Bridge the Gap, Start a Chat

A new campaign created by employers for employers to boost mental health and productivity by encouraging open conversations in workplaces in the West Midlands has been officially launched.

“Bridge the Gap, Start a Chat” has been launched by the Mental Health and Productivity Pilot (MHPP) to give businesses and organisations of all sizes and sectors the help they need to encourage staff and bosses alike to open up about their mental health.

The campaign was created by MHPP with input from a group of ten Midlands employers from a variety of sectors and geographies, as well as employees with lived experience of mental health problems.

It’s one of a number of ways that MHPP, a collaboration of Midlands universities, local authorities and mental health charity Mind, is supporting employers to understand the important link between staff mental health and wellbeing, and business productivity. 

Research has shown that mental health is one of the biggest causes of sickness absences in Midlands businesses – and the impact of COVID-19 has recently become another key factor in poor mental health at work.

As well as tips and advice on starting conversations, for line managers and employees, employers can access a free ‘resource pack’ on the MHPP website, which gives resources and guidance to help them roll out a campaign to encourage conversations about mental health in their own organisation.

The pack includes campaign planning guidance, downloadable resources to support both employees and line managers to start conversations and awareness-raising promotional materials such as posters, social media assets, video call backgrounds and email signature banners – all of which employers can use to suit the needs of the business.

Jason Berry and Tara Sankar, of Crystal Specialist Finance based in Tamworth, have been involved in the creation of the campaign and feel it is a great way for businesses to take the first step into making a huge difference to staff mental health and productivity.

Jason, Group Sales and Marketing Director at Crystal Specialist Finance, said:

We began to focus on mental health within the business around 12 months ago and it’s a subject we are extremely passionate about.

We absolutely want to ensure that our colleagues’ wellbeing is the very best it can be, and since implementing a mental health strategy we have certainly seen huge benefits amongst our staff. They are now even more engaged and recent feedback suggested that they feel an even bigger part of the business.

Tara, Executive Assistant at the firm, added:

Sharing best practice is very important to us, and working with MHPP has given us the opportunity to use our experiences to help shape Bridge the Gap, Start a Chat which can benefit both businesses and employees right across the region.

The campaign can be tailored to the individual needs of each business and features a range of easy-to-use tools which are not only tried and tested by employers, but can be implemented with very little resource so are suitable for businesses of all sizes across all industries.

Mental health is a topic which should be at the top of every business agenda, particularly in the current climate, and we hope the campaign will encourage more open and honest conversations about it in the workplace.

And Sinziana Irimia, who was diagnosed with postpartum depression while working for her current employer, thought Bridge the Gap, Start a Chat was key to supporting employees to feel comfortable with talking about their mental health at work. She said:

No one should feel they have to hide mental health conditions at work. For so many years it has been seen as a weakness, but that’s far from the truth.

I got involved with this campaign because I wanted to help change the mindset of workplaces when it comes to mental health. The pressure I felt around not delivering in my job because of my mental health condition was huge.

On more vulnerable days, my anxiety kicked in and I feared that I might become jobless. But in reality, I love my job and I am good at it. People with mental health problems can and do fulfil our jobs to a high standard every day.

It is essential to be able to talk openly with your colleagues about mental health. Just knowing that someone else has been in your shoes and they are still standing and can get on with their lives – that’s important.

This campaign will get employees feeling more confident to open up to talking about mental health in the workplace, which will make a massive difference to people’s wellbeing with a direct impact on their performance at work.

MHPP is funded by Midlands Engine and is led by Coventry University in partnership with the University of Warwick, the West Midlands Combined Authority, mental health charity Mind and the universities of Birmingham, Derby, Lincoln, Loughborough and Nottingham.

Prior to the campaign launch MHPP has been helping employers across the Midlands to take steps to support and improve the mental health of their workforce, and ultimately increase productivity.

Caroline Geraghty, MHPP Project Manager at Coventry University, said:

Bridge the Gap, Start a Chat is all about giving employers and employees the support and confidence to start conversations at work about mental health.  In the same way that we all have physical health, everyone has mental health too, so it’s important that people feel able to talk about mental health wherever they work.

We know from talking to Midlands employers, that often people find it hard to talk about mental health at work.  Through ‘Bridge the Gap, Start a Chat’ we want to show employers and employees that it doesn’t need to be difficult and starting a conversation is a great place to begin.

There’s some really good advice on the website, and we’ve made it easy for employers run their own campaign by providing guidance and resources that can be downloaded and shared with staff.

Ultimately, talking about mental health is the first step that employers can take to supporting staff.  MHPP also offers a range of other free support, to help organisations implement a structured approach to improving workplace mental health – and it doesn’t cost anything as our work is funded by Midlands Engine.

We would encourage all employers to head to the MHPP website and have a look at the employers resource pack – there’s plenty in there to get started on making a big difference.

If enough employers get on board, it will make an enormous difference to the health and wellbeing of workers across the Midlands.