Mindfulness and mental health awareness at work are gaining increasing focus. Abigail Healy asks travel companies and agents for their insights
According to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) last year, mental health issues are now the primary cause of long-term sickness absence for more than one-in-five UK organisations, but fewer than one-in-three train line managers to support staff affected.
Despite its huge ramifications for business, mental health is still an area that is often overlooked. As ancillaries provider Holiday Extras noticed via information from its healthcare provider, Bupa, and staff surveys, it is an area that many businesses need to focus on more.
Head of evolution and development Natalie Adams explains Holiday Extras used preventative measures such as mindfulness and stress-busting initiatives, as well as showing that the company offers as much support for mental health as it does for physical health.
Mental health first aid courses are becoming increasingly popular within businesses. Holiday Extras, dnata Travel Europe brands Gold Medal, Travel 2 and Global Travel Group, and TTG Media have all enrolled staff on a course.
Adams says: “We partnered with a company called Be Empowered, who run an accredited two-day course by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England. We sent 15 staff on the course, where they learnt how to have conversations about mental health and how to support people with different mental health conditions.”
Adams adds the team is now looking at how it can roll out the training to key line managers and those supporting staff with a mental health condition.
“We’ve communicated to everyone that these staff members have taken the training, and we’ve had line managers themselves asking to do the training. We have also seen more people coming forward and asking for support.”
The dnata Travel Europe brands also sent 15 staff on a two-day course overseen by specialists Red Lotus Consulting, which conforms to MHFA England’s standards.
Stuart Cavanagh, head of people and culture, dnata Travel Europe, explains: “Having fit, happy and healthy employees meets our duty of care requirements as a responsible employer, but it impacts on productivity too. When employees are in peak condition they are happier, provide great service and deliver better results.
“At the more extreme end, the training includes how to step in if a staff member is experiencing a mental health crisis. Knowing the right things to do and say in different situations is vital.”
The business has further plans to roll out a one-day version of the course to all employees by the end of this year.
As with many things, prevention is key, so to encourage staff to take care of their own mental health, Holiday Extras has come up with initiatives under the name “Project Balance”.
“We’re rolling out physical and online self-care kits,” says Adams. “In the office, these are hampers in social areas filled with things such as colouring books and books on mindfulness. We also have online versions with reading lists and play lists. They aren’t big, expensive things,” she adds.
There are also morning yoga classes, while staff are encouraged to enjoy walks in the surrounding Kent countryside.
“Even just five minutes away from the screen can help. We’ve found staff are now posting their own suggestions. When people feel confident enough to start sharing their own content, that’s a really key measure for me that it is working,” Adams asserts.
Katrina McMullan, manager at Travalue/Navan Travel in County Meath took a mindfulness course last year and picked up some tips that have led to an impressive development at the high street agency.
“I come up with an incentive for the team each month. It’s usually vouchers or a goody bag, but January is so busy I like to do something special. The shop is so noisy, and wherever you go you can hear customers or the phones. There was nowhere for staff to go to have some time out.”
Her course emphasised the importance of having a space to be able to think and be quiet, so McMullan decided to transform an old junk room upstairs.
“It was the perfect size, and although it was dark and full of clutter, it’s amazing what some interior decorating can do,” she laughs.
She went about sprucing up the room, painting and furnishing it in calming hues of white, grey and yellow, adding plants to help improve air quality and lower stress levels, including a phone set to play soft relaxing music via YouTube and an oil diffuser to scent the space plus a bookshelf with mindfulness and colouring books – said to help focus the mind away from current worries.
A sign on the door simply says: “The Lounge: Leave your worries at the door”.
“Even if there are two or three people in here they are often just reading their own books quietly, though it’s also a useful space if someone wants to get something off their chest, which can be struggle on the busy shop floor,” explains McMullan.
As well as helping staff wellbeing, she says having a calming space can be great for performance too.
“You often need a lot of patience as a travel agent, and a little bit of calm can give you a whole load more of it when dealing with customers.”
How to improve mindfulness in your business
Qualifications: Send a staff member on an accredited Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England course so there is someone that anyone on the team can talk to. Promote the fact that they are available no matter how big or small the issue (mhfaengland.org).
Creative solutions: Low-cost items such as colouring books might seem childish but can help to focus the mind away from existing stress.
Office oasis: Consider creating a space where staff can go to get some headspace away from the frenzy of the shop floor – aim to make it quiet and relaxing.
Handy tools: The Mental Health at Work hub has toolkits for small businesses with useful resources – visit mentalhealthatwork.org.uk and click on “Toolkits”.