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How are people teams responding to coronavirus? ...Mental Health Matters

20 May 2020 By Elizabeth Howlett

The charity has seen increased demand during the crisis, so ensuring staff still take breaks at home and offering internal wellbeing webinars has been key

The organisation

Mental Health Matters (MHM) is a nationwide charity providing support to those with mental health needs. Its services include helplines and ‘talking therapies’ provided to supported housing and safe havens. These are run by more than 400 staff across the UK. 

Impact so far 

For MHM the safety and wellbeing of its employees was paramount as the pandemic hit. With a spotlight shone on the country's mental wellbeing during lockdown, MHM remained open to support those in need. But the charity had to “be creative” about how it would deliver these vital services safely. 

Luckily a good IT infrastructure, combined with most staff already having work-suitable laptops and phones, saw the MHM team working remotely to full capacity within 48 hours of lockdown being announced. Aside from those working in supported housing, all MHM staff are working remotely, with no staff furloughed or plans to furlough staff. 

“We are in a fortunate position. We haven't furloughed any staff because we realised there was an even greater need for our services to remain open. People still need them,” says Claire Hall, HR and L&D manager at MHM. 

MHM is also in the process – with the help of the NHS – of setting up secure software to avoid hackers gaining access to confidential online therapy sessions. 

Employee wellbeing 

MHM expected an increased demand for its services, and when lockdown was announced Hall and her HR team immediately turned their attention to employee health and wellbeing – especially for those taking crisis calls and offering emotional support to people in need. 

“We put together some wellbeing packs, which were delivered to all employees. It had a reminder about our EAP scheme and how to access it and tips for working from home, alongside stress-busting and wellbeing tips to reflect social distancing,” explains Hall. “We also paired up with an external provider to give our employees access to online therapy like CBT and stress management. It offers more than the EAP scheme as it provides online support.”

Hall highlights that all support line workers taking crisis calls were encouraged to take breaks while in the office. So her initial concern was that employees would miss out on that time to decompress between calls now they were working from home: “It’s difficult to do that when you’re at home, but we want to give staff as much support and encouragement as we can to take that time away from their phones.

“L&D and HR started a weekly newsletter called Wellbeing Wednesday and we kept it quite light. We have photos of employees cooking at home and looking after their kids, music they listen to, and information on staying connected.”

Internal webinars 

The L&D function has also run a series of webinars to help spread the wellbeing message for employees. “The internal webinars have been on emotional resilience, stress, anxiety, wellbeing and transformative learning,” says Hall. 

“We have also done internal webinars for managers about managing staff wellbeing remotely, how to have challenging conversations and then in general just how to manage people remotely. They‘ve gone down so well it has led to external webinars for other organisations wanting to improve their wellbeing training offering.” 

Recruitment and training 

MHM was already in the process of opening two new facilities in Staffordshire and Kent, which meant the team had to induct and train more than 25 members of staff virtually.

“We couriered IT and phone equipment to our new employees and changed all of our onboarding processes to be via teams and telephone,” says Hall. “This meant giving new starters one-to-one calls to ensure they were OK, and talking them through all our systems and the HR/payroll portal. We also conducted all interviews virtually.”  

The organisation’s external emotional support hotline – which received more than 65,000 calls and 3,000 web chats last year – has experienced increased demand during the pandemic. As a result, MHM is currently still recruiting for hotline support workers. For both new inductees and those yet to join the charity, there is a series of compliance-based training modules to complete. 

“All staff have to do compliance training, which consists of 12 units, such as professional boundaries, mental health awareness and lone worker safety,” says Hall. “Normally they would be done face to face but we have put them on our e-learning portal. 

“But we ask our employees to spread them out over a series of days. Doing 12 e-learning courses in one day isn’t realistic, so we staggered them for wellbeing purposes [and to avoid overload]. The system alerts us if someone has completed too many at once, but everyone has stuck to it.” 

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