Take 2' / 17 Oct 2022

GAC UK puts the well into being

October marked World Mental Health Day, but staff wellbeing is a daily priority

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Mental health struggles can affect anyone, no matter how strong or successful they are, as GAC UK’s QHSSE Manager Laura Grizzell knows from personal experience.

When she was in her early twenties, a close friend developed anxiety so severe she became borderline agoraphobic. Laura became her proxy shopper, and more. And it was that insight into how fragile emotional balance can be that led her to set up GAC UK’s nationwide Wellbeing campaign for staff in 2019.

More than PPE
“The way I see my job, health and safety is about much more than making sure people have the right protective equipment,” says Laura.

The idea for a corporate initiative formed after discussing changes in UK health & safety law to cover mental as well as physical wellbeing with HR colleagues.

She drew up plans for staff throughout the company to meet regularly to discuss and implement better ways to improve staff mental health, which MD Herman Jorgensen approved.

The Teams app is used for live quizzes, group discussions, group exercises, online polls and photo postings.

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Employees are encouraged to use the 5 Ways To Wellbeing.

Connect
with people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building connections will support and enrich you every day.

Be active
Go for a walk or run. Step outside, cycle, play a game, garden, dance. A little physical exercise that suits your level of mobility.

Take notice
Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Savour the moment whether you are eating lunch or talking to friends, family or colleagues. Reflection on experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.

Keep learning
Try something new. Rediscover an old interest or hobby. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident, as well as being fun.

Give
Do something nice for a friend or stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with people around you.

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Partners and support
When the time came for GAC UK staff to choose the charities they would support in 2019, they voted to work with mental health charities Mind (in England and Wales) and the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH). These partnerships give GAC UK resources and help in supporting employees struggling with stress, anxiety, depression or bereavement.

GAC UK was the first agent to join the Maritime UK Diversity in Maritime programme’s working group to promote Mental Health in Maritime.

Prepared for pandemic
In retrospect, Laura is particularly happy that the GAC UK scheme was well established by the time the COVID-19 pandemic added new challenges to people’s equilibrium.

“We were in a strong position to help any colleagues struggling with anxiety, feelings of isolation and difficulty adapting to new working practices due to the pandemic,” she says.

Added benefits
By becoming a leader in staff wellbeing in the sectors it serves, the company attracts a high calibre of job applicants, driven as much by a positive corporate culture as they are by financial reward.

There is also a commercial benefit. Ever more tenders or customers want to know what companies do in terms of sustainability and support for their staff. GAC UK is able to demonstrate real action.

Mental Health First Aiders
Twelve GAC UK volunteers – including Laura – have now completed training with the St John’s and St Andrew’s Ambulance Services as Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs). And there are more to come.

MHFAs must be interested in people and good listeners. Empathy, emotional maturity and the ability to ‘read’ people are vital. Confidentiality is key. It is also important to accept they cannot solve other people’s problems but are there to listen, encourage them to talk, and to point them in the right direction if they need further help.

Over the past three years, colleagues have reached out to the MHFAs who have provided support and a friendly ear and, where needed, guided them on seeking further help when needed.

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