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Parliament can lead the way in showcasing a workplace culture that prioritises mental health

Parliament can lead the way in showcasing a workplace culture that prioritises mental health
4 min read

The House of Commons is one of the largest workplaces in the country – and we have experienced all the same challenges, and successes, of home working during the pandemic while keeping the business of the house running.

The House of Commons is one of the largest workplaces in the country – and we have experienced all the same challenges, and successes, of home working during the pandemic while keeping the business of the house running.

From dogs barking on Zoom calls to toddlers wandering into view – those working from home have had a real insight into their colleagues’ personal lives. My cat Patrick often makes an appearance and has become a popular figure among those on the Parliamentary Estate. Once we moved past the early awkwardness of this – we started to recognise these glimpses of people’s “real” life as a positive.

We need to build on this foundation where people can show their “whole self”, to support employees so they feel they have the safety and freedom to choose which parts of their identity they share at work, without fear of judgement.

I am the Speaker, but it doesn't stop me being a fan of Bolton Wanderers, a family man, a Lancastrian, or person dealing with diabetes and ensuring I hit my 10,000 steps while I am at work.

Bringing our whole self to work helps us to connect — and making these human connections is more important than ever. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England revealed this week that over a third of male employees (36 per cent) and almost two-thirds of female workers (64 per cent) reported increased feelings of loneliness and isolation due to the pandemic.

This highlights just how vital it is that, wherever we’re working from, we remain connected with our colleagues. During the pandemic, we have undertaken a number of initiatives on the estate to keep our “village” united while many of us have been physically apart. I have had virtual drop-in sessions with a number of our teams, we delivered a month-long Mental Health Festival, and we held a socially-distanced and live-streamed Carol service at Christmas.

Crucial to all our initiatives is how they contribute to our workplace culture of openness, authenticity and support. Through sharing how I have faced good days and bad, I hope it encourages others to speak up if they are struggling. It’s essential we talk and break the workplace taboo around mental health.

What we do in Parliament can be an example to wider society: The nation faces a workplace mental health crisis in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to MHFA England. It claims more people than ever need mental health and wellbeing support, and employers have a key role to play in creating a society where everyone’s mental health matters.

The key is to create inclusive cultures that enable people to feel they can bring their whole self to work, without fear of judgement. Doing so will bring about improved workplace mental health, and performance.

In Parliament, we have worked closely with MHFA England to develop our team of mental health first aiders and they play a key role in supporting people to open up, to discuss their mental health and wellbeing, and to seek further help where needed.

As we look at the road map for the easing of lockdown measures, and as the vaccine rolls out, we need to grasp the opportunity to rethink our workplaces. Let’s seize this moment for change and finally do things differently. Prioritising wellbeing and inclusivity is the right place to start to build a workplace fit for the 21st century.

As we approach one year of working from home for many people, now is the time to reflect on how we can harness this moment of change brought about by the pandemic and rethink our approach to the workplace. We must start in Parliament and show we can lead the way.

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