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May’s Agenda question

This month we asked ‘How can we as an industry improve mental well-being in the workplace?’. We asked what companies are doing to improve employee’s mental health, how self-employed people can deal with additional stress and how landscaping can improve well-being on a larger scale.

Paul Lynch, Managing director,Elmtree Garden Contractors Ltd

Communication is the key. The recent awareness of mental health has definitely helped, but if the management team and supervisors open up about their own feelings and issues, it reduces the stigma and encourages others to do the same. If you bottle feelings up, it can make the issue that much worse. Staff should know that it is not a sign of weakness to talk about feelings or ask for help.

We encourage an open-door policy at Elmtree so staff can talk to each other and to us. Mental Health First Aid training is very helpful. We have two trained MH First Aiders who have been on a full two-day course, but even the half day course is great as it raises awareness and gets people talking to each other. One of our managers, who is trained as a MH First Aider, was able to use it to help one of his operatives who was suffering with depression. This included talking to his family directly, giving him time off, being patient and flexible with his start times and paying for counselling therapy. He is now back to work full-time and functioning well again as a valuable team member.

We can also introduce talking about well-being in staff reviews as well as performance. Change the language you use in the culture. Instead of ‘crazy’ or ‘psycho’, you should use non-stigmatising terms like poorly, mental illness, health and stress.

Jo Manfredi-Hamer, Garden designer, Jo Manfredi-Hamer Garden Design

As a self-employed garden designer, I understand the mental strains of running my own business. Self-employed people frequently undertake many different roles and many of us are very self-critical – leading to a perfect mental health storm.

The good news is that there is a lot we can do to help ourselves. Exercise is medically proven to be beneficial. Meeting up with other designers, through the SGD or otherwise, is a great way to combat isolation. We can also think, at the end of each day, about three good things we have achieved – great for boosting morale. It may help to set healthy boundaries on work hours too.

There is no single solution to fit all, but communication is key. The industry needs to help to make everyone aware of the actions we can take, whether through providing guidance on websites or through training on mental health.

For those of us who employ others, we can:
• send a clear message that employee wellbeing matters
• promote work/life balance through sensible hours and flexible working
• encourage exercise at lunchtimes
• table regular one-to-ones
• have a policy for mental health wellbeing so employees know it is taken seriously
• make sure HR policies reflect the policy on mental health
• signpost other resources such as IAPT (improving access to psychological therapies) services or Mind.

Steve Smith, Steven Blair and Lee Woodgate, Hosts of MENTalk podcast

It would be great if organisations took a small amount of their profit and used it to set up a call or text line where members could speak with someone or have access to a therapist or group therapy sessions.

There are a lot of charities out there doing amazing work, but if we were told to go to a group therapy session in the past, as bad as the stereotype is, I’d think any of us would be one of the only male trade professionals in the room.

So, to have something really recognisable which is specifically for tradesmen and people in this industry, something which everyone knew about, would be so beneficial.

A lot of people who approach us just don’t know where to go or who to talk to. If there was an opportunity to go to a group session with others in the industry, then you’d know there would be people there exactly like you who you can relate to.

The MENTalk podcast is a conversation starter and we’re really pleased that we’ve already had people reaching out to us. It just shows that when offered the opportunity to talk to like-minded others, guys who are just like them, people are willing to open up and make that first step to getting help.

Damien Newman, Training, education & consultancy manager, Thrive

Thrive views gardens and gardening as great vehicles to good health, but do recognise that there is a big difference between social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) and working within the horticulture industry.

Many people who come into STH come from a background of working in more traditional landscaping industries. They also have often recognised how the working environment can go against the grain and overturn the evidenced benefits of time in nature and green space. It is often the pressurised nature of work and isolation within these industries that can lead to mental stress and burnout alongside the traditional physical health risks.

Everyone can benefit from taking note of the ‘five ways to wellbeing’, a practical guide to maintaining good mental health that stems from an analysis of wellbeing literature from the New Economics Forum. The five actions are to: connect, be active, take notice, learn and give.

This means that in our lives we should make room to connect with family, friends and across our community. It also suggests we take time to appreciate beauty and savour the moment where we can, and to make an effort to learn from our experiences. A simple activity that can have a significant impact is rediscovering old interests or just trying something new. Also, it is important to give/do something for a friend or stranger, whilst recognising the contributions you already make.

Next month’s agenda question is ‘How can landscaping help to prevent crime?’ If you’d like to answer it email [email protected]

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