Shantel Irwin: Mental health a key priority for Arthritis Action

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Shantel Irwin, Chief Executive, Arthritis Action
Even the smallest gestures can make a significant difference to the wellbeing of staff, says Shantel Irwin of Arthritis Action.

Arthritis Action is a UK charity supporting people with arthritis to live a better quality of life through its self-management approach. Mental health and wellbeing is a key component of self-management, which is why the Charity focuses on it both internally and externally.

Arthritis Action believes in nurturing a healthy and happy workforce, and this can only happen when workplace mental health approaches are put into action. The Charity employs a small team who deliver a wide range of programmes and activities, and the management recognise this and consequently carry out several initiatives to not only motivate staff but also ensure that they have a good work-life balance. For instance, during the busier months of the year, the Charity hires temporary staff and volunteers to assist with the workload and reduce stress. Moreover, there is a Time Off In Lieu (TOIL) policy in place for staff members who work outside of normal working hours, to make sure people have time to rest and recuperate after a big event or working long hours.

The Charity also has a flexitime policy to accommodate staff members who have a long commute coming in to work; or those with families and children to take care of; or simply to enable staff to choose the working hours that work best for their personal lifestyles, which in turn promotes a better work-life balance and can vastly improve mental health.

From a day-to-day perspective, line management make it a point to encourage everyone to take a lunch break, even if it’s just 20 minutes long on busier days, because going out for a walk or getting some fresh air can improve mood and is a good opportunity to take a break away from the office. Friday afternoons are also more laidback and relaxed in the office, enabling staff to have a lighter day after the long week they’ve had.

Other effective strategies that work in the office include doing stretching exercises led by David Vaux, the Charity’s Therapies Manager, and relaxation exercises by Heather Baumohl-Johnson, Director of Member Services & Operations and a qualified clinical hypnotherapist. Employees are encouraged to do these exercises if they have been sitting for too long or have had a busy day.

Wellbeing Focus Week 2015Despite running all of these great initiatives in the office, the Charity believes that it is even more fundamental to nurture a supportive working environment, where employees feel that they can approach their line managers should they have a possible mental health issue they would like to discuss. The Charity has already offered mental health training to Heather Baumohl-Johnson who became its first Mental Health First Aider. She is now able to offer support to staff members who are experiencing a mental health problem by listening to their issues, communicating with them non-judgementally, and providing information to help them further their journey of recovery. More importantly, staff members now know that they can speak to her should any issues arise.

Arthritis Action also believes that even the smallest gestures can make a significant difference to the wellbeing of staff. For instance, a gesture of thanks or an informal check-in every morning can make people feel that they are part of a supportive environment.

Arthritis Action appreciates that it’s all a learning process, and that it needs to continually review its mental wellbeing strategy to ensure that it is truly supporting staff to enable them to not only be productive at work, but also be happy at work. The Charity aims to achieve this by conducting an annual survey to assess staff’s attitudes to mental health in the workplace, and evaluate the effectiveness of the initiatives it has put in place.

The Charity welcomes the recommendations of the Mental Health at Work Report 2017 and is committed to drive forward the mental health agenda in the workplace. Arthritis Action believes that a healthy workforce makes for a happy workforce, which in turn not only boosts productivity, but also quality of life, and success for both the employees and organisation.

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About Shantel Irwin

Shantel is the Chief Executive of UK charity Arthritis Action, and a Trustee of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance (ARMA), an umbrella charity for arthritis charities concerned with musculoskeletal disorders, rheumatology, arthritis research & care. She has worked in membership organisations for over 15 years in both the charity and private sectors. Shantel is keen to help more people with arthritis to lead active lives through Arthritis Action’s self-management approach. She is also a Director of the Lips Choir Community Interest Company.

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