Astra Security, a national organisation based in the South West with expertise in CCTV and integrated security systems, has always been proactive when it comes to supporting the health and wellbeing of its employees. Policies and initiatives that included flexible working, community volunteering days, lunchtime running clubs and other team activities were the norm before the organisation had even heard of Time to Change. But in March 2020, with a global pandemic underway and the issue of mental health becoming ever more present in the news, Astra decided to take that extra step and make a public commitment to starting a conversation around mental health in the workplace.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, “…it’s been more important to have something in place because we all know that remote working can have such a big impact on mental health.”
As soon as the Employer Pledge had been signed by Astra’s senior leadership team, four members of staff volunteered to become Time to Change Champions, and their training began in earnest. Quarterly working sessions were introduced, during which the Champions would get together to discuss any issues around mental health and wellbeing that might have come up in their teams, and to share ideas for new activities and initiatives. In support of the Champions’ work, Astra’s Marketing Communications Manager wrote a series of articles that were published on the organisation’s intranet, updating employees on what their Champions had been up to as well as highlighting general news stories from the world of mental health awareness.
From the beginning of Astra’s journey with Time to Change, there has been a real focus on supporting the national campaign at a local level. The organisation has regularly taken to social media to support wider campaign activity, and has made excellent use of a whole host of Time to Change digital resources in both internal and external communications – from email signatures and logos to digital graphics. In this way, Astra aims to consistently increase the visibility of messaging around mental health in the workplace, both within its own organisation and in the wider local community.
“…you’re part of a team, but you feel a little bit cut off…”
Unsurprisingly, Astra credits the Covid-19 pandemic with prompting its signing of the Time to Change Employer Pledge. The necessary introduction of remote working was the organisation’s most pressing challenge: although swift action was taken in advance of the first lockdown to ensure that all employees were equipped to work from home, Astra recognised that everyone’s home environment is different – that not everybody has an office, that some people would be caring for young children during the day, that feelings of isolation were inevitable. To counter this, regular catch-up calls were scheduled with all employees, ensuring that nobody felt left behind.
Unfortunately, the national lockdown meant that some of the events that Astra had planned around mental health awareness could not go ahead – for instance, a two-hour company-wide workshop led by a mental health professional, which had been planned for May 2020. However, in its place, Astra commissioned a 15-minute video to be shared among all employees, which focused on why humanising mental health problems is important, provided tips for remaining balanced during Covid-19 and supporting initial conversations with someone in distress, and laid out self-help techniques for those affected by stress and anxiety.
Despite not being able to get everyone together in a single room to chat over a cup of coffee, Astra has worked hard to promote conversations around mental health remotely among its employees, and has repeatedly pushed the messages of the Time to Change Campaign. As Astra’s Marketing Communications Manager puts it, “it’s about making sure there’s a regular drumbeat."
In the near future, there are plans for Astra’s Time to Change Champions to complete their training, and for the mental health awareness workshop to be rescheduled. The quarterly Champions forums are ongoing, and the organisation will continue to spread the messages of Time to Change at a local level through its social media channels and internal staff communications. Astra’s Marketing Communications Manager pledges that, “we’re in this for the long term … it has to be an ongoing conversation.”