"The strategy of getting out for 20 minutes, twice a day, does help sustainability because if we become unwell, our work won't get done..."
About the initiatives
Craze Lateral Solutions (CLS) is a small mental health and social policy consulting company comprising three core staff. It has been operating since 1990. The company works with a number of subcontractors who provide support on a project basis. Staff work in a home-office environment.
As a very small company, resources for internal mental health initiatives are limited. CLS's primary focus for improving employees' mental health is through its local Bushcare Group. The office is located near a golf course with a large amount of native vegetation that the golf course can't afford to maintain, and the Bushcare Group helps out by weeding, planting, mulching and watering. When an employee’s stress levels rise, they take a break to work in the Bushcare sites and return to their work refreshed.
At CLS, staff actively keep in touch via email or verbally with a simple ‘are you OK?’ question and respond by looking for a solution when stress levels are elevated (such as sharing the workload). This support helps staff to stay mentally healthy. For CLS, the end of the financial year is a peak period for the business, making it a stressful period for staff, so they recognise this and look for ways of reducing the workload and stress at this time of the year.
In addition to the Bushcare Group, CLS recently implemented a Friday happy hour gathering with nearby friends and colleagues who also work from home offices and encourage staff to take a morning tea break each day.
How the initiatives came about
As CLS is a small company with limited resources, staff face increased demands during busy periods and do not get a chance to take breaks. The directors realised this was placing stress on them and acknowledged the need to focus on their mental health.
Benefits and outcomes
Benefits and outcomes include:
- after working in the Bushcare sites, employees feel refreshed and difficult problems seem easier to solve
- staff members are more aware of their stress levels and how to cope
- gardening provides opportunities for social interaction with other local home workers.
Recommendations, considerations and lessons learned
Challenge: Remote working can make it difficult to recognise the amount of stress and employee may be under.
- Stay in touch to be aware of workers' stress levels
- Keep an eye out for each other
- Activities that give staff an opportunity to meet and work with other team members can provide the social interaction often lacking in small business/office environments.
Challenge: Getting employees on board
- Get employees involved in developing a strategy for mental health
- If employees feel involved, they are more likely to engage in the strategies
Challenge: Plan for peak periods
- Recognise regular peak periods and plan and negotiate project deliverables in advance
Challenge: Looking for sustainable activities
- Activities that are too time-bound can be difficult to maintain. Simple and easy-to-manage activities, such as gardening, can be undertaken by staff at a time that suits their schedule
- Activities such as participation in the Bushcare group (gardening) and happy hour do not require significant travel and are highly accessible for staff
- Simple reminders such as encouraging staff to change their sitting position or going to a different place can give new perspective on work and problems
- Make an initiative easy to do to reduce barriers to participation so that the activities can be maintained.