Imagine a world in which your work life and personal life were completely compartmentalised. When you enter your workplace, you have no memory or knowledge of your life outside the office; when you’re out of work, you don’t even know what you do for a living.
This is the premise of Apple TV’s compelling programme Severance and, while it may sound appealing to some ears, it quickly becomes clear that this is quite a horrific premise as the show darkens: we bring our lives and experience to work, and our work impacts on who we are on a day-to-day basis.
“We are one person,” says Stephen McBride, director of services at mental health charity Aware. “Yes, we have our personal lives and professional selves, but we can’t split ourselves.”
Through its Wellness @ Work programme, Aware helps employees and senior leaders to understand that people suffering from anxiety, depression, stress and other mental health issues cannot simply leave their problems at the door.
The organisation offers one-hour talks to companies, focused on having conversations around mental health and helping them to understand stress, anxiety and depression, but also runs a three-hour workshop for senior management and leaders, helping them to understand mental health and to have good conversations about mental health.
“It is about being cognisant that mental health could be a factor [if an employee is struggling],” says McBride. “It is not to deny possible performance issues but to acknowledge that they could have mental health difficulties, or they could have separated from a partner, or they could have financial trouble. There are all sorts of life events that can confound us, so this programme is about helping [staff and employees] to show empathy and concern for colleagues.”
Aware’s programme is growing in popularity as more companies realise that mental health and wellbeing cannot be an optional add-on, that the lives of employees can be challenging, that those challenges can affect their work and that companies need to support their staff.
Graduates want this too, and they recognise that the demands of modern life – we don’t just have to get out of bed every day, but we are supposed to wash ourselves, run a household, care for children, eat healthy food, do exercise, see friends and family, and mind our mental health – mean that wellbeing needs to be integrated into the workplace.
This is why Ciara Whyte, director of a company – also called Wellness at Work – has been providing wellness services to companies for almost 23 years.
“Our model is gym management, and an on-site gym is a big attraction for graduates,” Whyte says. “We also run yoga, mindfulness and other classes, and we provide high-intensity and personal training while ensuring that gym users fully understand how to healthily and safely use the equipment.”
Increasingly companies are running mindfulness classes, team-building days or in-house societies like choirs, photography groups, and running or walking groups, Whyte says.
But she cautions that companies should be careful to avoid running wellness programmes that merely tick a box.
If you know an organisation has your back, particularly in a time of need, it adds to job satisfaction
— Stephen McBride, director of services at mental health charity Aware
“If you are going to create a wellness model in a workplace, do it properly. Do your research, survey the employees and make it easy for them to take part by holding these events within working hours. Even if they don’t have a big budget, there are things that can be done, like installing a shower so that employees can run or cycle to work, and have a place to put their bike. Offer standing desks. Have healthy canteen options. Encourage movement in the office so people are not sitting at their desks all day, perhaps using a stretching routine.”
An integrated approach to health and wellbeing may also include either on-site counselling or an employment assistance programme that can help staff to avail of professional support, says McBride.
In an economy where graduates are in demand, a genuine commitment to health and wellbeing will make a company stand out to potential applicants, so it’s worth letting prospective employees know what the company has to offer.
“If you know an organisation has your back, particularly in a time of need, it adds to job satisfaction,” says McBride. “At a time of flux, when people are transitioning back to an office and others work a hybrid model, we are all grappling with these challenges – and what they mean for graduates.”