This week we are talking about mental wellbeing at work with Noemi Diamantini, Football Operations Lead at Football Radar.
Following the interview last week with Alen Peacock on how to best approach performance reviews, today, for National Stress Awareness Day, we want to pay a small contribution and help raise awareness on the topic of stress at work and its impact by discussing with Noemi the importance of mental well-being for individuals and organisations.
Our goal with People Talks is to bring together the perspective of people changing the work experience for the better. Generating positive impact is not always a top down process. Many employees out there, working at small to large companies, are kicking off initiatives to spread awareness around all sorts of topics. I remember learning about colour therapy, and how wearing certain colours can impact our morale and boost confidence, during one of the weekly lunch and learn at the startup where I used to work.
Noemi is not an HR/People person, and with her we're not talking about style today – we're talking about mental health; something that we hope you'll find equally enjoyable.
Noemi brings many years of people management experience and is sharing with us her view around how to create a work environment able to embrace vulnerabilities.
It was great to chat, and I thank her for sharing some learnings.
Noemi – let's start with a quick overview of your background
I have a background in journalism and a passion for football, so for the first part of my career I tried to bring together the two. Eight years ago I moved to London and joined the growing team at Football Radar – a company that specialises in predicting the outcome of matches and competitions. I started as a "match analyst" and worked my way up to lead the Football Operations department, where I'm coordinating the work of a distributed team of 50 as well as overseeing several aspects of our world wide coverage.
Mental health is something you deeply care about. Why have you become interested in this topic, and how does it affect you personally (both at work and in your life outside work)?
It wasn't until I moved to London that I got exposure to mental wellbeing. In the UK, we're talking about it openly and there is a good amount of awareness and shared resources, where in Italy this is still seen as a taboo.
I became even more interested when stress hit me hard, and both life at work and my spare time got a little gloomy. I had this moment in life where I felt powerless, but eventually, with a lot of work on myself and with the support of my friends I got through it. That made me want to voice the lows as much as the highs, and I turned to be an advocate of mental wellbeing and diversity. Currently I run different initiatives within my workplace and regularly share my experience to help others as much as I can.
Dealing with stress and anxiety at work is something that many people face, although it is not openly shared enough. Why do you think this is the case? Do you see this being related to the job role, to the environment or as a personality aspect?
These aspects are all relevant and related, although the environment has an important role here. As an organisation you should encourage dialogue and create a culture where people feel safe in exposing their vulnerabilities. This also considering that employees don't tend to do the first step in exposing their issues if they don't see a degree of acceptance in place. In recent years we come a long way and made great progress but there is still a lot more that can be done. Training for people managers should be more frequent; this would enable them to identify delicate situations early, prevent issues before they escalate, and generally be more supportive with their teams.
You are managing a team of 50+ people and dealing with strict deadlines – not arbitrary but based on the nature of the job. How do you ensure your team can perform well under pressure, and how do you help them have a reasonable workload?
Like you said, the nature of our job means that people often have to work towards deadlines and work “anti-social hours” (including evenings and weekends). We of course have rotations in place, to ensure employees are well rested, and are flexible in accommodating personal needs. Still, having to stay up at night or over the weekend to watch and analyse a game, can impact one’s mental health. From a manager perspective, my role in designing an agenda that is equally fair for the entire team is key. For example, I keep track of who's working on what and when, to make sure I can shuffle people around and give them extra time off when needed. Keeping a good communication flow is also super important to manage both parties' expectations, so people know when a busy period is arriving and plan accordingly.
What are some helpful actions you’d recommend someone to take if they came to you asking for help?
I would start by listening carefully and keep an open mind. I would then try to understand if there was a specific episode that triggered a sense of distress – was this because of work or because of something else? Depending on the situation, I would generally encourage to take some time off. In some cases, even a half of a day or a day can go a long way. I would also provide assistance to identify the relevant resources or professionals that can be better equipped than I am to help. The fact that you need to seek professional help can be an additional source of stress, and navigating the many resources out there is a daunting task. Finally I’d try to check in regularly with the person, as often people are scared to reach out again because they are afraid that they would be a burden for the listener.
People managers sometimes push their teams to get to great results and stimulate individuals. This could also lead to set unrealistic expectations and an overall negative impact. As a manager, where would you draw the line to avoid overwhelming your team?
I'd like to think that we draw the line together. As a manager, communication for me is paramount and although the results are important, I have regular check-ins with my reports to understand how they are feeling. I care about getting to know them better so I can adjust my behaviour and the way I work and push each individual based on their personalities and current circumstances. This creates mutual trust that eventually will bring positive impact to the company and to them personally.
We are seeing a lot of initiatives revolving around mental health. These are definitely good to spread awareness, but thinking more long term, what do you think companies can do better?
Spreading awareness around mental health in the workplace is important but it is just a first step. Companies can do much more to build an inclusive culture that encourages an open dialogue. Here are a few ideas:
- Starting from the top, organisations need to ensure reasonable workloads that are manageable for their employees. A large portions of mental health issues are unfortunately linked to work related stress, happening when employees are constantly put under pressure and forced to meet arbitrary deadlines – many times not even properly communicated.
- Personally, I would suggest to organise practical workshops and initiative to promote personal wellbeing, have dedicated areas where people can de-stress, and offer accessible and non-judgemental support for those in need. Such initiatives are not hard to implement, and can be kicked off by designated "advocated" employees (trained).
- Finally, I would encourage companies to get deals with doctors, therapists or well-prepared institutions and make sure employees are taking advantage of such partnerships. Companies invest in health insurances and gym memberships to ensure the psychical well-being of their employees, that exact same investments should be made in mental well-being related benefits.
Are there any resources on the subject that would you recommend our readers to check out?
Anything related to cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful – it's simple and enables you to make gradual adjustments to your day to day and get tangible results.
Where can people connect or find out more about you?
You can find me on Twitter @NoemiDiamantini
If you have experience revolving around startups, people and culture, ping us on Twitter @HumaansHQ or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to learn from your journey and share your learnings.
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