Mental Health at For The People

Part 2: Understanding The People

Olivia King
Oct 10, 2017 · 5 min read

Today is World Mental Health Day. So it seems appropriate to start publishing some of the work we’ve been doing in shaping how For The People, as well as the wider industry, can start to change how we treat mental health in a creative workplace. (If you haven’t already read Bec’s Part 1 piece I’d recommend starting there.)

I say creative workplace because like in any workplace, ours has some unique aspects which can affect individuals in equally unique ways (which we’ll get into later) We’re on a mission to create a more transparent and open attitude to mental health. Our goal is not not only set a standard ourselves but for our peers as well. This is an industry wide movement. But we need to start with us.

What I want to share here is the results of some of the questions we’ve been asking ourselves this past month. Two weeks ago we put together an anonymous survey to understand how our fellow FTP’ers view mental health.

First up, here’s some of the stats:

In general, how well do feel that you understand the concepts and issues relating to mental health?

Do you feel that work has ever had a negative impact on your mental health?

How much do you feel each of these factors impacts on your own mental health?

Which of the following factors relating to work have ever impacted negatively on your mental health?

How comfortable would you feel taking time off for your mental health

We also asked for the team to contribute their own individual answers to some specific question, most of which had some very personal and important responses.

Just under half the business said they wouldn’t feel comfortable taking time off for mental health, and were prompted with a follow up question as to why they feel this way. One respondent said:

Paranoid that it would sound a bit like you’re taking advantage. Maybe there’s a risk of showing you can’t take pressure and we need to be able to do that.

Another said:

I wouldn’t request it ‘for’ mental health. I’d request unpaid leave, vacation, or look at reducing my hours (3 or 4 day work week), or start interviewing elsewhere. I think if a work situation is impacting my mental health that much I need to leave that workplace. I’ve done it in the past & it’s made a huge positive difference.

What we took away is that there is a precedent in many workplaces (maybe even our own) to label performance expectations that impact our mental health as something that is simply ‘part of the job’. Importantly too, we’re now conscious as employees of the impact this is having. We should be considering how our work creates an environment where we can not only work well, but feel comfortable staying in.

We also asked if there was anything they’d like to raise as part of FTP’s Mental Health Policy, and had a lot of responses around similar themes including:

  • Removing the stigma attached to mental health. Normalising it in the same way we would talk about our physical health
  • Championing a support culture over a performance culture. Acknowledging when people need time away from work
  • Maintaining an open environment where we can discuss issues and check in with how people are feeling on a regular basis
  • Providing training on how we understand mental health and how we can incorporate positive behaviours in our day to day work (eg. better ways to give feedback, more positive group discussions)

Lastly we turned our focus outwards, and asked if anyone had thoughts on mental health in the wider creative industry. These were easily the longest answers. Many called for more openness and acknowledgment that our industry has a higher toll on individuals due to ‘constant self-awareness, introspection, and self-evaluation’. One respondent summed it up well:

We’re in an industry where there’s a lot of competition and a lot of pressure to perform against peers. How well we’re performing is often based on subjective rather than technical measurable ideas. e.g. “That’s a good idea” vs “That’s not a good idea.” We’re validated by external measures e.g. awards, feedback from creative directors and clients — this can be difficult to deal with as the emotional experience you have at work is out of your control a lot of the time. Agency culture and environments — expectation to put in long hours, go and party, be on all the time — can exacerbate all these more intrinsic factors.

Since reading these results, we’ve been working hard on our For The People Mental Health Policy. It’s got a way to go but we’re excited to share some of the ideas we’ve had for our own workplace, but also the creative community as a whole. Stay tuned for Andy’s Part 3.

We’d also love to hear your feedback. Has this prompted any thoughts or ideas? Does you company have a stand-out stance on mental health? Have you seen anyone else doing great work in this space?

Do you want to join us in improving the industry? Give us a ping / @ForThePeopleAu

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