Help us make our mental health meet-ups better

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. During last year’s, Tom Walker wrote a post about why and how he set up Co-op Digital’s mental health meet-ups. A year on, Tom’s left but our fortnightly gatherings remain.

Now feels like a good time to kick off a conversation about what we can do to make sure they’re as helpful as they can be.

We’re looking for your suggestions.  

The idea’s still the same

Simon Hurst and I run the meet-ups now. It’s important to make it clear that, like Tom, we’re not doctors either. We’re not qualified to diagnose a mental illness and we’re certainly not qualified to prescribe remedies.

But the meet-ups are a place where colleagues can speak freely, in confidence, and know that they’re among empathetic people. A year on, this stuff is still the same.

Meet-ups are still open to everyone, they’re still informal. There’s still no minutes, no register, no pressure.

But the numbers have dropped

Recently, we’ve noticed that fewer people are coming to meet-ups. Of course, that could be seen as a really good thing – people don’t feel that they need the meet-up anymore because they’re feeling happier and healthier.

As much as we’d love to believe that, we don’t think that’s the case.

Time to make changes

The lunchtime meet-ups did a job. They got people within Co-op talking about mental health, often publicly, often openly. They helped reassure people they didn’t need to feel ashamed and that they weren’t alone.

It’s clear from speaking to people that even though there appears to be less demand for a mental health meet-up every other week, the idea of it existing, the idea of it being there if it’s needed, is comforting.

However, it’s time to adapt to meet people’s needs. We asked people who attend for their thoughts.

We learnt that:

  • some people find getting out of the office, in the fresh air, over lunchtime helps them most and, ironically, the meet-up was messing with that
  • everyone’s busy and taking time out in the middle of the day isn’t always easy

In response to that, here’s what we’re thinking of trying:

  1. Arranging walks – mental health meet-ups where we can walk and talk and take people out of the office.
  2. Drop-in slots – spreading out the times when we could meet up so there’s no set time and support’s there as and when it’s needed.
  3. Changing the day of the meet-ups.

Let us know what you think in the comments. Your feedback matters.

Mental health first aid training

We recently invited Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) into Co-op Digital and a handful of colleagues took part in a mental health ‘first aid’ training course. The idea is that we can look after team mental health and morale better if we have ‘first aiders’ who recognise early on when team members are struggling.  

In theory, agile teams are fairly healthy. Relatively speaking. Agile ceremonies like daily stand-ups and fortnightly retros act as check-ins with the team – they’re places to bring up struggles, blockers and concerns.

But the take-away point from the training was that we all need to learn how to listen. In Digital, our job is to solve problems. Because of this, it’s easy to throw ‘answers’ out to colleagues who are struggling. The training taught us how effective just listening, without proposing solutions, can be.

Help and be helped

Co-op Group offers advice on setting up a mental health support group. There’s also an Employee assistance programme.

And there’s us, in Digital. You can request to join our dedicated and private mental health Slack channel.

We’ll continue to be here, in whatever format works for our colleagues and friends. Your feedback will shape this. We hope to hear from you soon.

Becky Arrowsmith
Engineer

Karen Lindop: Shifts is live plus learning to be mental health first aiders

(Transcript) Karen Lindop: Hello, and welcome to this week’s and my first Co-op Digital update.

This has been a big week for our team working in partnership with our colleagues in Food as well as Equal Experts and UsTwo. All Co-op Food store colleagues have access to Shifts, a website that allows them to view their past and upcoming shifts; who’s scheduled to work each shift in their store; their shift preferences; their break entitlements, as well as the payday calendar.

It’s been a real co-operative effort and a great example of us all working as ‘One Co-op’. You can hear what colleagues think about it on our YouTube Channel. Well done and thank you to everyone on the team, past and present.

But that’s not it for Shifts, the team will keep listening to colleagues, continually adding features and improving the experience.

Our Member Voice team held an end of discovery show and tell on Thursday. We’ll share their findings on our blog soon, so keep an eye out for that. The team have also recently hit the milestone of over 100,000 members joining opportunities – from helping to design a member wine, to sharing their thoughts and experiences on apprenticeships. Well done to Mark and the team.

On Thursday we welcomed students from our Priesthorpe Academy in Leeds. They got to meet a number of our teams and learn about The Federation. A big thank you James and our friends at Northcoders who also spent some time with all the students.

Finally, some of the team spent some time this week learning how they can be ‘mental health first aiders’. We’ll share more about this shortly on our blog. But thank you to those who took part and for Mental Health First Aid England for their support.

That’s it for this week. Don’t forget to subscribe for all our updates on our blog and follow us on Twitter.

