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Positive mental health looks and feels different for everyone, but one thing is certain: employers have a role to play in supporting colleagues' wellbeing.

14th May 2024
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For Michelle Giles, Organisational Development Manager at Solent University, Southampton, it's about offering a diversity of initiatives and empowering colleagues to take control of their wellbeing, to ensure staff feel their best.

Here, Michelle discusses how Solent is prioritising the wellbeing of its staff.

We've all been there. We're working on a tricky document, wrestling with the best way to get a message across, or just can't find the right words. The challenges we face in the workplace won't necessarily disappear, but we can change our response to them if we feel empowered to do so.

For me, I've learned not to sit and stew in front of a blank page on a hostile screen. Instead, I get myself up and change my environment, look out of a window and take a breath. On campus these days, that means watching people play tennis at the nearby courts or watering my fledgling tomato seedlings when I work from home. And a top tip? Always take a notebook or phone with you; the answers will often come when you take yourself into a different space.

To ensure everyone feels able to take that kind of time for themselves, organisations must foster a culture that promotes mental health first. At Solent, with more than 1,000 colleagues, we know there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. So, we've established an arsenal of approaches to ensure colleagues are supported at work, and I'm proud that we offer a broad range of support that not only promotes positive wellbeing but provides opportunities for new connections.

From formal support with our Employee Assistance Programme and regular check-ins with managers, to informal seretonin-boosting pursuits such as choir and book club, there are a range of activities happening on campus that we have introduced to underpin good mental health for colleagues.

I am delighted that the theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is Moments for Movement. As an organisation already promoting gentle exercise during the working day as a way to enhance personal wellbeing, we know that movement matters.

To encourage more movement among our community, we offer discounted rates at our on-campus gym, standing desks in our offices to avoid sitting still for long periods of time, and walk and talk meetings that often lead to a boost in productivity as well as mood. By creating a workplace that promotes approaches like these, colleagues feel better able to do things in a way that suits them; to take that walk, close their screens, and embrace their own wellbeing.

Wellbeing is such a broad term, and it's so important for us as organisations to understand that. At Solent, we know that it extends beyond the mental and emotional to the physical, social and financial. With this knowledge, we've been able to curate an offer of support that really meets the varied needs of our colleagues. Our Affinity Groups place a key role in this, championing staff voices to effect positive change while providing a foundation for connection between colleagues.

In my experience, wellbeing support for staff needs to be an ever-evolving mission. It needs to develop as the needs of our communities do. We live in a fast-moving, complex world, but if we work together, and remain open to listening, learning and actioning new ways to underpin good mental health, our workforces will thrive.

On Wednesday 15 May, Solent Mind is hosting a virtual fireside chat, where Michelle will be discussing mental health in the workplace. Book a free spot for the event here.