Sustainability: Wellbeing Champion Q&A with Senior People Adviser Natalie Sanchez.
Can you tell us the process of establishing our wellbeing champion network?
“Working in the People Team, I’ve been passionate about supporting colleagues with their mental health for a long time. And when I joined Together in 2019, I was excited to learn that our business is equally as driven, and volunteered to be part of the group leading the development of our first colleague wellbeing network.
“We worked closely with Manchester Mind (charity no. 219830) in 2020 and 2021 to design a programme which would offer our colleagues the best support. They helped us figure out how we should recruit our Wellbeing Champions and how to provide high quality training.
“Manchester Mind also helped us develop a job description – which is for an official mental health first aider role – so we could find the right colleagues for the task, and in 2021 we started the recruitment and selection process.
“During the interviews we asked colleagues why they wanted be a Wellbeing Champion and how they were feeling in terms of their own mental health to make sure they were in the best position to support other colleagues. As part of this process we asked for character references from People Managers too. We also wanted to make sure all areas of the business were represented and we had a fairly even balance across different departments.
“Once we’d found our network, we put the Champions through two days of mental health first aid training with Manchester Mind, and then through an internal induction. It was really important to us that the Wellbeing Champions became accredited through Mental Health First Aid England to give colleagues reassurance their conversations would be handled with care, respect and confidentiality.”
Why did you feel it was important to have a colleague-led network?
“We already had external support available for our colleagues through the Employee Assistance Programme, who provide a range of support, but for some people they may not feel they aren’t quite ready to make this decision and feel more comfortable to speak to somebody internally in the first instance.
“We’ve introduced mandatory mental health awareness training for all of our people managers too, but we also recognise that not all colleagues want to have a conversation with their line manager about their mental wellbeing.
“We wanted to create a trained network of people whom colleagues can trust to remain impartial and approachable. The support the Champions provide covers a number of different areas and, when I look at what’s included in the training programme, it becomes really clear what a great support they can be.
“The Champions have an in depth understanding of mental health and the factors that can affect wellbeing as well as the practical skills to spot the triggers and signs of poor mental health. The training has given them the confidence to step in, reassure and support a person in distress and know where they can signpost people to access further help when they are ready.
“For example, assistance schemes such as an Employee Assistance Programme that offers support to all of our colleagues on a wide range of matters, such as mental health support, with eight free counselling sessions available.
“Another scheme, ‘Able Futures’, provides support to those who live with mental health difficulties and offers a nine-month programme with a vocational coach.”
Has the Wellbeing Champion network been a success so far?
“We launched our network in August 2021 and it’s been a really successful 18 months. We didn’t know how many colleagues would feel comfortable reaching out to our Wellbeing Champions, but we’ve had lots of people take advantage of the confidential service which shows a great deal of trust and confidence. We’ve also had some excellent feedback from colleagues who’ve received support and wanted to share their experiences.
“Our Commercial Finance CEO Marc Goldberg and Personal Finance CEO Pete Ball are the Executive sponsors of our Wellbeing Champion Network. This means they come to some of our regular meetings to engage with the Champions to understand the types of conversations they are having (all anonymous of course) so we can celebrate these successes.
“We’re not stopping here though. We have regular meetups and the Champions have Paul Halliwell who leads the network and myself here to offer support and guidance. We’ve also got plans to invest in additional training and on board more Champions over the coming months.”
Why are you so passionate about supporting colleagues’ mental health?
“As a Senior People Adviser I regularly engage with lots of colleagues and I’ve had conversations with people who’ve told me they need some additional support with their mental health. I wanted to be able to do something about it.
“It’s very easy to just hand somebody a leaflet, but that didn’t feel authentic to the culture we have here at Together. Offering our people a trusted colleague to sit with and talk about how they’re feeling – someone who is impartial but a recognisable friendly face – is invaluable, and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved.”
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