My Mind News discusses how one particular business ensures employee wellbeing is prioritized as we chat with Lisa Smith of Suffolk-based communications agency Pier.
Wellbeing in the workplace is a theme that My Mind News has reported on several times in recent months. But how do smaller organizations manage the wellbeing of their staff, particularly when many of the workforce work remotely?
We spoke to Lisa Smith, Operations Manager (and Wellbeing Champion) at Suffolk-based integrated communications agency Pier to discuss these issues and to explain why maintaining wellbeing in the workforce is so high on the company’s list of priorities.
Firstly Lisa, tell us more about being Pier’s Wellbeing Champion.
“I joined Pier at the end of 2018 in a brand-new role as office manager. As part of that role, the company was keen for me to look at the existing internal health and wellbeing initiatives, auditing and expanding on what we already offered and incorporating all of that into a more formal policy-based approach.
We were already doing great things, but benchmarking what was already being done and holding ourselves accountable by weaving those things into company policy and procedure was a really important step for us.
As part of our commitment to mental health, I took part in some training with Mental Health First Aid England to become a certified Wellbeing Champion. This course is refreshed regularly and means that I can offer support and signposting to any team member who may need someone to talk to.
I am not a line manager, so I may seem like a strange choice for this role, but I think that being seen as an ‘independent’ person outside of the line management and the HR function makes me more approachable.”
“However, I do also support line managers in recognizing the signs that someone in their team may be struggling and how to approach them about that. It’s really important that line managers get involved, as they are often the first person to notice that something isn’t quite right.
Auditing what we already had in place and putting it into policies also allowed us to apply to be assessed for a ‘Healthy Workplace Award’ accreditation from Suffolk County Council and Public Health Suffolk.
We were extremely proud to become the first company to be awarded this certification in November 2019. We passed all eight sections, ranging from excellence in leadership to mental health and physical activity.”
What has been the main driver for Pier’s focus on staff wellbeing?
“We want to create an environment where the team thrives. This will include everything from training to fair remuneration, but must absolutely also cover awareness of employees’ mental health and a robust support mechanism for those who need it.
According to The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), 91% of those working in public relations have experienced some degree of mental health issues in the past year. Our business can be very stressful at times, and with our team now in either hybrid or remote working situations, it is vital that everyone knows what to do if they are not feeling okay.”
Have you, as Wellbeing Champion, seen a change in culture towards mental health in the workplace?
“At Pier, employee health and wellbeing has definitely transitioned from being a ‘nice to have’ to an essential part of our business. Weaving it into our policies and procedures has really embedded it into the company culture and, importantly, holds us accountable.
Culture is difficult to define but vital to crack. We have worked hard to remove any stigma attached to reaching out, and our team continues to feedback that they feel supported to develop and grow as part of a strong team of people who genuinely care about each other’s wellbeing.
We still have more to do and are always learning, but having ongoing discussions within the business about mental health and listening to what the team needs is absolutely the best way to do this.”
Being a small company, do you think this makes it harder or easier to speak up?
“As with any organization (large or small), there will always be those who feel more able and are more comfortable than others to speak up or to seek support.
Our mission has always been to create a safe environment where people can ask for support, access helpful information easily, and feel empowered to share it with others without judgment. We often have discussions around mental health in our daily catch-up calls, and it is amazingly rewarding for me when someone feels motivated to share their experiences and advice with the rest of the team.
Although I am Pier’s Wellbeing Champion, I am not the only person that an employee can approach. We encourage people to speak to whoever they feel most comfortable with, be that myself, their line manager, or a colleague. This gives people options whilst at the same time reinforcing the positive culture of open communication that we have at Pier.”
I think that these things are key in any organization, whatever size.
In what ways does Pier actively support wellbeing in the workplace?
“Pre-pandemic, we were an entirely office-based organization. Now that we are a hybrid/remote team, with employees from Edinburgh to Portsmouth, we have had to adapt how we are communicating with and supporting the team. Here are my top three – we have found these have made a big difference. Interestingly, these all cost nothing apart from time!
- Daily wellbeing check-in: We start each day with a 10-15 minute check-in call online where we can all say hello, and have a chat over a cuppa like you would do if you were all in the same office. These conversations are always lively and varied, from what was on television last night to getting soaked on a rainy school run. Having these quick sessions are a great way to start the day and ensures that wherever our team members are, they feel included.
- Wellbeing Wednesday: Each Wednesday morning, in place of our normal call, we have a slightly longer ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ session where I lead a discussion around a particular topic. We have discussed a whole range of subjects, like dealing with stress, healthy sleep, movement, money matters, and even single-use plastic swaps! These sessions are a great way to encourage people to share (or just listen if they want to,) learn from each other, and feel part of something that goes beyond the workplace.
- Wellness Action Plans: We offer all our team members the opportunity to complete a Wellness Action Plan if they feel that it would benefit them. These are provided by MIND and are a great tool for employees to support their own mental health at work, as well as letting their line manager know how to spot if they are not feeling 100%.”
“In addition to the above, making sure that we see each other in person regularly is key. We have three firm-wide meetups annually, an annual away day (where we cover work-based topics in the morning followed by a fun team activity after lunch,) a summer meet-up, and a Christmas party.
We also offer monthly co-working days at our Farringdon office so that our team members can meet up and work together for the day and then go for a drink or a bite to eat afterward.
More formally, we recognize that employee benefits can have a massive effect on staff wellbeing. At a time when most things in life are getting increasingly expensive, we have enhanced our package of benefits for employees.
Along with fully flexible working patterns, employee benefits include health insurance (including dental and mental health coverage), personal accident insurance, a pension, and a profit-share scheme.
We also offer salary sacrifice schemes for bicycles and electric vehicles. These benefits help to give our team peace of mind in areas of their life outside of work.”
In closing, how do you summarise Pier’s approach to employee wellbeing?
“We know that our people make us who we are, and we want to look after them. We want Pier to be a positive environment for our team, with exciting work, fair packages, and a strong sense of community, purpose, and friendship.
Above all else, we have set out to create a supportive culture at Pier. We recognize that we have a moral, as well as a legal, duty of care to our employees, and we take this seriously.”
“We have clearly defined values, and what we do and how we do it are rooted in meaning. It is this foundation that we hope makes working for Pier a fulfilling and rewarding experience. We give a great deal of thought and consideration to who we are and the type of firm we wish to be.
We regularly check we are doing all we can as an organization to look after our team through staff surveys. And while not everything has to be formalized at Pier, we ensure that the structures and policies we have in place are robust while remaining flexible so that any scenario an employee might face can be handled sensitively and with compassion.
And whilst looking after employee wellbeing is, of course, beneficial for the company’s bottom line, our people are our priority, and looking after them is of paramount importance. Simply put, our people make us who we are.”
Should you wish to engage Pier to help your business with its communications strategy or to simply learn more about Pier, click on this link or send an email to email@example.com.
My Mind News would like to express our thanks to Lisa for taking the time to provide her valuable insight into how Pier puts employee wellbeing at the heart of everything the company does. We wish both Lisa and everyone at Pier our best wishes.