A proactive approach to mental health

Shyamantha Asokan speaks to Penelope Hill at Vistry Group about how the company’s policies on mental health helped her recover from PTSD.


When Penelope Hill was suffering from PTSD a few years ago, following the end of an abusive relationship, her employer supported her every step of the way.

Hill, a business improvement manager at Vistry Group, used the company’s Employee Assistance Programme to get a range of advice. She was also able to use her company health insurance to have counselling sessions. Her line manager allowed her to work flexibly around her appointments and checked in with her regularly.

Hill says that Vistry, which won this year’s WM People Top Employer Award for Best for Mental Health, doesn’t just provide a range of mental health support for staff – crucially, the house-building company strives to remove any workplace stigma around using this support. “I’ve never felt that my career or my [professional] relationships have been compromised by me discussing my mental health or seeking help for it,” she says.

Hill’s experiences led her to train as one of Vistry’s Mental Health First Aid-ers (MHFAs), so that she could support other colleagues. She now chairs the company’s mental health committee, which aims to ensure that staff know what support is available, as well as proposing any further types of support that might be needed to the executive committee.

“Like most of these things, once you’ve been through something yourself, you can spot the signs in other people far more easily,” Hill says of her role in helping colleagues with their mental health. She uses her MHFA training to know when to check in with colleagues. She says some key signs include: are they quieter than usual; have they stopped talking about their lives outside of work; are they sending late-night emails on a regular basis?

One size doesn’t fit all

Vistry’s mental health committee tries to find ways to connect with staff who are not regularly in the office, because in those situations warning signs can be harder to spot. For example, the business has staff who work on construction sites or who work from home a lot. “One size doesn’t fit all,” Hill says. “And the fact that we continue to explore what’s the best way to support our staff, [that] is what really shines. It’s not just: ‘Here you go, we’ve bought this service, and here’s a phone number.’ ”

A year ago, Hill was experiencing symptoms of burnout. She again used the company’s helplines and other services for support. She also used her MHFA training to help her understand what was happening inside her mind, and to observe how she felt.

“I’m really pleased that we work for a business that…has been very proactive,” she says of Vistry Group’s approach to employees’ mental health.

“The perception quite often, in corporate businesses, is that those facilities are there as a tick-box exercise. And I know first-hand from being involved in it, and from my own experience, that that really isn’t the case. It really is there to help people.”

*For information on all the winners of the WM People Top Employer Awards and, crucially, what they do and what impact this has in the WM People Top Employer Awards, look out for our Best Practice Report, coming later this month. 

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