The Hearts & Minds programme has been rolled out across the agency, at a cost of about £6,000 per employee, by director and Hearts & Minds lead Hannah Milne.
It offers 24/7 access to trained mental health professionals and therapists; regular staff training sessions, including specific training for line managers; bespoke wellness action plans for all staff; a wellbeing allowance of £120; a commitment to spend one in 20 hours on mental health; and other initiatives (see full list below).
The programme launches at a time when the communications industry and nation are in the grips of a mental health crisis. A new study of 700 senior communications professionals by Carta Communications found looking after mental health and staff motivation the top priority for professionals (chosen by 28 per cent), ahead of concerns about the impact of COVID-19. The PRCA's latest census found more than a third of PR professionals have suffered poor mental health.
Tin Man founder Mandy Sharp told PRWeek the agency has more than doubled its commitment to mental health and wellbeing in the past year.
“Mental health and wellbeing has been an agency focus for a while, but the pandemic has catapulted it to the top of our agenda,” she said. “Headlines continually warn us about the long lasting impact of COVID-19 on our mental health, and we’ve all felt it in some capacity – from frazzled parents juggling home-schooling with careers, staff struggling to share workspace with flatmates, Zoom fatigue and longer working hours to overwhelming feelings of loneliness and isolation. We have a duty to help where we can.
“We’ve shifted priorities in order to really invest in this area, both in terms of budget and resources, to make sure that every staff member feels supported and has the tools needed to look after their mental health. Our staff will always be our biggest, most valuable asset, so we need to look after them.”
A flexible approach
The Hearts & Minds programme has been designed to be flexible and top-down, which means it has complete buy-in from the agency’s leaders.
Milne said it was important to create a programme that is tailored to individual needs.
“For some our online mediation sessions are invaluable, but for others having a mental health sick policy – which allows staff to be honest if they are not well enough to work – gives a feeling of security and support,” she explained.
“All initiatives are supported by the senior team and include everything from mental health workplace champions, bespoke wellness plans and training sessions to weekly newsletters with practical tips and recommendations to improve wellbeing. We also provide free 24/7 access to trained professional help with psychotherapists and CBT experts.”
One of the workplace champions who shared her struggles with mental health is junior account manager Alexandra Keates.
She told PRWeek it was important to see conversations about mental health becoming less taboo in society; however, “one place it’s still kept ‘under the covers’ is the workplace”.
“The general perception appears to be that a professional persona cannot be coupled with an honest view on your emotions and mental wellbeing – yet at work we will all go through the waves of experiencing myriad emotions, whether it be feelings of success or failure, achievement or dissatisfaction, stress or accomplishment, comprehension or confusion.
“It’s vitally important that when it comes to something that can influence so many different feelings and states of mind, we all work to make sure that this is exactly the place where people feel they can reach out and ask for help and support – and know that when they do, it will be met with sincerity, understanding and, most importantly, a plan of action.”
Keates said she was grateful for TIn Man’s openness and support with her mental health.
“The team’s unstoppable willingness to offer practical or emotional help, whenever it is needed, has offered a hugely important sense of safety,” she said.
Hearts & Minds initiatives
Commitment to spend one in 20 working hours on mental health
A wellbeing allowance of £120 for every team member – which can be spent on anything from a yoga class to a meditation app
Free access to trained professional help: a 24/7 mental health helpline and sessions with psychotherapists and CBT experts
Company-wide events and training sessions on topics including raising awareness of mental health, how to support someone with a mental health issue, kickstarting conversations and the link between sleep and wellbeing
Weekly internal newsletters offering tips and expertise to keep our spirits up – from podcasts, books to Netflix shows (these are now going to clients too)
Four mental health workplace champions who drive forward initiatives and organise monthly inspirational ‘Wellness Wednesdays’ – covering everything from mediation sessions to guest speakers
Pro bono work for Ruby Wax’s Frazzled Café – a safe space for those dealing with mental health issues to chat
Policies to discourage excessive working hours; end-of-day team check-ins and an out-of-hours comms policy with no communications between 6.30pm and 8am, and at weekends – in addition, for any excessive overtime worked, the agency offers time in lieu
Support for line managers via training; regular training and resources on how to spot and deal with mental health issues – line managers also chat on a weekly basis to support each other in a safe space
A bespoke Wellness Action Plan for all staff
Regular (minimum once a week) check-ins with line manager
Formalised mental health sick days policy, so that the agency's stance is clear
PR leaders open up about how much the pandemic is impacting the industry's mental health and how agencies are supporting their employees.
The PR industry is working on a mental health and wellbeing charter. Further details will be revealed in the coming weeks.