An Interview with Janet Atkin

Janet Atkin, Assistant Director of HR services, was kind enough to share her perspective on Cambridgeshire County Council’s experience working with us over two and a half years, and through the Covid-19 Pandemic, in this interview…

Q1: What was the situation you were in before we worked together?

Describe the issue or problem you were seeking to resolve and what specifically motivated you to seek consultancy and training in Mental Health awareness and management?

We had increasingly become aware of a building picture across both councils that people were not coping with the demands of their roles in an ever changing and increasingly pressurised environment, and that people’s mental health was compromised.

This was evident in absenteeism records, and feedback from managers about their teams showed that it was being reflected in employee performance across the organisation.

Whilst we had some wellbeing initiatives in place, we had come to a realisation that overall, we were responding reactively to what was a growing issue, and in fact, we had come to a place where we felt we were firefighting, which was impacting us as a management team too.  In addition, there were a few people we were specifically concerned about, and felt that we didn’t have the knowledge, tools and/or confidence to support them adequately.

We knew that we needed to do something proactive, as a priority, to address the issue at the source, to take a more preventive approach and so we reached out for expert guidance and help.

Q2: What was your experience of us working together?

Describe how you have found working with us and how the work we’ve done has supported you with your agenda, and/or enabled you to achieve your intended outcomes.

One thing that made such a difference was the partnership approach.  It felt very collaborative, starting with the approach to work with the leadership team first, and to both receive the training ourselves and to work strategically on co-creating our shared vision.  Also, having both Tamsen and Gary make the time to work with us together – that felt really positive to have two senior leaders from your organisation invest your time in us.   Those early sessions really helped to establish credibility and to build trust in you as people and as an organisation.  Our senior management team really believed in you and in the content and process, and that really helped us to take the work forward.

Everyone who has had anything to do with Mental Health In The Workplace say the same thing: that you are a pleasure to work with, so open and approachable, flexible and responsive and clearly outcome driven.

The work rolling out the Managing Mental Health Training to our 300+ managers really helped us embed the message that mental health was important to us and a key part of our strategy going forward, and our managers feedback confirmed to us that we were on the right track.

And then you were so responsive when Covid happened, and it wasn’t possible to deliver training face to face.  You adapted the training content and delivery for us, so that you could continue to support our people throughout the pandemic, and then when we asked you to provide additional support for our managers, when they communicated that they were struggling to support their teams, you created a session especially for us, that addressed the specific issues they’d raised.  That meant that you needed to introduce some of your associates to us, and the consistent 5-star feedback didn’t drop off, which goes to show how knowledgeable and well trained your entire team is.

We felt that you were there to support us through that really challenging time, and that nothing was too much trouble.

Q3: What was the situation after we had worked together?

Describe how the issue has been eased, or resolved, and what improvements you have noticed since the work we’ve done.

It’s difficult to quantify the improvement, because of course, Covid presented a whole new set of circumstances and challenges, and we went into lockdown just as the training to the wider organisation began.  That has made it difficult to measure the impact in the changing circumstances.

What I can confidently say is that things would be a lot worse were it not for the consistent education and tools being available and that this work has helped limited the impact of the pandemic on our people.

There is a general sense of it being a really positive thing for the council to have invested in this training and support, especially at a time when budgets are really tight, that mental health was prioritised when it needed to be, and that people were given the knowledge, tools and confidence to cope with the ever changing circumstances and the need to adapt (many of our people had to be redeployed and some into more front-line roles than their contracted role).  For some, it was ‘the’ thing that made the difference.

Managers have said that they have been grateful for being able to signpost their teams to the training and that the Mental Health Conversations workshops have been invaluable in enabling them to support their team more proactively.

Q4: What would you say to a similar organisation considering working with us?

Knowing what you know, what would you say to the CEO of another council in the country experiencing similar challenges to those you were experiencing, about working with us?

I would say that it is genuinely one of the best investments we have ever made in our people.  The way the work has been approached, and the content and delivery itself, has led to people having more confidence that the organisation is taking the wellbeing of people seriously.

Sending the leadership team on it right from the start, paved the way for other things we wanted to implement later on, because the strategic vision work we did at the very start, meant that the entire senior management team were bought in.  We have since introduced a weekly wellbeing group specifically to focus on employee wellbeing, monthly wellbeing hours, and our leaders write blogs for our internal intranet about what they are doing themselves to support their own wellbeing to lead by example.

I’d also say that awareness of mental health and what we can do ourselves to minimise compromised mental health is more important now than ever before and particularly in public sector environments where the pressure to produce more with less is not going away.  Equally, the recovery from Covid will take many, many years.  It’s going to be a long process.  People are physically and emotionally tired and yet they need to be able to cope and deal with more significant problems than before.  We all need to be stronger and more resilient than before and so we need the knowledge and tools that Mental Health In The workplace provide, to get through it, but also to problem solve effectively, and to come out stronger.  All public services need this.

Mostly, I would say: if you want to know the impact that this work could have on your organisation, spend 10 minutes talking to me – and I’ll happily tell you why working with MHW will be one of the best investments you’ll make next year.

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