Evolving the Conversation on Mental Health and Workplace Flexibility
Written by Linda Luty
Head of People & Culture
“In HR, regardless of what level you are, you really have a chance and an opportunity to impact the way that people operate in the business with the initiatives you drive and the way that you can support the organisation,” says Tim Guille, head of people and culture at Betfair, an Australian online wagering and gambling platform.
For many reasons, Betfair is poised for success in remote work and weathering the global pandemic. Their business model is virtual, there is little business need for onsite work, and business has consistently grown. But looking at just revenue results is not enough to determine the health of the organisation. Last year, Befair made the decision to support their workforce’s mental health in a unique way, which in turn is keeping their people engaged and supported throughout a tumultuous time.
Recognizing a need
Guille and his team quickly realised that supporting the mental health of their workforce needed to be prioritized and took action. The average employee age at Betfair is just over 30; after their leaders connected with teams across the company, they realized many of their employees in this age range had not yet built the social support structure needed to maintain connection throughout the lockdowns.
“A lot of those people didn't necessarily live with people they could connect to outside of work. And it’s all good to send a box of goodies to say ‘we’re here for you,' but we decided to reach out to them and make sure they are truly ok,” says Guille.
We asked, ‘What's the value we can bring in supporting the team with professional support services outside of the employee assistance program?’ We wanted to make a bigger impact than a care package.”
“So we went to a provider and contracted clinical psychologists to ring every single one of our employees and actually have a private conversation for 15 minutes to ask, ‘How are you going to need support?’ We had at least ten percent of people that were contacted who had follow-up services from those calls.”
This outreach had measurable impacts on workforce well-being. “There were some people who really required support. And I'm not sure they would have reached out to get that support if we hadn’t given them a confidential service to connect with,” says Guille. What’s more, the ten percent adoption rate of services is well beyond normal usage of an employee assistance program.
Engaging with professional services to reach out to the team also alleviated some of the pressure on their people leaders, who are not necessarily equipped to handle sensitive conversations about mental health. Additionally, having a neutral third party liaise with the team made those conversations more comfortable, knowing the discussion would be confidential.
“It was great for our team because the trained professionals knew how to talk to people in a private setting. Doing this was very well worth the expense, because it had so much value for our team. It was a really great outcome,” says Guille.
Mental health and well-being have emerged as top priorities in the wake of the pandemic, but many organisations and leaders may still struggle with how to have those conversations or recognise the signs of a struggle. And it is safe to assume that most of the workforce would benefit from professional resources.
“As much as we can, let's give our people resources to help with their mental health and their mental-health challenges. Sometimes simply sharing those resources is not going to be enough, though. Some people might not feel comfortable talking to a work colleague about how they're feeling or know where to start to get help,” notes Guille.
Defining the future of work
Going forward, where work is done will change for most companies. “The way we work has definitely changed, and they'll never be the same. In Australia, I don't think it was ‘taboo’ to work from home, though it was not really a normal thing, and it has become normal now. People will likely work from home one-to-three days a week. And with the younger workforce, they're going to lose the connection in the workplace,” he says.
We're going to need to work really hard on making sure initiatives are in place to keep people connected. That's the challenge a lot of people face in this new environment of working: how are we going to maintain that social connection?”
Betfair also adjusted their remote work policy based on employee feedback -- a move supported from the top to address workforce needs around productivity and work-life balance.
“We asked some specific questions about the new way of working. One of the questions we asked, which was terrific in a few ways, was, ‘How many days do you want to work in the office?’ And we got an average of just under two across that group that answered the question,” Guille says.
They also asked if people were happy with how work is being done. When answering the question “Are you happy with the hybrid and remote work guidelines?” more than 97% of employees answered favorably.
It was really evident that everybody loves this. And now I'm finding as it's becoming the norm, it's a pretty good talent-attraction tool as well.”
Support from the top came easily, and as a result, employees feel supported and trusted to work how and when they need to without a strict policy in place to dictate their schedules. “People are going into the office once or twice a week, which is still great because the connection element is maintained. And we've got tools in place to keep everyone's performance on track and help them achieve their goals,” he says. But all of this is done under the premise of trust of the team and being light on policy.
Evolving conversations on mental health and the future of work
Prior to the pandemic, many organisations were closely tied to having an “office culture,” believing that the only way collaboration and connection can happen is through a Monday-through-Friday office presence. And for many, mental health was considered a sensitive topic, not suitable for the workplace. The paradigm shift to flexibility, trust and candid conversations has been rapidly adopted out of necessity and is here to stay.
Guille and the leadership team at Betfair made a commitment early on to meet the team where they are and support their well-being without worrying about the “red tape.”
The idea to engage with professional psychologists “evolved on a Monday, and by Friday, we were signing the agreement with the company. We created an agile environment where we focused on doing things to get the best resources to our teams. This was a great example of being able to turn things around quickly,” says Guille. “I'm a big fan of simplicity and not over engineering things, and I think I learned over the last 12 months that simplicity was really important.”
Supporting the mental health of the workforce shows a commitment to the person, not just the “employee.” While employee-assistance resources are available for most companies, the adoption is typically very low. While that has ticked up in recent times, many people do not ask for help, even when they need it. Opening up the conversation and providing a safe space for communication sets an important tone – that mental health is something that must be prioritised.
“Everybody should be involved in mental health in the organisation. Making sure it's an organisational approach to mental health and well-being, rather than just the HR team, is important.”
Special thanks to Tim Guille and Betfair.
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