Katie Buckingham is a seasoned public speaker and innovator of bespoke mental health courses. Though she first experienced anxiety aged ten, the lack of awareness around mental health and wellbeing in schools and workplaces meant that she didn’t receive support until the age of 16. One year later, she began raising awareness of mental health and well-being by delivering workshops in schools, colleges, and youth groups.
Andy Taylor and Adam Barrie interviewed Katie for the 11th episode of the 0121 podcast. We want to tell the stories of Birmingham-based entrepreneurs and influencers who are doing their part to positively impact the West Midlands. In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, which took place from 10th-16th May, Katie seemed like the perfect guest to ignite a conversation about how to treat mental health in the workplace.
Katie’s passion for mental health and well-being led her to found Altruist Enterprises in August 2013: a nationwide workplace stress management and resilience training provider. They aim to increase knowledge, encourage conversations, and build confidence around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. Katie is also passionate about the development of emotionally intelligent managers: making sure that team leaders can support both themselves and their teams more effectively.
Read on to find out more about Altruist Enterprises, Katie’s ways to wellbeing, and how to support your team’s mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
Many people have found themselves turning to mental health professionals like Katie for support during the current global circumstances.
“People’s lives have been turned upside-down. We’re required to be more resilient during these times, but we may not be able to employ our usual coping mechanisms because of the restrictions.”
At the beginning of lockdown, Katie published several videos on social media around the ‘5 ways to wellbeing’: evidence-based, actionable tips for people looking to support their mental health.
“We are social beings; we have this innate need to build strong and healthy relationships. It’s difficult being at home; people have to adapt.”
Take a walk to replace your commute, find a local park, do yoga in your living room.
“This doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged on the floor for hours. You can take a one minute pause for mindfulness where you take one minute to engage each of the senses. My favourite kind is chocolate mindfulness, where you eat some chocolate and take a minute to appreciate the chocolate.”
“This doesn’t have to be like you’re at school; it could be learning anything. We moved into a new house in March of last year and it needs a lot of work, so we had to teach ourselves to wallpaper through many YouTube tutorials.”
“There’s been loads of examples of this one during the lockdown. It’s been proven that when we help others, we have a greater sense of wellbeing, ourselves.”
In the wake of the pandemic, more employers are recognising the need to seek support for mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. It can be difficult to know where to start, which is where Katie and Altruist step in:
“First and foremost, it’s important for employers to have a robust wellbeing strategy in place. You don’t want to only do those tick-box exercises. For example, having a little bit of training here and there, but people forget about it. Or, maybe having one of those phone lines that people can call, but they actually don’t know what the number is.”
Katie also stresses the importance of having a relevant document that is reviewed all the time. It should also be tailored to the company and incorporate the company culture.
“You don’t just want a document that’s sat on a dusty shelf. It has to be brought in by the employees and the leadership team as well.”
If you’re looking for a way to understand where your employees are and how they’re feeling in themselves, engagement surveys can be a really useful tool: particularly when thinking about adaptations to your company during and following the pandemic:
“There’s a lot out there around hybrid working now. Although people will come back into the office in some respects, for example maybe for one or two days a week, there will still be remote working. Employers should be gathering their workforce’s views on how they are going to find that.”
From that engagement survey, you can determine what the issues are and put steps in place to overcome them, for example, a counseling service that offers sessions for your staff.
Katie mentions that one of the more common issues that she encounters when communicating with businesses about their wellbeing strategy is around managing capabilities:
“We talk to a lot of businesses where people may be promoted to managers because they’re technically good at their job, but it doesn’t mean that they’re people people.”
Sometimes, inconsistent management can cause more stress than it solves. We need to make sure that managers have those tools to take care of their own wellbeing because they are human themselves.”
But developing emotionally intelligent managers begins with behaviour and culture. Katie says that leaders should be aware of their role-modeling behaviours:
“If we’re working when we’re not very well, what sort of message does that give to staff? Does that make them feel, even subconsciously, that they also need to work when they’re unwell? If you send an email at 10 or 11 o’clock at night, does that make the recipient feel as though they should be working around the clock, as well?
It’s about sending those messages from the top, because people do take that on board. People tend to behave like the people they’re around. It’s about making sure that if you feel unwell, you get support; leave early, if you need to.
You need to put your health and wellbeing first, and hopefully, other people will follow.”