On Time to Talk Day, Leeds Mindful Employer Network Coordinator, Leigh Staunton, talks to Colin Grist, Co-Founder of Creative Agency and Mindful Employer, Few and Far.
Colin and Leigh talk about the role an employer plays in supporting staff wellbeing and the importance of promoting open conversations about mental health in the workplace.
Firstly, please tell us a bit about you and why a commitment to positive mental health at work is important to you
I’m a creative person who’s lucky enough to run a creative studio where I get to be creative as my day job. However, being a creative person in the design industry isn’t always positive.
Designers can suffer from creative block, clients who provide more than just constructive feedback and workplaces where they are given unrealistic deadlines can all lead to you feeling less creative than you’d like.
After I started waking up in the middle of the night in 2014 with what felt like heart pain and the feeling that I was having a heart attack, I went to the doctors. The doctor told me I had nothing to worry about with my heart, but my aches and pains were my body telling me something else was wrong: my mental health.
There’s the full story of my experience here on those times, but a lot of how I got to that point was to do with how much I was pushing myself at work to be a better designer, having periods of creative block and feeling the pressure to deliver a project I strongly believed in.
A few years later, I reflected on that experience in the aforementioned blog post, which inspired other creatives to speak to me about their own struggles – something which wasn’t as common as it is now – and off the back of that we created Pressures & Perspectives: a blog and magazine to tell the stories of mental health in the creative industry.
Then in 2018 I took my passion for dance classes and fitness and became a qualified gym instructor, something that really helped me feel better about myself both physically and mentally and through classes was something I felt I could help others feel the same.
Mental health in the workplace is something I have experienced, I’ve overcome and also worked on in my own-time to understand more about so that I can help others, so when being an employer, this naturally extends to the people who give up their time to work with us at Few and Far.
I want to ensure that not only are they in the most comfortable environment to be themselves, to be creative without the stresses and strains that can come with that, but also that as someone’s employer I’m aware of what I say and do and the effect that can have.
You recently published a blog on your website called, “I can’t come in today”, which spoke about the stigma which still exists around mental health in and out of the workplace. What was the inspiration behind that?
In 2016 when I first wrote about my experiences of mental health, there was a stigma. In 2018 when we started Pressures & Perspectives the entire mission for that platform was to break the stigma because it was still a problem then.
Now in 2023 mental health and wellbeing is much more commonly discussed – but I still believe there is a stigma. So I wrote about it on the blog.
When looking at the statistics around reasons for absence in the workplace, mental health is lowering, but I personally have to question if that is indeed the case.
My worry is that people’s work/life balance is in another state of upheaval as we go back to a state of ‘normality’ after the pandemic and companies are asking workers to start coming back to their expensive offices – it feels like we’re going backwards, rather than forwards and this may have a knock-on effect to the reasons we give for being absent from work.
Tell us a bit about Few and Far – why is workplace mental health and wellbeing important to you as a business?
Few and Far is a creative studio that helps charities make our world a better place. We specifically work with charities to increase their impact, tell their inspiring stories and remove stigma because we know their causes have helped us personally and will continue to help others to make our world a better place.
We can’t put our all into helping good causes if we don’t strive to be the best employers and business that we can be – it’s a contradiction.
Ensuring we provide a positive and inclusive working environment, where being able to talk openly about your mental health is welcomed is massively important to us; it allows our staff to be the best they possibly can be at their role, and when their role can fundamentally help a good cause that supports people with their own mental health and wellbeing, it makes for perfect synchronicity.
Tell us about your role in supporting staff wellbeing
As a Co-Founder and Creative Director I already wear quite a few caps, but nobody else is going to ensure the workplace I provide and the job roles we create are going to be good for someone’s mental wellbeing either.
That responsibility stops with me.
My role entails ensuring our office environment, company policies and staff perks are right for us and relevant to every single person in the team.
I’m always looking for new benefits and ways in which we can work better as a team to benefit our staff members’ lives outside of work, from providing the correct equipment for home and always being flexible around remote working.
We became a Living Wage Employer early on to ensure that when we did hire staff we were paying them a realistic wage that’s based on the real cost of living.
The perks we continue to establish and add to are perks we believe anyone can benefit from and aren’t just about going out for drinks every night (though I like a beer!) or doing something someone may feel isn’t right for them.
We continue to provide a period of paid shutdown at Christmas so everyone has proper time with their family and downtime away from work to be able to relax and recharge before the new year – a time when a lot of agencies are working right up until Christmas Eve normally.
We’ve also recently signed up to the Mindful Employer+ programme, which enables our staff to have an independent and completely confidential advice line for them to turn to if they ever want to speak to someone about their mental health.
What are you most proud of in Few and Far’s approach to staff wellbeing?
First and foremost that we openly talk about mental health ourselves as founders of a business who employ others. Culture comes from the top and it’s easy to understand why business owners who don’t speak on important matters can quickly create a culture where others don’t speak on those matters either.
They may not even realise they’ve created such a culture either but that can quickly form and it’s difficult then to go back.
So I’m proud that from day one we’ve always strived to have a culture where we’re open about staff wellbeing and when someone needs to take time away from the business they can. We’ve always had a flexible approach to where we work too, we’ve never worked 5 days a week in our own office since we formed in 2018 so why would we expect that from people we employ too?
What are your priorities for the months ahead?
We’re on the road to becoming a B Corp.
That’s the next huge step for us in ensuring we meet even higher standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.
It’s been a great way for us to document our actual beliefs as a business. Instead of just saying we look after our staff and the environment it’s making us really think about those processes so we’re able to back up what we say.
It’s been a lot of work so far, but we’ve learned a lot too.
We’ve not been made to do this either, becoming a B Corp is something completely voluntary and it makes me really proud that we can take the time out in our business for such a large application because it’s important to us and to our impact on the people we hire and our community.
What does it mean for Few and Far to be a Mindful Employer?
Mindful Employer is a fantastic initiative that we’re proud to be a part of.
It’s another string in our bow for continued work in ensuring our staff are looked after to the best of our ability and it also continues to showcase that our business and our environment is one that reflects the work and clients we help every day.
What would you say to someone who is considering becoming part of the Leeds Mindful Employer Network?
If you don’t think it’s for your business, you’re wrong.
Every business should always look for ways in which to learn more about how to improve the mental wellbeing of their staff and ensure the environment you provide for them is the best it possibly can be – because without them, what do you really have?
The Leeds network itself also provides great opportunities for you to meet other like-minded business owners and to hear from the very best on ways to improve your business for your staff. It makes so much sense and we love being a part of it.
A big thank you to Colin for taking the time to chat to us for this blog.
Want to get involved?
Don’t miss out on our next free in-person event on the 19th March hosted by our Mindful Employer of the Quarter, AW Hainsworth, “Overcoming Stigma: Mental Health Awareness and Support at AW Hainsworth”. You can book your place here.
Did you know tickets are now available to book for our FREE Leeds Mindful Employer Network Conference 2024, “Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces” at Leeds Beckett University, Carnegie School of Sports. Demonstrate your commitment to the positive mental health of your workforce by registering your free place here.