October 10 is World Mental Health Day.
It comes, of course, seven months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The American Psychological Association warns that the negative mental health effects of the coronavirus “will be serious and long-lasting.”
The virus has disrupted existing mental health services; magnified stress and anxiety around health, employment, childcare, education and racial injustice; and intensified self-isolation and depression.
So for this year’s World Mental Health Day, the WHO is calling for individuals, employers and governments to massively scale up their investment in mental health.
SecondMuse has always prioritized mental health and wellbeing — within our own teams and projects as well as the greater ecosystem where we innovate and engage.
“We press ourselves to solve big problems in the world, but not at the expense of our individual wellbeing,” says Rachael Aptowitz, a Senior Associate in New York.
That focus on individual well being can be seen in SecondMuse’s commitment to flexible work arrangements and its Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which offer employees confidential help with anything from mental health issues to financial concerns. The program is available to employees around the world through different providers that can take cultural differences and local contexts into account.
Shannon Cisneros Ajayi, the Global HR Manager who has a graduate degree in psychotherapy, says she advocates for everyone to use the flexible work arrangements and EAP resources, and leads by example. “I want folks to know, if they have an appointment or something they need to do, they should make it a priority. I tell them, ‘Block it out on your calendar.'” She notes that employees are encouraged to take care of themselves by taking the time they need for anything from a yoga class to a meeting with a therapist.
Beyond these core policies, wellness at SecondMuse is also evident in small daily practices.
Take, for example, the “Mindful Minute.” It’s a practice that Dani Bicknell, Program Manager for Headstream, youth health and wellbeing innovation program, really appreciates.
“The company starts meetings by having a mindful minute which allows people to stop what they are doing, close their eyes, and focus on the task at hand,” she says. “This is a great technique because as we work in a digital environment, we all have a million tabs open at any given time. A mindful minute … forces us to refocus our energy, close our eyes (and our tabs), and refocus our energy on the task at hand.”
Bicknell says the “Mindful Minute” has evolved into a twice-weekly “Mindful 15,” when employees across the company come together to meditate, stretch and reconnect with their minds and bodies.
“It helps when your supervisor and/or leadership mirrors wellness techniques because if you don’t see it, it’s hard to do it,” she adds.
A similar tradition — and one of Aptowitz’s favorites — is the “gratitude circle.”
“At the end of a workshop, all of us will form a circle and shout out what we are grateful for from the day — whether it’s an individual connection someone made, an energy that like-minded people created during the day, or just a great catered lunch,” she says. “It’s a great way to reflect on a long event and often the individual recognitions people share surprise people.”
Other employees point to SecondMuse’s fun wellness challenges, or experiments with new work schedules to reduce chronic stress.
“[The Singapore Hub] started our two-month experiment of No-Meeting Wednesdays and Flexi-Fridays [a shortened workday with flexible hours] to encourage self growth, personal learning and development, or just taking a break,” says Vinise Kwa, a Program Associate on The Incubation Network team. “Personally, it’s really refreshing to get focus-time on Wednesdays, and being able to catch up on reports and courses I’ve always wanted to read on Flexi-Fridays.”
There’s also the “golden scheduling” policy to ensure meetings take place during regular work hours for people in different time zones.
Marketing Associate Kristin Anderson finds having a supportive team with open lines of communication promotes her mental wellbeing.
“If there’s ever a day when I’m feeling overwhelmed or mentally drained, I feel comfortable enough to approach my team and I know they’ll be supportive,” she says. “Having an employer and team that you feel comfortable approaching with any health issues improves the overall workplace environment.”
Those health issues can be personal but they can also be societal — even global. Dani Bicknell believes healthy communication on urgent social issues is also key to creating psychologically safe workplaces.
“When COVID hit, the company sent out consistent messaging to keep everyone in the loop about what was going on and what resources the company had to make remote work easier,” she says. “In addition, after the tragic death of George Floyd, SecondMuse held two townhall meetings where colleagues could come gather, ask questions to the CEOs, and share personal experiences.”
“I was so impressed that SecondMuse was acknowledging that we are living in unprecedented times and chose to address it instead of pretending that it is not going on,” she says. “Incorporating wellness into company culture makes me want to work more and be more engaged because I know that my company respects my wellness so much and wants me to do well, not only as an employee, but as a whole human being.”