Going through a merger is stressful at the best of times, and bringing together two firms to provide homes and contracted services to 70,000 customers across the south of England was no exception for the newly established Vivid Homes.
In 2018, it underwent a total restructure, and as a result had to make more than 5 per cent of its workforce redundant, meaning a period of increased stress and anxiety among staff. But the restructure proved the tip of the iceberg for Vivid’s wellbeing problems: during the same year, almost a third of its reported sickness absences were for mental health reasons.
Duncan Short, director of resources at Vivid, says his team realised it needed to focus not only on the restructure, but also on implementing a wellbeing plan that would help employees who were struggling or nervous about the significant organisational change.
Vivid introduced a range of initiatives to help promote mental health and wellbeing across the company, including drop-in sessions and information on its staff intranet giving advice and signposting employees to local mental health charities.
In the first six months after implementation, the company had made good progress with office-based workers, but trade staff who worked out on site – who make up half of Vivid’s workforce – were left behind. So the company installed an app on everyone’s work smartphones that aimed to improve mental health and build resilience, as well as providing access to a free text message service for those in crisis.
But the “real change”, Short says, started when Vivid’s head of repairs wrote a blog post on the company intranet about his struggles after recovering from an operation, and encouraged others to speak out. “There is a stigma around mental health, particularly for men, which means you don’t talk about it,” Short says. He explains this blog post “opened the door” for trade workers to feel comfortable talking about mental health, and several others asked to share their experiences.
Keeping goals realistic and campaigns regular has been key to changing the culture at Vivid, says Short. One year on, the organisation has turned things around, reducing mental health-related sickness absences by 22 per cent, which Short estimates equates to £100,610 in savings. Plus, Vivid’s employee engagement score rose from 66 per cent in 2018 to 76 per cent the following year as a result of the increased focus on health and wellbeing.
“It takes time, and our journey is well underway,” Short says. “We are moving to an approach that is less paternalistic and more empowering for people to manage their mental health.”