We've known for a long time that the workplace can be a great place to foster social and emotional wellbeing.
Many New Zealand employers have seen the benefits of doing this – not just to their bottom line but, more importantly, to the wellbeing and retention of their staff.
Covid-19 has increased the call on employers to "be there" for their staff, but now there is a growing awareness of the vital role businesses can play in supporting the mental wellbeing of clients and their communities.
Every day we hear of more people struggling to navigate lockdown pressures, job losses or becoming isolated and disconnected.
Over the last few years, we've seen a wealth of great resources, tools and programmes being made available to help employers and their teams, such as those available from the Mental Health Foundation, wellbeing apps and workplace employee assistance programme
offerings. All of these are needed as we all respond differently to distress and anxiety.
At the forefront of new employer supports are those that proactively build on these existing resources and go deeper into the organisation to provide the infrastructure to support employers to act as the lynchpin in staff, client and community wellbeing.
A good example is the New Zealand-based customer care team at 2degrees who often
speak with customers who are struggling because of lockdown. The company has worked with Lifeline to support its Customer Care agents with the tools to pick up on cues that might suggest a customer needs help and if needed, refer them to call the helpline. Staff at 2degrees also know that if they start to feel overwhelmed themselves, or they manage a
difficult or distressing customer call, they can immediately reach out to Lifeline's Connect
service for a session with an experienced counsellor. In this way, 2degrees is able to play a purposeful role in strengthening the wellbeing of its Customer Care agents, customers, and community.
Another major New Zealand corporate has an internal network of externally trained champions set up to provide a listening ear, or to "notice, safely respond, and refer", to any of their colleagues who are experiencing their own distress, or who have had to manage emotionally challenging situations with customers. In an innovative new twist, these champions too now have immediate access to professional counselling support via teledebriefing or group supervision, meaning they do not "carry" the distress of others to their own homes and lives.
In other innovations, employers who have recognised that they can play a pivotal role beyond their organisational "gates", are "paying it forward" to provide much-needed resources and skills to small businesses and natural 'community connectors' in their wider networks.
In a trial initiative in Birkenhead, the "butcher, the baker, the barber and the barista" were all funded by one such innovative corporate organisation to attend skills training in how to "notice, respond and refer" every time they sense distress or anxiety in their customers.
They also received access to immediate debriefing if needed, and follow-up group sessions a few months later to talk about how they were using their new skills and what successes or challenges they had encountered.
If lockdown has taught us anything, it is that we are all reliant on one another – in business, for family support, and for emotional connection. Lifeline Connect, backed by more than 55 years of "people helping people" through Lifeline's essential 24/7 helpline services, has a vision to give the "team of 5 million" the skills and support to move towards, rather than away from, distress.
Doing this through the workplace, with employers who are seeing their role as an integral part of the social and emotional fabric of Aotearoa New Zealand, helps fund the core helpline services while driving social change.
This year's theme for Mental Health Awareness Week of "take time to chat/mā te kōrero, ka ora" is a great fit for these employers, whose work with Lifeline Connect is helping to improve the lives of New Zealanders beyond their immediate organisation, by building on the resounding evidence that "talking therapy" counts.
• Megan Barclay leads Lifeline Connect, the social enterprise of Lifeline, which provides employers, their staff, clients and communities with proactive tools and support to strengthen mental wellbeing.
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633 or text 234 (available 24/7)
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (12pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7)
• Anxiety helpline: 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY) (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.