Case study

Helping staff to help others at St Mungo’s

Helen Giles
Helen Giles

Executive director of people and governance,
St Mungo's

8 mins

Working for a charity is a balancing act. On one hand, you want to help out your beneficiaries as much as you can – but on the other, a limited budget means you need to be very careful about where your money is going. This means difficult decisions have to be made, sometimes at the expense of wellbeing initiatives for your staff.

But Helen Giles, executive director of people and governance of homelessness charity St Mungo’s, believes that investing in your people​Thriving at Work – investing in mental health PDF Supporting employee mental health needn't be expensive - there's a considerable return on investment, and many measures you can offer are tax free. This one-page briefing from HMRC has information and links to further details.Free By: HM Revenue & Customs View resource is often one of the best decisions an organisation can make. “We often think people want to come and work for charities because it’s nice and fluffy, and the impact you have is its own reward,” she says. “But, the services you provide can only be as good as the people delivering them. There’s perhaps been a historical under-investment in people management in the third sector, but with all the pressures our staff face, we know it’s actually really important.”

St Mungo’s itself is a prime example of some of the challenges charity staff and volunteers can face. Each night, it provides a bed and support to more than 2,800 people across the South and South West, along with additional services such as healthcare and community work. While this can result in uplifting moments for staff, they can also face extremely difficult circumstances.

“It can be very stressful,” Helen explains. “It’s possible, for example, that they may experience aggression while working with our outreach teams. They may, unfortunately, find one of our clients has died. That can have a huge emotional impact.”

An outreach team member talks to a homeless person.
We’ll always try to take an individual path.

As such, it’s been crucial for St Mungo’s to ensure that an awareness of mental health issues is deeply embedded in its culture. “We try to be very supportive here,” Helen says. “We have occupational health advisors​Occupational health: the value proposition PDF Only a minority of the UK workforce can access a comprehensive occupational health service. This guide clearly lays out the business case for an occupational health strategy.Free By: The Society of Occupational Medicine View resource, and industry standards such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)​Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) – Supporting good work for UK employers? PDF This 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, and we encourage staff to discuss how they are feeling with their managers.”

When problems do arise, there are guidelines for giving employees an outline of what should be done – but there is also a focus on ensuring managers have the knowledge and confidence to treat each incident on a case-by-case basis. Staff can access leaflets describing in detail where to turn when things go wrong, information on health and safety, and contacts for a variety of networks​St Mungo’s Diversity Networks PDF Networks are a great way of connecting staff who have similar experiences and backgrounds. At St Mungo's, there are several different groups offering support and advice.Free By: St Mungo’s View resource, but in addition, managers are encouraged to use their own initiative. “We’ll always try to take an individual path [when someone is experiencing a mental health condition],” Helen says. “Together they might decide it’s best for someone to work from home more often, or that they’d be best working in a non-frontline team for a time. We try to be flexible around people’s needs as much as we can.”

I read notes from all of our exit interviews.

When it comes to managing shocking or difficult circumstances, St Mungo’s has a comprehensive trauma pathway​Pathway for staff exposed to a traumatic incident at work PDF This is an example of a trauma pathway, designed to help managers support staff who have experienced something traumatic at work.Free By: St Mungo’s View resource, designed to support employees though the experience. Crucially, it advises regular check-ins with the employee weeks after the experience – as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might not be apparent right away.

Helen is also keen to continue developing their strategy using the feedback they receive from staff. “I read notes from all of our exit interviews,” she explains. “You might think people will be more negative in those, because they’re leaving, but that’s often not the case. But it does help you see where they are feeling the pressures of their job.”

She also reads reviews of the charity posted on Glassdoor, a website which allows current and former employees to anonymously review their organisation. Joe Wiggins, director of corporate communications, EMEA and APAC at Glassdoor, says it is increasingly common for managers and HR specialists to read their reviews on the site to work out what is going well and what could be improved in the workplace. “Our intention was always that Glassdoor become a constructive forum, and the data we provide [to] employers can sit alongside other sources, such as employee surveys and engagement tools,” he adds. “I believe there is a huge amount of valuable information that can be gleaned from reviews for businesses of any size, so I would certainly recommend that organisations of all types pay attention to the free feedback they are getting there.”

St Mungo's staff enjoying a social event
I hope everyone knows that if they experience a mental health issue while with us, then they will be very well supported.

As a result of this focus strong focus on wellbeing, St Mungo’s has been recognised by a number of external originations. It is in the top 100 Stonewall Work Equality Index for LGBTQ inclusion and a top employer for Trans Inclusion, and it has signed the Mindful Employer and Healthy Workplace Charters.

“We don’t really have a specific mental wellbeing policy, because we do our best to think about it in everything we do,” Helen says. “We have such a supportive culture, and I hope everyone knows that if they experience a mental health issue while with us, then they will be very well supported.”

Helen Giles

Helen Giles
Executive director of people and governance,
St Mungo's

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