Eleanor Miller, Director of Marketing and Communications at MHFA England reflects on the preventative power of wellbeing weeks when used as part of a whole organisation approach to mental health and workplace stress. 
Last week the BBC reported that Bumble, the dating app where women are in charge of making the first move, was temporarily closing its offices to help combat the workplace stress being felt by staff. In an effort to reduce the impact of this stress, 700 employees worldwide were told to switch off and focus on themselves for a week. This news was celebrated across social channels such as LinkedIn and the general vibe was positive, with many calling for their employers to follow suit.   

Bumble’s approach to solving for employee burnout is a welcome one and I am sure it would do well to be replicated across many other sectors and organisations, but for me the question is: should employers be waiting for a crisis to loom before taking this type of action?

At MHFA England we think a preventative approach is the most effective when it comes to managing workplace stress. It’s for this reason that for the last five years we’ve been giving staff two Wellbeing Weeks a year - a summer one and a winter one. This is part of our overall mental health and wellbeing strategy. The weeks are welcomed by our people because it's on top of their annual leave and bank holiday allowance but most importantly, it allows the whole organisation to reboot and re-energise.

Part of why Wellbeing Weeks are so effective is that they allow collective downtime, where there is zero expectation that anyone will be working. This means that emails stop flowing, messages stop pinging and staff are comfortable that a colleague is not having to 'cover' for them whilst they are away, because everyone is 'off'. In our experience, it is the collective downing of tools which creates the right environment for staff to feel the real benefit of a wellbeing week.

The question we often get asked is how our customers and suppliers feel about us shutting up shop for a week. The honest answer is that we get far more 'congratulations' than we do 'complaints' and a lot of 'I wish my organisation did this' or 'we might have to do the same!' Of course, we build in notice time so that everyone who needs to know outside of the organisation is given fair warning. We also choose times of the year where things are naturally quieter, in our case August and December.

There are obviously other important factors when considering how to prevent staff burnout and these should not be overlooked. Good job design, flexible working conditions, workload management and regular wellbeing check-ins are all part of the mix, and a wellbeing week (or even two) won’t solve the issue of workplace stress if these factors are not carefully managed.  

We know that at MHFA England, we haven’t always got it right but as we grow as an organisation, and move slowly out of a global pandemic, we are confident that we will continue to lead by example and create a workplace culture where employee mental health and wellbeing is prioritised. 
To find out more about how to transform the mental health of your organisation visit https://mhfaengland.org/organisations/workplace