far but our data for the Actemium Industrial perimeter does show a reduction in absence attributed to mental health days. And anecdotally, people have noticed the difference and commented on it. Whenever I receive an email from a colleague saying how included and appreciated they feel, I know it is worth it.
The road ahead
Since we started, we have learned a lot. It is important not to overwhelm employees with information and there is no point in talking about mental health and wellbeing for the sake of it. It has to be genuine and in line with people’s needs. We have done a lot of listening over the past year and used short live polls to drive our initiatives rather than guessing.
However, we still have a way to go. Standard number two, proactively ensuring work design and organisational culture drive positive mental health outcomes, remains a challenge for us, as it is for many companies, especially given the greater prevalence of working from home.
Our people are naturally hard-workers and, when at home, it can be tempting to put a few extra hours in or answer emails in the evenings. We need to emphasise the importance of work-life balance and how it will lead to higher quality, more productive work in the long run.
In the past, there was a bit of a stigma to saying you are struggling but more people are talking about mental health and wellbeing now. It is especially beneficial when managers share their difficulties too. It reminds us that we are all human and nobody will be judged. It has been particularly lovely to see our CEO joining the HQ running club on Tuesdays to advocate the importance of health and the strength of a team.
I hope that through our greater focus on employee health and wellbeing we can show our people just how highly we value them and support them through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond to feel happy and connected in their work and able to reach their full potential.
For more information about Mental Health at Work, please visit: www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk.
Infographic summarising the VINCI Energies UK & RoI approach to mental health and wellbeing: