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Mental health issues are a reality for so many of us, with 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem at some point in their lives. The positive news is that the stigmas and attitudes that once surrounded talking about mental health challenges have gradually started to shift, as we recognise the role good mental health plays in helping us relax more, achieve more and ultimately enjoy things more. It’s been fantastic to see a significant investment in mental health this week with the launch of Every Mind Matters. This is the first NHS endorsed national mental health campaign and is designed to encourage adults to become more aware and in tune with their mental health.

The workplace is where we spend around a third of our lives, so it’s not surprising that it has a huge impact on our mental health and wellbeing. There are over 80,000 colleagues across M&S and we want to create an engaging inclusive workplace where everyone feels empowered and supported to deliver their very best and reach their full potential. 

As a Wellbeing Manager, it’s my job to ensure we have the right support and tools in place for colleagues who are facing any health issues, whether mental or physical. Over recent years we’ve been listening to colleague feedback to invest in a series of mental health resources to build knowledge and offer support. This includes online resources through to our confidential support line, Live Well Work Well, which involves a team of trained mental wellbeing specialists who can talk about any issues, no matter how big or small. 

But today, on Mental Health Day, we’re launching a new free, online training tool - Wellbeing in Retail. Developed in partnership with the Samaritans, it is designed to help retail workers look after their mental health, build emotional resilience, signpost where to look for additional help and give them the courage and confidence to support someone else when they are struggling.

We’ve collaboratively funded and launched the new tool in partnership with our industry peers, including the John Lewis Partnership, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASOS, Next and the Co-op. Retail is the largest public sector employer in the UK – providing jobs for just under 3 million people. It’s a fast-paced sector going through profound, far-reaching change – so it’s more important than ever our people feel supported. Because people are the heart of the retail sector – they serve our customers and are the real ambassadors of the brand. 

The majority of colleagues in retail aren’t tied to desk, so the tool’s resources can be accessed whenever and however it’s needed via desktop, phone or tablet. It combines practical information, activities and resources for colleagues to put into practice and refer back to in real-life situations – this includes everything from breathing techniques, the Samaritans listening wheel to develop listening skills, a mood barometer, expert films and case studies on the most common mental health concerns. 

Lorna Woodman, a co-founder of our internal M&S Buddy Network, helped support with the development of the Wellbeing in Retail tool along with colleagues from M&S and across the industry. Lorna decided to launch the network with a teammate after struggling with a long-term health condition in the workplace. The Buddy Network now has over 400 members and provides a safe space for colleagues with health conditions or disabilities, whether mental or physical, to share their experiences and offer tips to one another.

Lorna Woodman (left), M& Product Manager & co-founder of the M&S Buddy Network

Commenting on the Wellbeing in Retail tool, Lorna Says: “Mental health affects so many of us, whether directly or indirectly, and it’s never been more important to ensure that everyone can access help when they need it. This is a topic close to the hearts of the Buddy Network community and it’s been fantastic to play a key role in the launch of this invaluable industry-wide tool.”

This World Mental Health Day, our message is simple – it’s okay not to be okay and it’s always better to seek help. Through collaboration with the wider industry, we hope we can help our colleagues to feel even more supported in the workplace and beyond.