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Agency Life

Village Mentality

Village Mentality

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

April 18, 2018

A new program at Havas UK allows teammates to provide each other support and encourage mental health.

Nicola Forristal, Group Chief People Officer of Havas UK

For many, mental health can be a sensitive topic. But psychological, emotional, and social well-being are essential to good health. Oftentimes, however, the social stigma that comes with mental health issues can discourage people from seeking the help that they need. The team at Havas UK is investing its time and energy into making sure that everyone at their agency has access to resources that support strong mental health.

“We reached out to our people and asked for them to talk to us about areas of diversity and inclusion that are important to them,” explains Nicola Forristal, Havas UK’s Group Chief People Officer, about the program’s inception. “Having a safe place to go—that wasn’t accessing the more formal channels of speaking to management or the folks on the People and Talent teams—was important to a lot of people. So from that came this new mental health ambassadors initiative, Village Mentality.”

Sihle Khuzwayo, a junior producer at Havas London, heads up Village Mentality, which raises awareness about mental health, reduces the negative stigma, and allows co-workers to help each other. She talks about some overarching goals for the program.

"Good mental health helps you function in your personal and professional life."

Why might some people pay less attention to their mental health?

I believe some people pay less attention to their mental health because we, generally, are not taught or encouraged to consider mental health as important. For a long time, stigma and shame have been attached to people struggling with mental health issues. So people suffer in silence, or they are generally unaware of their mental state.

How does mental health affect our personal and professional lives?

Good mental health helps you function in your personal and professional life. This can be demonstrated by being able to express and manage a range of positive and negative situations and emotions, as well as maintain relationships with others.

Poor mental health usually has the opposite side effects, which can often lead you to disconnect from everyday life and people—and you lack the ability to cope with your normal responsibilities and situations.

Through this program, we encourage teammates to be open about how they feel and to share what they may be going through, and when necessary, the ambassador’s role is to also help colleagues seek early intervention through our employee assistance program.

What prompted the launch of the Health Ambassador Program at Havas UK?

Nicola Forristal and I had been in conversation about the diversity and inclusion initiative in 2017. Launching this program came as a natural extension to promoting an inclusive, open, and supportive culture. The program has helped people feel that they are in a safe, supportive, and non-judgemental workplace.

We work in an industry that often needs us to work under a lot of pressure, which can cause stress—and stress can act as a trigger or aggravate a condition you may be unaware of. I have been fortunate enough to grow up with parents that talked openly about mental health and always encouraged me to practice mindfulness and to support my peers. So, having the opportunity to do so at work is an added bonus to me.

What was the initial reaction to the program’s launch?

Since we launched the program in October 2017 we have had such positive feedback. The majority are proud to be in an organization that speaks openly and wants to support people.

"Anxiety is a natural part of life that we all experience, and by talking about it, it helps us to understand it."

SOME INSIDE PERSPECTIVE

Liz Cheesbrough, director of research at Havas’ brand consultancy SCB Partners, and Gavin Jones, trading performance group director at Havas UK, are both ambassadors for Village Mentality. Liz and Gavin talk about the impact the program has made so far and tell us the best thing about serving as a mental health ambassador.

So, what inspired you to become a mental health ambassador at Havas UK?

LC: My mother worked in mental health as a child psychiatrist, and I started my career as a participation worker, working with disadvantaged young people (children in care, youth offenders, and asylum-seeking children) before moving into media. Growing up in an environment where talking about mental health was normalized, and encouraged, had a profound impact on me in and out of work, having seen the real-life benefit of being open about these issues.

GJ: Five years ago, my father-in-law took his life. Clearly, this was very traumatic, and it made the issues regarding mental health personal. Following that tragedy, I saw the life-changing effect that counseling had on my wife. These events led me to start an evening course in September with the long-term ambition to become a psychotherapist, so this mental health ambassador program tied in with my long-term goals.

What kind of impact has the program made so far?

LC: It’s been hugely positive, with regular campaigns and activities to encourage people to take time to talk and support each other. Raising awareness of mental health ambassadors, employee assistance programs, and Havas’ positive, proactive mental health culture is key to a healthy, happy, and inclusive workforce.

What have you learned from being an ambassador?

LC: The practical skills we gained in ‘first aid for mental health’ were inspiring and incredibly useful. Knowing how to help someone in crisis appropriately, and how to ask the hard questions tactfully, has really empowered us to help others. In particular, active listening, as well as practicing how to be open and prepared in order to hear and acknowledge difficult things in confidence.

What’s the best thing about being an ambassador?

GJ: Normalizing the conversation around, and perception of, mental health. By having a group of mental health ambassadors, we bring the subject into the agency—and on a personal level, it has helped me to try and change people’s perceptions. Anxiety is a natural part of life that we all experience, and by talking about it, it helps us to understand it.

The biggest challenge?

LC: The course itself, while challenging and hard-hitting, was worthwhile and necessary to truly understand how to help people in need.

GJ: Agree. The two-day course was challenging. The intensity, the volume of material linked with the topic, and the self-reflection that goes with it.

What do you hope to see for the future of this program?

LC: I’d love to see wider awareness and take-up of mental health support, including people accessing the ambassadors and employee assistance programs. One of the key benefits of working for a large organization is the support available, and with a diverse workforce that requires varying forms and levels of support, the program will grow and become evermore relevant over time.

GJ: Yes. And I hope that the program will be the first step toward a change in the company culture. To de-stigmatize mental health, and for everyone to be able to talk about anxiety in the same way that they talk about breaking a leg. I also hope that the program will evolve to give everyone easy access to talk to someone about themselves and give people space to self-reflect on their own mental health.

