Driving a supportive work culture at Volkswagen Group UK – Mental Health At Work
23/10/2020

Driving a supportive work culture at Volkswagen Group UK

Alex Smith
Alex Smith

Managing director, Volkswagen UK

Talking about your mental health at work can help to create an open and honest culture – and the effect is even more apparent when it’s senior leaders sharing their experiences. Alex Smith, managing director at Volkswagen Group UK, tells us about opening up at work, and the impact this has had on his teams.

Volkswagen Group UK has always had a strong emphasis on colleague welfare and well-being, but the unique challenges we have all faced since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic have simply given us more motivation, increased intensity and huge energy to keep mental health at the top of our agenda.

A clear indication that mental health is an issue of critical importance to a large number of colleagues is the natural level of engagement and compassion we see on the topic. We put our annual charity choice to the employee vote, and Mind Mind Mind provides advice and support on mental health, and campaigns to improve understanding, across England and Wales. View organisation was a runaway winner, and when we introduced our mental health first-aider​Being a Mental Health First Aider: your guide to the role PDF 1 0A workplace Mental Health First Aider can play a key part in supporting colleagues. This document is for new Mental Health First Aiders and outlines what to expect from this role.Free By: Mental Health First Aid England View resource training programme, the uptake was at twice the level we expected.

An engineer runs tests on a laptop.

Clearly this is a subject which resonates deeply within our company, and that is reflected in the breadth and depth of our approach, which goes beyond the mental health first aid programme to a full employee assistance and occupational health service​Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) – Supporting good work for UK employers? PDF 1 0This report, published by The Work Foundation in association with the Employee Assistance Professionals Association, explains how Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) can be used by employers to seek help on both work and non-work related issues. Free By: The Work Foundation View resource. We all know physical wellbeing and mental health are inextricably linked, and therefore our occupational health programmes support both in concert.

Feeling able to speak up is so important

Tackling the stigma around mental health is obviously critical and I believe it’s the job of business leaders to lead with honesty and not shy away from sharing personal experiences. Feeling able to speak up is so important – and quite literally a life-saving step sometimes, and it is very important to me for all our colleagues to know that there is nothing to fear by doing so.

That’s why I was very comfortable to share my personal experience of depression​Symptoms of depression and their effects on employment PDF 2 0At least one in six workers is experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. This report addresses some key questions about how depression can affect work. Free By: The Work Foundation View resource in my weekly all-employee blog as part of our speaking up about mental health activities. One of my board colleagues is himself a mental health first-aider, whilst another is committed outside of work to volunteering in the support sector. We see this sense of community all across our organisation. It’s important for all our colleagues to know that senior level endorsement of our activities in this space isn’t an empty exercise, but driven by personal experience, concern and a sense of responsibility to our community and society – this is who we are.

A man works from home.

The changes in working practices through the current pandemic, together with the inevitable disruption in delivery of some healthcare services creates an environment which we need to navigate with sharpened focus. We are (or at least were! Coronavirus: Coping with the challenges of working from home We've put together some ideas to help you if you're homeworking as the pandemic continues. It includes tips on supporting vulnerable colleagues and managing anxiety. View toolkit) a primarily office-based business, and whilst face-to-face physical contact has dramatically reduced since March, the focus on maintaining dialogue and proactively raising the subject of well-being amongst us has increased. The subject of mental health support is so personally important to so many of our colleagues that it will always remain a key priority for our company.