Can we talk about mental health?

It’s time to get real about mental health at work

Talking about mental health is difficult at the best of times. Bringing that conversation to the workplace can make things even trickier. And although many organisations are starting to accept and normalize discussions around mental wellbeing, making it an essential part of employee welfare, nobody has it 100% figured out. And that’s because, well, there’s a lot to figure out.

What if my colleagues think I’m weak? What if my manager thinks I’m not up to the job? Will people understand? I don’t even always understand why I'm feeling this way. I wish it was as simple as saying you broke your leg...

It’s not uncommon for mental health issues to be accompanied by shame, guilt and anxiety. Coming to terms with whatever is challenging us is a difficult task, one that often feels endless. Humans have the tendency to rationalize feelings, and if we don’t understand them or where they’re coming from, we think they don’t deserve to be there. It’s as if we need permission, from ourselves, to feel the way we do. 

And those feelings only get more intense when we think about opening up in the workplace. So how do you address your mental wellbeing without feeling like your job is at risk? 

To answer that question, WeTransfer established a Mental Health & Wellbeing team in early 2020. Together we work on internal programs that promote conversations about mental health–whether that’s with your loved ones, your colleagues, a therapist, your manager or HR.

“As an HR professional I have seen that there has been an increase of awareness in the workplace on mental health over the past decade, resulting in more preventive measures and a wider availability of resources to employees. At the same time we have also seen that there is a larger and more diverse group of employees being affected by mental health issues today than before. Maybe this was because many people were not comfortable showing their struggles at work.

As mental health in the workplace is now rightfully receiving more attention, it’s now also possible to approach it in a more holistic way.”

— Gwen Burbridge, Head of HR.

Getting to know the lay of the land

To get a better understanding of how our colleagues are feeling (like really feeling), we kicked things off with an internal survey. Turns out more than half of WeTransfer employees think about their mental health on a daily basis, and those thoughts range from pretty good to not-so-great. Around 50% of people consider their mental health to be average or slightly above average while 23% describe it as poor or somewhat poor. Less than a fifth of employees (17%) rate their mental state as very healthy.

We also asked people about the things they do to boost and maintain their mental wellbeing. Connecting with loved ones, meditation, yoga and exercise came out on top, followed by therapy, maintaining a positive mindset and having a laugh. 

And when it comes to the things they can do at work, people praised WeTransfer’s open culture, flexible working, and employee perks such as internal workshops around mental health and a generous wellbeing budget. But even with these measures in place, 66% of employees experience workplace stress, and 55% have felt anxiety during their time at WeTransfer. Sadly only 10% reported no experience with mental distress. 

Mental Health Awareness Week

That's why we decided to ramp things up and launch a new internal initiative to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week. Over the course of the week we invited all employees to join us for a range of activities, from daily mindfulness tips, meditation sessions and stretches, to encouraging everyone to remove Slack and work emails from their phone. We also invited Sue der Kinderen to come in and speak about psychological capital, and had an impressive talk on transcended meditation from Nigel Lawson of the David Lynch foundation. 

During the week I led two Brain Break sessions addressing the stigma that so often comes with mental health. And although talking about talking about mental health may sound as awful as a meeting about a meeting, I promise it was a real eye-opener for everyone involved. 

After laying down some soft rules and setting our own personal intentions, I asked the group what they found challenging when talking about mental health. What followed felt magical.

We spent over an hour sharing personal experiences, anecdotes, insecurities and fears – from needing to take off mental health days, to anxiety around leaving the office to make time for therapy. 

With WeTransfer’s Mental Health & Wellbeing team, it’s our goal to equip our colleagues with the tools and vocabulary they need to talk about difficult topics, leaving any stigma at the office door. Creating this space to have a peer-to-peer conversation was exactly what we needed. It made us realize that we're not alone, and we’re certainly not the only one. I found that together we can remove the stigma around mental health and the invisibility cloak it hides under, if we just dare to share.