The John Kirwan Foundation provides young people with the skills and knowledge to recognise and respond to mental health issues. By supporting school-aged children, they're building a more resilient workforce for the future. It resonated with Calibre Group Executive General Manager Bruce Vincent, who supports the foundation and spoke to us about mental health in the sector.
Bruce, what prompted Calibre to support the Sir John Kirwan Foundation?
The critical aspect of forming a partnership with the foundation was that we identified mental health was a significant issue, not only within the consulting sector but across the whole of society.
Calibre wanted to ensure that our support went to a sound foundation that was working to improve the way we respond to the issues of mental health in the workplace and to prevent it from becoming a recurring problem.
I looked around to see which organisations were promoting a strong focus on mental health, and I found that the JK Foundation was one of the most prominent in this space. From a company perspective, the aims of the foundation aligned nicely with one of our core values which is 'we care for people’s wellbeing'. That is a critical value both internally and externally for Calibre and crosses over so many areas of community and society.
What support does Calibre give the foundation?
We promote their events through our networks, and the success of these events helps generate additional revenue for the organisation. On the flip side, they help us to support our people with a platform that encourages the removal of the stigma associated with mental health.
Mental health or mental illness shouldn't be tucked away and kept quiet. By including mental health in everyday conversations across the business, the subject is normalised and is just another part of our work life.
We're also creating opportunities to fundraise for the foundation and support the development of their schools' program.
How has mental health in the workplace been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
It affects everyone differently.
At Calibre, it has affected some people significantly, whereas, for others, they haven't felt the impact too severely and have carried on working as they did before.
I believe people have a certain amount of anxiety in the workplace anyway, but the pandemic has elevated those fears to the point that their home and work life is being affected. My role, and that of the company, is to provide our people with confidence and reassurance that we'll come through this and the company has the support mechanisms available.
What do the Sir John Kirwan Foundation's values mean to Calibre?
When I spoke with Sir John about Calibre's support of the foundation, I came away enormously impressed with his passion for the identification of new ways to support the mental health of future generations and our current workforce. He'd like to develop programmes that will give our next generation the tools and processes to enable them to deal with the challenges of life, adulthood and to make the jump into the workforce.
How important is communication when struggling with mental health?
It's vital, and staff must be able to talk without fear or judgment while being open and honest about their anxieties.
Staff who are under pressure must feel comfortable enough to share their story and admit that they are having a rough day while acknowledging that they are struggling. When you can open up about those fears, you are likely to find others who struggle with similar anxieties.
Communication is a critical step in removing the stigma that exists around mental health and stops people from bottling up their fears.
How important is it to Sir John that the foundation can work with businesses?
Part of the foundation's work is support for the business community.
They want to be the ambulance at the top of the cliff, not at the bottom.
They're striving to develop programmes that will get them ahead of the game. By equipping school-aged children with the skills they need to recognise and respond to mental health issues, both in themselves and in those around them, we are ultimately building a more resilient future workforce.
Sir John Kirwan is also the co-founder of the Mentemia, a fantastic mental wellbeing app which is packed with evidence-based ideas and tools to help you learn how to be well and stay well. We encourage Calibre staff to use it. It's an excellent tool for businesses.
How does Calibre support people who're working away from the office?
Calibre is not a large organisation, but we are very transparent in how we operate. I connect with as many people as I can to check in on their mental wellbeing. We use technology as much as possible to keep in touch with staff to ensure they are feeling supported while encouraging conversations around their overall welfare. We always offer staff the opportunity to return to the office if that is their preference and make sure they are not feeling isolated at home.
Calibre also has a counselling service that is available for staff who don't feel comfortable talking to their managers about welfare issues too.
What should a manager be looking for when assessing the mental health of staff?
You should be looking for a change in behaviour where staff are not as open, social or engaging as they once were. Work pressure can cause some people to get a little short when dealing with other staff members or clients while small issues can trigger behaviour that is different from the normal. There are multiple signs which a manager should be monitoring, and those signs can become more evident through the development of inclusive team culture. If you have an inclusive team culture, you should never be afraid to ask the questions 'can I help', 'what's going on' or 'is there something we can do.'