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Mental health is a big priority for Octopus this year. Here’s why

15 March 2018


Towards the end of last year, I spent a weekend learning all about Grit, one of the charities supported by Octopus Giving. If you haven’t heard of Grit, it’s worth taking the time to find out more about them. They work with schools, colleges and universities to help students develop resilience, belonging and confidence. They reach out to young people who feel disconnected from society and who are at risk of experiencing isolation and vulnerability.

Building connections

The weekend was eye opening and uncomfortable in equal measure. But hearing some of the stories of the people Grit helps was inspiring, and I was genuinely in awe of the work they do and how it transforms people’s lives. It got me thinking about mental health. I’m no expert, but I believe this subject will be one of the biggest issues we face over the next 50 years.

So, what did I learn from my training with Grit? I learned that being vulnerable (and admitting to ourselves and to others that, like everyone else, we’re not perfect) is both really human, and really powerful. In my case, I’ve learned that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more accepting of who I really am, rather than stressing about not being good enough, or pretending to be something I’m not.

The responsibility of employers

It also got me thinking about Octopus, and the stress that everyone who works here is likely to be under. Let’s face it, London is a stressful place to live and work. And I am always the first to point out that Octopus is a fast-paced company. The people who work here are ambitious, competitive, endlessly curious and don’t stop. That can all add up to a powerful combination in business.

But there’s a big risk that the people here who work so hard could end up paying a price personally. And it’s up to us as a business to make sure that doesn’t happen. Which is why this year, we’ve started working with Rob Archer, a Chartered Psychologist who specialises in resilience training. With his input, we’re introducing wellness workshops designed to help Octopus people counter stress and get the balance right between health and performance. These workshops are based on performance psychology principles used by elite sports teams, some of which you can read about here. The workshops are designed to help people:

  • Recognise the difference between pressure and stress, and between good stress and bad stress.
  • Understand their own thinking patterns and their emotional responses to stressful situations.
  • Recognise their own unhelpful thinking styles and learn some useful tools to help them manage their instant reaction.
  • Understand the significance of ‘marginal gains’ when it comes to changing their behaviour.
  • Learn of different tools and techniques to improve performance under pressure.
  • Create their own personalised resilience plan to embed behavioural change.

We’re rolling these out across the Octopus Group, and feedback so far has been very positive. Attendees tell us there’s a lot to be gained from standing up and talking about these things and also from hearing about the experiences of the other people in the room.

Wellbeing at work

Talking about mental health still carries quite a stigma. It really shouldn’t. Part of the reason for writing this is so that more people feel able to speak up about mental health in the workplace without it being seen as a weakness or a flaw. And, should you choose to, I think you’ll find people will respond only one way – they’ll want to listen and to help.

That’s especially true in Octopus, where I think we have all created a culture and an environment which is naturally supportive and caring. We may be fierce, resilient competitors, but we still see ourselves as all on the same team, sharing the same sense of purpose. And that is a part of our DNA that we will always fight to hold onto.