As employers explore new ways of working during the pandemic, Essex County Council is keen to show its 7,500 employees that it values their mental wellbeing. That’s why the council has teamed up with Able Futures, which delivers the Government-funded Access to Work Mental Health Support Service.
Essex County Council is one of the largest local authorities in the country, providing public services to 1.4 million residents. The council joined forces with Able Futures in September 2021 after their local Able Futures business account manager got in touch to outline the free mental health support services we could offer employers.
Dr Sabrina Robinson, wellbeing lead at the council, says: “Able Futures fit very well with how we were thinking about our ways of working as an organisation. We needed to think differently about wellbeing and put mental health at the forefront in response to the pandemic, which has caused an increase in stress and anxiety. We needed to put support in place in a preventable way, and that’s why Able Futures is such a good fit for us.”
The council is delivering a five-year wellbeing strategy looking at ways of improving staff’s mental, financial, social and physical wellbeing, and it was clear that Able Futures would complement the strategy and existing Employee Assistance Programme.
“I like the ethos of Able Futures – you don’t need a diagnosis to use the service, it’s accessible to all,” says Dr Robinson, who has been instrumental in rolling out the programme. She works within the council’s People and Transformation function and is leading on the delivery of the wellbeing strategy. A qualified psychologist, she is also one of the council’s team of mental health first aiders, who provide immediate and confidential support to staff in need.
Dr Robinson worked with Able Futures to develop a launch plan for communicating the benefits of Able Futures support which was shared with colleagues informally before the official launch took place in September 2021.
“It was one year on from the launch of our wellbeing strategy, we were celebrating how far we had come and looking at what we wanted to do next, so it was a good time to promote our work with Able Futures,” says Dr Robinson. The council also recommended Able Futures to partner organisations attending the council’s LearnFest event, an annual celebration of learning.
The council has promoted the service to staff on the intranet, while representatives from Able Futures have delivered live sessions and workshops on topics such as resilience in the workplace. Like many employers, the council has seen absenteeism linked to stress and anxiety, however, this has decreased in the past year.
"We track our absence rates and we do see a bigger proportion of absenteeism in relation to mental health compared to other areas. However, it’s a good thing we are seeing that because it means we are recording it and creating a culture of open conversations about mental health, as is evidenced in our decreasing absence figures."
Dr Sabrina Robinson, wellbeing lead at Essex County Council
"In general society there’s still a bit of a stigma around the issue. Within our own organisation we have come a very long way to creating a culture where people feel more comfortable talking about mental health, but we know we have more to do to promote that culture.”
Dr Robinson is eager to ensure all council employees know that support is available to them, no matter their way of working.
She adds: “I think it’s been a very positive start to our relationship with Able Futures. We’ve had some really encouraging feedback from people who have used the service. People have come to us and said they’re having a very positive experience.”
Able Futures offers up to nine months of free mental health support to working people with appointments with a dedicated mental health specialist are provided over the phone, online or face to face. Find out more about how it could support you.