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Open conversations can reduce the stigma around mental health

Mental health is something I have felt strongly and passionately about for many years. It is as important as physical health but, historically, has not been given the focus it needs.

Matthew Roberts, intu chief executive





When I was appointed chief executive last year, one of my priorities was to help reduce the stigma around mental health by facilitating more open and honest conversations around it at intu.

Since then, we have signed the Time to Change pledge, run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Health Illness to improve attitudes to mental health at work. This commitment spans several different workstreams, including policy, training, communications and culture, and we have taken a number of steps on our journey, such as a programme of activity for both our people and our visitors.

This includes Chatty Chairs areas at every intu centre, where visitors or staff are invited to take a seat and chat about how they are feeling (pictured below, pre-social distancing). We have also been taking part in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index, which surveys our people on mental health and allows us to benchmark and track our progress against best practice.

Still part of the family

Mental health and wellbeing have become even more important in light of Covid-19. This extraordinary time brings challenges for all of us, whether missing social contact, financial worries, anxiety about staying well or concerns about family and friends.

As a business, we had to take the tough decision to furlough more than half of our frontline teams as well as a smaller number from our London office. We have had small but fantastic teams working very hard and in very challenging circumstances to make sure our centres can continue to operate in a safe and secure way when providing access to vital services such as supermarkets, pharmacies and banks.

Others have been based at home, learning new ways of working together while managing different priorities such as childcare or home schooling at the same time.

Mental health is something we have continued to focus on throughout this time as we support our people as much as possible. Those on furlough leave have remained a key part of the intu family, having regular welfare check-ins, continuing training and development as well as opportunities to continue to socialise virtually with colleagues. And because we know that everyone has enough to deal with without the added worry over losing their wages, we have made sure that everyone we placed on furlough still receives 100% of their salary.

Preparing for reopening

Mental wellbeing has also been at the heart of our internal communications and I have been leading this activity with regular personal blogs and video messages for all our teams. Everyone has access to online resources through our intranet, which provides training, advice and links to organisations that can help as well as regular tips for things such as healthy sleep, healthy recipes and coping with Covid-19-related anxiety.

We have started offering mental health awareness training to help managers support their teams through this challenging time. I was delighted that more than 100 people took part in the first training webinar when we launched the programme with disability charity Purple last month, and we will continue to introduce more training like this during this unprecedented time.

We have also launched a new Employee Voice platform on our intranet, which allows people to share anonymously how they are feeling at any time and the data from this is guiding the support we are providing.

As we prepare to support the reopening of non-essential retail, we will be gradually welcoming back our people who have been on furlough leave and helping them through what we know will be an anxious time for them. But they can be sure we will continue to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of everyone who works at intu, along with their physical health.

*This article was first published in Estates Gazette on 08/06/2020