Karen Lindop
Head of Digital Operations

Mike Bracken: 850k new members, Agile Manchester and Mental Health Awareness Week

(Transcript) Mike: Hello. Thanks to Dave for doing this video last week. I’m back this week and again another big number 850,000 new members joined the Co-op since September 21st last year. That’s a terrific achievement by the team and membership continues to grow.

On that note, our members will be voting next week in our AGM, in Manchester at the end of next week. If you’re eligible to vote, please do. The cut-off date is a 15th of May.

Four big shoutouts this week. The first goes to Rufus, Paul Gerrard and the team have published our Modern Slavery report. It’s vitally important that the Co-op backs this initiative and we’re taking real action to put people back into society, back into the workplace. Do check out the report on the website.

Another shout out to Tom Walker, one of our user researchers has been leading on Mental Health Awareness Week and it’s great to see the Co-op support him and him engage with all the colleagues in Manchester and in the wider community to support mental health issues.

Also shout out to Anna Dick, James Boardwell, Ian Drysdale and the team for speaking at Agile Manchester a big event that we sponsored here and that we’ll continue to back, as we back that agile way of working.

And finally I got a little time this week in Federation. You see that on our website and great work with Victoria and the team who have fitted out nearly 5 floors now and with local designers and local artists, the place looks amazing.

We’ll be having a launch event later in the year and I look forward to seeing you there.

Mike Bracken
Chief Digital Officer

Our mental health meet ups and why they matter

Mental health problems affect around 1 in 4 people in the UK each year according to the latest stats from Mind. In England, 1 in 6 people say they’ve experienced a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, in any given week.

This week is mental health awareness week so it seems like a good time to talk about how we’ve been supporting each other at Co-op Digital.

Opening up

Getting people to talk is something I’ve been encouraging people to do here for a little while now. Since September last year, I’ve been running a mental health meet up.

I set up the group after finding that opening up about my experience with anxiety helped me. I also noticed that friends and colleagues I’d spoken to would often then open up to me and say things like, “I’ve never talked about this with anyone before”. That’s not good. I wanted to change that. So, twice a month a group of us have been meeting to talk about all issues relating to mental health.

A safe place to speak

I knew the most important thing for anyone who came to the meet ups would be knowing that anything they said would be confidential and for them to feel they were among empathetic people who understood. This way they could talk freely.

So our meet ups started out small and very informal. Everyone was welcome but I didn’t want to risk opening up the group to spectators, which would be easily done in an organisation as big as ours, so I didn’t involve HR.

No minutes, no register, no pressure.

At the meet ups

We hold the 1-hour meet ups on site because it’s hard to find a safe space off site. Doing it on site also means it’s in the open and makes it as accessible for people as possible. There’s no pressure to come to every session. Come when you want to.

Sometimes, we have an agenda but most meetings start with people saying how they’re doing. Then we talk. Loneliness, depression, isolation, medicine, stress, sex, relationships – no topic is off limits. Some like to talk a lot and some don’t like to talk much, and that’s ok. Whatever works for them.

This is a place where you can come to feel reassured you’re not alone, and a place you can let others know that they’re not alone either.

A few guidelines

To keep people safe in the meet ups, we have a set of guidelines that we stick to.

Photograph shows 5 post it notes. 1 says "guidelines" the other 4 have one guideline on each.

  1. Everything said during meet ups is confidential.
  2. There’s no need to apologise for how you feel.
  3. Instead of advice, offer personal experience. Ask, “Can I tell you what I’ve done in a similar situation?”
  4. Try to speak openly. The more we do that, the more we can remove the stigma around talking about our mental health.

Learning as we go

I regularly ask the group how they think the meetings are going. This cycle of feedback means I can continually iterate and do what’s right for the group. In the early days, I learnt that even though what we talk about may be hard and people might feel sad, the meet ups shouldn’t just be a place to be sad together.

To prevent that happening, we try and end on a positive note. We’ll look at a feel-good article or a funny YouTube video or Twitter account. Just something that helps people leave feeling more positive.

In the future

The group has gone from strength to strength and we’re keen for it to become an even stronger support network. We’re throwing around ideas about how we could help more people. At the moment, we don’t know the answers so we’d like to hear from you.

If you’re a Co-op colleague, let us know what you’d like to see. We’d also like to hear how other organisations help their staff. You can leave a comment below (anonymous if you like), or email tom.walker@coopdigital.co.uk

Mental health is a big deal and is often an unseen issue. It affects so many of us and workplaces need to give their colleagues the time to build stable and useful support networks.

Tom Walker
User researcher

Co-op employees, we meet every second and fourth Thursday of the month at 12 noon in Federation House. I post reminders in the #general Slack channel a few days before.