CharlieHR focuses on its own staff first. Keen to find out more, UNLEASH caught up with its CEO and co-founder, Ben Gateley, to discuss this and the importance of companies holding mental health days for staff.
Why mental health is important?
The context that supports this is “ten years ago culture was a ping-pong table and some free beer, now people understand much better that culture is [employee] experience”. Now mental health has a role in that.
As a result, Gateley notes: “The culture that we’re trying to craft [at CharlieHR] is one that is supportive and open. Therefore, for that to be the case, mental health has to be a core part of that.”
Gateley unpacks: “The policies, processes and the people that you hire, should come from the top culture you’re trying to create.”
This led to a discussion about the separation of work and life. Gateley sagely notes that while he likes to envision separation, he is, ultimately, the same person in both instances.
The attempt of separation is then further diminished through people’s obsession with their phones. On the back of this, Gateley believes that organizations need to create defined times when employees are off, and when work-based technology shouldn’t be used.
He adds: “Ultimately, it’s an organization’s responsibility to pay attention to that [work-life balance] and have policies and processes in place to support people with that.”
The logistics of improving culture
Of course, improving wellbeing sounds good on paper, but it can be a difficult task for organizations. Nonetheless, it should be an important area of investment.
Gateley notes: “Your job as a CEO is to build the most effective organization you can. And mental health is one of those things that’s going to stop people from being as effective as possible.
“If a person is ineffective, then the team that they’re working in is going to suffer, the business unit that they’re working within is going to suffer. To support people’s mental health, you need to put time and money towards it.”
The rewards that companies see include retention, attraction, and increased performance. In fact, Gateley comments that people who interview for his organization will often ask about its mental health policies. This is a significant shift from two to three years ago when the matter would not be mentioned by job candidates.
While funding is important, the logistics of implementing a new mental health policy can also scare organizations that are not fully convinced of the urgent need to change.
Gateley explains how CharlieHR implements its mental health days: “If someone takes a mental health sick day, which we call it a personal day, the whole organization can see that.
“We wanted to do that because we are trying to break barriers when it comes to how organizations think about” wellbeing and culture.
On top of that, this allows CharlieHR to see what departments are facing pressure or how business decisions impact staff. This, therefore, allows the company to adapt and prioritize employees’ needs.
Even if other companies don’t wish to be as open as CharlieHR, Gateley recommends: “People need to feel like it’s safe to prioritize their mental health. So you’ve got to find a way to do that in some form.”
Also, it helps companies recognize patterns, see when people are struggling, and accommodate employees. Gateley comments that this can help avoid situations that are “really detrimental to an individual.”
Moving forward with mental wellbeing
When it comes to implementing practices that may appear foreign to traditional organizations, Gateley recommends that leaders are honest and vulnerable.
He explains: “During the pandemic, if you were a CEO, and you stood up and [said] ‘everything’s fine, I’m fine’. Employees knew this was a lie as ‘the world was on fire, literally and metaphorically’.
Instead, the best leaders “talk about the reality of the situation”. This honesty builds trust and a positive working environment despite the external pressures. Gateley comments that people are tired of leaders talking about areas being important but not investing and acting on issues. If you talk the talk, you should walk the walk.
Evidently, it is time to be transparent about wellbeing and businesses as a whole.
This is certainly the approach of CharlieHR, and Gateley reflects: “We focus on ourselves first, make sure that we’re absolutely nailing that” before going out and advising clients.
“That’s why we are trailing a nine-day fortnight, it’s why we are reviewing our diversity, equity and inclusion (D,E&I) strategy.
“It’s why we’re looking at how we train and upskill managers and first-time leaders. We can carry that momentum forward in terms of the product that we build, and in the way that we support our customers.”
In terms of how Charlie HR supports customers, it is increasingly focusing on D,E&I as it addresses cultural issues, and wellbeing.
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