Spotlight Series: Insight from BetterSpace on tackling the GBC Pledge

The Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health aims to help organisations all over the world to prioritise employee mental health. As a business-led initiative, the insights and best practice that we share will be heavily informed by the visionary leaders and companies who sign our six-point Pledge.

In the article that follows, Jim Woods, Co-Founder and CEO of employee-led wellbeing platform BetterSpace, shares his organisation’s approach to tackling the areas outlined in the GBC Pledge.


Developing an action plan for better workplace mental health

Driven by a clear mission around mental health, BetterSpace holds itself to a particularly high standard when it comes to employee wellbeing: “we have to really push the boundaries with our own staff, because mental health is part of our DNA.”

With a team of 20 people, BetterSpace serves as a credible example of what can be achieved by start-ups and small businesses. Jim’s key piece of advice for any company at the beginning of this journey is to innovate, and try out different approaches.

For BetterSpace, this evolved into three, fairly low-cost interventions:

  1. Talk: How do you create an environment where people can comfortably share? Where people can bring their whole, authentic selves to work, and speak about the state of their wellbeing? Jim explains that talking openly about mental health is the first step to building a psychologically safe environment.
  2. Give permission: If you want people to actively look after their wellbeing, you have to actively give them permission to do so. Every BetterSpace employee is given four hours ‘wellbeing time’ a week, where they’re encouraged to do things that are good for their wellbeing.
  3. Nudge: Jim advises that when developing an organisational strategy, start from the position that people want to look after their mental health, but don’t know how to. As an employer, it’s important to nudge people into mentally healthy behaviours.


Taking steps to eliminate stigma

Every Monday morning at 10:00 a.m., BetterSpace hosts a team meeting with a difference.

Before catching up with their colleagues, employees are invited to fill out a form – the first question of which asks them to rate their wellbeing over the course of the past week on a scale of 1-10. They’re also prompted to think about why they’ve settled on that score, and what they’re going to do for their wellbeing in the week ahead.

Jim explains that the form isn’t designed to monitor people, but to get them thinking about the state of their mental health, why they’re feeling the way they are, and what they can do to make a positive difference. During the meeting, everyone has a chance to share their answers – but it’s always voluntary, and there’s never any pressure.

On a Tuesday, people are placed in a Zoom group of three employees from different departments; the only rule is that you’re not allowed to talk about work. This helps to build social relationships, and facilitate the sharing of personal stories.

It can take new recruits a little time to open up, but whenever somebody does share something personal, the circle of psychological safety is widened, and colleagues begin to reach out to one another.


Reducing mental ill health through workplace support

One lesson Jim learnt early on was that not everyone wants to share. This led him to stress that no matter which approach a business adopts to support its people, it has to contain an element of flexibility. The form that employees fill out on a Monday ahead of their team meeting contains a mix of work and wellbeing-related questions, giving people a choice of what topics they want to talk about. Some chose to focus much more on work, and that’s fine.

Employees have access to therapy through the BetterSpace platform which they can pay for out of their wellbeing budget, but there is also a lot of peer support. Jim estimates that over half of the team has lived experience of mental ill health, which makes people feel comfortable confiding in one another. It’s also why BetterSpace decided against designated mental health first aiders: they want everyone to own the conversation.

In addition to internal and external support, employees are invited to a monthly surgery with Chief Medical Officer Dr Iain Jordan, along with regular talks from the likes of mental health ambassador Rob Stephenson.


Empowering employees to care for their own mental health

BetterSpace is founded on the six-pillar methodology (the six factors that have the biggest impact on our wellbeing). These science-backed pillars, backed by Dr Iain Jordan, encompass:

  1. Sleep
  2. Exercise
  3. Community
  4. Stress management
  5. Meaningful activity
  6. Nutrition

Every BetterSpace employee has four hours each week to use for ‘wellbeing time’; all they have to do is log their chosen activity against one of the six pillars. “You could go for a run and log it against exercise; have lunch with friends and log it against community; even take a two-hour nap and log it against sleep”, Jim explains.

Employees also have access to the BetterSpace wellbeing platform, with a budget of £50 a month. This can be used on any wellbeing resource across the platform – from yoga classes, gym memberships or sports equipment, to books, sleep aids, or fun social experiences. Jim talks about how this personal budget negates financial risk when trying something new – allowing people to find the resources that work for them. It’s all about recognising a One-Size-Fits-All approach doesn’t work when it comes to wellbeing – people have their own needs and preferences.

As well as empowering its employees, this approach makes it normal to proactively and preventatively look after your own mental health. Sharing anonymised data in how colleagues are using their wellbeing time also allows people to see where problems may be developing, and further normalises a diverse range of wellbeing pursuits.


Signposting to mental health support

Jim talks passionately about how most of BetterSpace’s resources are enjoyable, which is crucial to behavioural change. From wild swimming to Fitbits to hybrid pillows, the choice is vast.

As an employer, BetterSpace does of course signpost to online therapy and mental health charities wherever necessary, but what’s really interesting is the sheer scale of diversity in employee preference for wellbeing support.

Looking at the metrics of the BetterSpace platform, there is no single solution that stands out above the rest. Jim estimates that around 40% of the weighting is towards products, such as trainers, weighted blankets, and specialist pillows; books are also popular and make up around 15% of the split, while apps are not as popular as one might expect.

The crucial takeaway here is that when people are given a choice, they go in very different directions – meaning that when a business invests in a single track solution, such as an app, they’re paying for a company-wide resource that only a small percentage may actually use.

BetterSpace is on a mission to change the buying model, so that employee wellbeing solutions are actually fit for purpose. Using a personalised choice model, where the employer pays for what is used rather than paying for everyone to have access, is critical to getting a good ROI for the employer whilst genuinely helping employees find the wellbeing habit that works for them.


Measuring success and monitoring impact

Jim predicts that the future of workplace wellbeing will be far more data-driven.

To glean an accurate snapshot of employee mental health, the BetterSpace platforms collects data on every employee’s score against each of the six pillars – allowing them to spot trends, chart improvements, and identify where extra support might be needed. Data is of course completely anonymous, but it’s an extremely useful exercise for the company.

Users also have the opportunity to rate every resource they use in terms of its effectiveness.

The same functionality also applies to clients, with the additional benefit of being able to incorporate a company’s existing resources – including any existing EAPs (Employee Assistance Programmes). This allows employers to optimise their wellbeing strategy, as they get a clear picture of what’s working well for their people.


The future of workplace mental health

Jim co-founded BetterSpace after losing his sixth friend to suicide; coming to the painful realisation that in order to effect real change, you have to take a preventative approach, Jim encourages employers to act when people have moderate mental health, before it’s too late.

Ultimately, a big part of this is normalising the mental health conversation. Jim believes that the best way to make that happen in any organisation is for senior leaders to speak out about their own mental health – or to bring in external speakers with lived experience. He also advises employers to include regular questions around mental health and wellbeing in their weekly meetings.

And what of the future? Jim expressed his belief that Covid will be beneficial for the mental health agenda, as people are talking about it with far more intention and regularity.

The major change for BetterSpace as a result of the pandemic is a permanent move to home-working, with the choice of day passes to shared working spaces – allowing employees to shape their own working day. Jim did stress the importance of keeping the human connection alive, but predicts a mass exodus of talent from those companies who insist on office working.

Take action in your workplace today by signing the Leadership Pledge