Nicola Forristal, Group Chief People Officer of Havas UK

For many, mental health can be a sensitive topic. But psychological, emotional, and social well-being are essential to good health. Oftentimes, however, the social stigma that comes with mental health issues can discourage people from seeking the help that they need. The team at Havas UK is investing its time and energy into making sure that everyone at their agency has access to resources that support strong mental health.

“We reached out to our people and asked for them to talk to us about areas of diversity and inclusion that are important to them,” explains Nicola Forristal, Havas UK’s Group Chief People Officer, about the program’s inception. “Having a safe place to go—that wasn’t accessing the more formal channels of speaking to management or the folks on the People and Talent teams—was important to a lot of people. So from that came this new mental health ambassadors initiative, Village Mentality.”

Sihle Khuzwayo, a junior producer at Havas London, heads up Village Mentality, which raises awareness about mental health, reduces the negative stigma, and allows co-workers to help each other. She talks about some overarching goals for the program.

"Good mental health helps you function in your personal and professional life."

Why might some people pay less attention to their mental health?

I believe some people pay less attention to their mental health because we, generally, are not taught or encouraged to consider mental health as important. For a long time, stigma and shame have been attached to people struggling with mental health issues. So people suffer in silence, or they are generally unaware of their mental state.

How does mental health affect our personal and professional lives?

Good mental health helps you function in your personal and professional life. This can be demonstrated by being able to express and manage a range of positive and negative situations and emotions, as well as maintain relationships with others.

Poor mental health usually has the opposite side effects, which can often lead you to disconnect from everyday life and people—and you lack the ability to cope with your normal responsibilities and situations.

Through this program, we encourage teammates to be open about how they feel and to share what they may be going through, and when necessary, the ambassador’s role is to also help colleagues seek early intervention through our employee assistance program.

What prompted the launch of the Health Ambassador Program at Havas UK?

Nicola Forristal and I had been in conversation about the diversity and inclusion initiative in 2017. Launching this program came as a natural extension to promoting an inclusive, open, and supportive culture. The program has helped people feel that they are in a safe, supportive, and non-judgemental workplace.

We work in an industry that often needs us to work under a lot of pressure, which can cause stress—and stress can act as a trigger or aggravate a condition you may be unaware of. I have been fortunate enough to grow up with parents that talked openly about mental health and always encouraged me to practice mindfulness and to support my peers. So, having the opportunity to do so at work is an added bonus to me.

What was the initial reaction to the program’s launch?

Since we launched the program in October 2017 we have had such positive feedback. The majority are proud to be in an organization that speaks openly and wants to support people.

"Anxiety is a natural part of life that we all experience, and by talking about it, it helps us to understand it."

SOME INSIDE PERSPECTIVE

Liz Cheesbrough, director of research at Havas’ brand consultancy SCB Partners, and Gavin Jones, trading performance group director at Havas UK, are both ambassadors for Village Mentality. Liz and Gavin talk about the impact the program has made so far and tell us the best thing about serving as a mental health ambassador.

So, what inspired you to become a mental health ambassador at Havas UK?

LC: My mother worked in mental health as a child psychiatrist, and I started my career as a participation worker, working with disadvantaged young people (children in care, youth offenders, and asylum-seeking children) before moving into media. Growing up in an environment where talking about mental health was normalized, and encouraged, had a profound impact on me in and out of work, having seen the real-life benefit of being open about these issues.

GJ: Five years ago, my father-in-law took his life. Clearly, this was very traumatic, and it made the issues regarding mental health personal. Following that tragedy, I saw the life-changing effect that counseling had on my wife. These events led me to start an evening course in September with the long-term ambition to become a psychotherapist, so this mental health ambassador program tied in with my long-term goals.

What kind of impact has the program made so far?

LC: It’s been hugely positive, with regular campaigns and activities to encourage people to take time to talk and support each other. Raising awareness of mental health ambassadors, employee assistance programs, and Havas’ positive, proactive mental health culture is key to a healthy, happy, and inclusive workforce.

What have you learned from being an ambassador?

LC: The practical skills we gained in ‘first aid for mental health’ were inspiring and incredibly useful. Knowing how to help someone in crisis appropriately, and how to ask the hard questions tactfully, has really empowered us to help others. In particular, active listening, as well as practicing how to be open and prepared in order to hear and acknowledge difficult things in confidence.

What’s the best thing about being an ambassador?

GJ: Normalizing the conversation around, and perception of, mental health. By having a group of mental health ambassadors, we bring the subject into the agency—and on a personal level, it has helped me to try and change people’s perceptions. Anxiety is a natural part of life that we all experience, and by talking about it, it helps us to understand it.

The biggest challenge?

LC: The course itself, while challenging and hard-hitting, was worthwhile and necessary to truly understand how to help people in need.

GJ: Agree. The two-day course was challenging. The intensity, the volume of material linked with the topic, and the self-reflection that goes with it.

What do you hope to see for the future of this program?

LC: I’d love to see wider awareness and take-up of mental health support, including people accessing the ambassadors and employee assistance programs. One of the key benefits of working for a large organization is the support available, and with a diverse workforce that requires varying forms and levels of support, the program will grow and become evermore relevant over time.

GJ: Yes. And I hope that the program will be the first step toward a change in the company culture. To de-stigmatize mental health, and for everyone to be able to talk about anxiety in the same way that they talk about breaking a leg. I also hope that the program will evolve to give everyone easy access to talk to someone about themselves and give people space to self-reflect on their own mental health.

Natasha Smith is the strategic communications manager for Havas Group. She happily represents 404 in the 212.

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