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Penny James, Direct Line Group CEO talks about creating a mental-health friendly workplace

The significance of an effective mental health and wellbeing strategy in the workplace cannot be overestimated. At Direct Line Group a core part of our people strategy is creating a workplace that promotes open and honest conversations, ensuring there’s always someone our colleagues can talk to should they need to. As we’re all becoming better informed about the reach of mental health problems the thing that has really stood out to us, and something we’re determined to improve is the extent to which people suffer mental health problems under the organisational radar. 

Our first step in overcoming this was to train all our managers to have the right conversations with their people, through mental health awareness training, covering potential causes and symptoms. We then launched a network of mental health first aiders, so we have a mental health first aider on every floor, in every office to help colleagues who may be struggling.

Culturally this has transformed our organisation because I’ve seen first-hand how people speak openly about their anxieties and lean on colleagues to help them. I remain in awe with the concern and care that people have for their colleagues and am convinced that not only does this help on a personal level, it also builds connections as a team.

We’re incredibly proud of the open culture we are developing. Not only have we seen an increase of 130% in requests to our new Employee Assistance Programme which provides information, advice and services to help our people deal with events and issues in their everyday lives but we’ve also noticed that more people are willing to disclose that they were off work due to mental health issues. It just goes to show that we are really beginning to lift the lid on a situation where many were suffering in silence.

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This Can Happen was extremely well planned and executed, with a diverse and informative range of topics. The choice of speakers was excellent, bringing relevance and honesty to the subject matter. The conference demonstrated what other companies are doing to help employees and left us with many ideas about how we can accelerate our own strategy. We cannot wait until the 2020 conference.

James Martin, Bid Manager & Sales Communication Manager, Enterprise Holdings