Mental Health Awareness Week: A year-round effort

When I founded Synergy Vision in 2007, one of the key drivers was creating a strong culture, based in openness, trust, respect and communication. These factors didn’t come out of a buzzy business book; rather, they grew out of my own struggles with mental health while ‘on the fast track’ in the pharma world. I didn’t want to chase mental health fixes – I wanted to start from a place of supporting good mental health on a continuous basis.

During this #mentalhealthawarenessweek, I’ve been reflecting on what that means, and what Synergy Vision has achieved as a company for mental health. Our team-focused ethos invests in the people – through training, targeted recruitment and the workplace environment – and seeks to innovate while promoting a positive work/life balance for staff.

Innovating for engaged, happy staff

Over the past year alone, we’ve made huge strides in helping happy staff achieve personal and professional satisfaction. As ever, we let our principles be our guide to maximizing staff engagement.

Fresh. We launched a first-in-sector 4-day workweek without reducing pay – or negatively affecting productivity. Happiness scores of ≥7: 94% of staff, up from 66% before the initiative

Smart. We developed two kinds of industry-specific internal education: a Graduate Development Programme, to give new talent a jumpstart on their careers, and a Senior Development Programme, to boost mid-level managers to the next level of leadership.

Open. We achieved Excellence in Wellbeing – awarded by the globally recognized Great Place to Work® Institute – for what we provide to staff in terms of work environment, financial security, mental and physical health, interpersonal relationships, work-life balance and fulfilment.

Real. Speaking of: SV was ranked the 2nd Best Workplace (Small Business) in the UK for its people-focused efforts in 2018 by the Great Place to Work® Institute. That’s the highest ranking of any medical communications agency in the UK.

Tackling the stigma and taboo

When I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I hid my struggles from my employer, colleagues and even my manager – a lovely man who showed respect and empathy for all his staff (and who has remained a friend to this day). However, I worried I would be stuck with the stigma of having mental health issues. I worried they’d hinder my career. That people would feel awkward around me, or watch me expecting a breakdown. That if I told them I needed propranolol before I could get on a flight, I’d lose out on international projects.

We know the stigma exists. That’s why Synergy Vision actively makes an effort to break the taboo and create an environment where our people feel supported to succeed. On an ongoing basis, we aim to support our staff with:

• An employee assistance programme

• Open talking

• A weekly ‘temperature check’ (score from 1 to 10) to see how people are doing

• A no-blame culture

• Encouragement of clear, open, honest communication

• A pleasant working environment with a relaxing dedicated area to take lunch

• Optional team-building events – these are important to some people but not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, so social activities are held but not enforced.

Success should not be hindered by mental health issues. I continued in my career in pharma for a period and was promoted to a very senior level before leaving to set up Synergy Vision. By being open and getting treatment as needed, I’ve found a way to manage my mental health. Even though there are ups and downs, it’s not been a roadblock for my working life – nor should it be. For anyone.

Doing right by the individual

There is more we can do and always will be but, for me as an employer, the key thing is to ensure we have an open-minded, non-judgemental and supportive culture – and to listen to what people need in all aspects of wellbeing. It’s important to help them do what’s right for them. We’ve made a variety of efforts so that every individual has options, feels fully supported, and is empowered to walk the path that ensures their optimal mental health.

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