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Jane Austin on winning Most Inspirational Leader at This Can Happen Awards 2019

It has been my passion to create a positive working environment from the day our start-up company began.  This meant being totally clear on the culture the CEO, myself and the rest of the leadership team wanted to establish for Wave.  This was the all-important background to my subsequent work on mental health in the company.   Before any strategy can be devised and implemented, it is vital to determine the culture the senior team wants and feels it can be true to.  

No mental health strategy will be successful if it conflicts with the company culture, so first lay out the foundations of that culture and as leaders, be prepared to challenge behaviours at all levels of the organisation if they aren’t in keeping with it.  If people are blamed for making a mistake at work or are told they’re not pulling their weight if they have any time off sick, then they’re likely to have no trust if the company launches an employee assistance line and tells them it is safe and confidential to ring.  

When I was devising my approach to mental health, I first set to work on the cultural piece. The first part of my strategy was to break down the stigma of talking about mental health. This was the cornerstone to everything that followed and was instrumental in our employees talking openly about depression, or counselling as if they were talking about what they saw on tv the night before.  There is genuinely no stigma in doing so at Wave.

Wave won two This Can Happen Awards, and in addition, I had the honour of winning most inspirational leader.  So what gave rise to this fabulous recognition?  Mainly it was putting into practice my passion to help people. Minimal budgets (we couldn’t afford an occupational health service) meant I had to be creative.  I asked questions that too many large corporates don’t ask.  Purchasing a Group Income Protection policy  was a turning point for Wave as its early intervention service enables our people to receive a psychiatric/psychological assessment within 48 hours of them letting us know they are struggling.  It enables employees to stay in work, without stigma, while they receive tailored treatment.  In the last 2 years we’ve had people with personality disorders, bi-polar, addiction, PTSD and other complex diagnoses, and while they may have had a few weeks or in a couple of cases up to 2 months off, some have received treatment that (with EMDR therapy) was life changing. Our line managers are supported too in what to expect and how to deal with complex cases in work, and mental health experts agree that keeping these employees in work is a positive wellbeing step.  My HR team are all as passionate as me and everyone in Wave knows they can always approach us with mental health difficulties. The HR team listen and care and as long as we do that, we will continue to achieve great things in the mental health space. 

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This Can Happen has truly helped to move the needle on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, providing access to exceptional speakers, innovative ideas and practical solutions for how businesses can work together with staff, customers and broader stakeholders to ensure that everyone can thrive at work and be fully supported with any mental health challenges they may face.

Sarah Boddey, Senior VP, Northern Trust