EN guest editor Simon Parker talks to NEC Group’s Aceel Deer (pictured) about mental health
I have purposefully extended Mental Health Awareness week to a fortnight as I wanted to give Tom Fisher the platform to express his deeply personal view and then look at how our industry is dealing with the issue at an organisational level. In this weeks’ piece I spoke with Aceel Dear who is head of group marketing at the NEC Group. While awareness of the importance of mental health is clearly key, I wanted to get a view on what approaches enlightened businesses are taking and how they create systems and processes to support their teams.
I start by asking Aceel to outline what mental health means to her and to the NEC.
AD: “Mental health and the wellbeing of our staff comes before everything else at the NEC Group. We recognise, especially given how challenging this year has been, the importance of making sure they are looked after and that we continue to educate ourselves on the topic.
“Wellbeing is defined by the dictionary as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’, but we see it as a much broader concept than moment-to-moment happiness. For us it means how satisfied people are with their life as a whole (especially their work life), their sense of purpose, and how in control they feel.
“As a company, we have always offered our staff a range of employee benefits, including access to occupational health and pastoral support, and free private counselling, via an Employee Assistance Programme.
“In recent years we have increased our focus in this area. We understand that everyone is different – we’re such a diverse group, with so many different types of roles – and that’s why we offer a range of support mechanisms for our staff including a dedicated team who focus on wellbeing.
“We also have trained staff in Mental Health First Aid (and won awards for offering this support at some of our arena concerts) and we do various activities to ensure we are making our staff feel emotionally supported. That’s very important to us.”
It is clearly something that Aceel feels very passionate about – although as Tom pointed out there are many misconceptions about this area. Does she think this is the case?
“I think in society we’re more in tune with our wellbeing than we’ve ever been, but a misconception is that mental health concerns are uncommon.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that ‘1 in 4 people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.’ Currently, 450 million people across the globe are experiencing such conditions. As the WHO explain, mental disorders are ‘among the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide.’ This has been brought sharply into focus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Another common misconception is that mental ill health is a sign of weakness. If anything, being able to acknowledge your troubles and fight back shows an incredible amount of strength.”
Approaching mental health in the workplace
This is an important point and while business is changing its attitudes to mental health and getting better at dealing with impacted employees – how does she think we should approach it in the workplace and what should employers do to promote best practice?
“Incorporating wellbeing into your business strategy needs to have a top-down approach. Employees need to know that their leadership teams and line managers are taking the topic seriously and that it really is okay to use the support on offer. We all need to lead by example.
“But the other thing for us is communication – letting all staff know what options are there and readily available should they need them.
“The absolute last thing we want is for staff to feel like they’re alone, or have no-one to talk to, whether we’re talking about issues in the workplace or beyond. That’s why we set up a dedicated team focused on wellbeing and have regular content focused around the topic communicated to all staff and service partner colleagues.”
Stress of the job
It is clearly important that our leaders set the tone and that our work and life balance needs to be focused on, but the nature of what we do is inherently stressful. Does Aceel think that there are specific circumstances that make our profession susceptible to poor mental health?
“Research shows that being an event professional is ranked highly amongst the most stressful jobs. One in three people in the industry will suffer a period of mental ill health – the national average is one in four.
“Anyone that works in the events industry will tell you it’s hugely diverse, exciting and really quite different to any other job out there. Naturally though, this does bring challenges and stresses out of the ordinary.
“People power truly makes the event industry keep ticking, there are so many moving parts, so it’s vital we look inwards and protect what’s most valuable – our people.
“Any way we can raise awareness on the topic can only be a good thing – and it’s why weeks like Mental Health Awareness Week are so important. It helps shed light on the tools that people need, help them to be more in control of their wellbeing.
“In the past we’ve held a week of wellbeing activities (such as laughter yoga, singing groups and drawing for mindfulness) and these have proven really successful. Our main aim is to bring staff together and help encourage an open culture where we’re not scared to talk openly about mental health and wellbeing.
For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re running a virtual yoga session and are sharing lots of resources with our staff – encouraging them to take time out to look after themselves, wherever or whatever they are doing. While, on our social channels, we will be showing support for our Charity of the Year, Mind, an amazing charity that our staff voted to do fundraising for.”
The NEC have clearly embraced this issue and have implemented a range of measures that are simple, impactful and effective, I finish by asking Aceel what we can do If we suspect one of our colleagues is suffering how should we support and help them.
“Asking people how they are is so important and can be something forgotten too easily when working virtually.
“Various charities have previously run campaigns encouraging people to ‘ask twice’ – sometimes we all say we’re fine when we’re not but if you feel that somebody is suffering, take time to ‘ask twice’ about what is happening in their life and how they are feeling.
“There are so many resources out there offering support, nobody should have to suffer alone.”
This seems like an appropriate way to end. I would like to thank both Tom and Aceel for their insight and unique perspectives. As Aceel mentions we are a people business and ensuring we look after our colleagues is the most important thing we should be doing. From setting the right tone at a leadership level to creating teams to deal with this issue, we should be constantly thinking about new ways to combat the devasting impact of poor mental health. As both Tom and Aceel have mentioned the fact that we are aware of it and are talking about it openly is a step in the right direction, but we need to keep focused on it way beyond Mental Health Awareness Week.