Australian design practice, Hames Sharley, has today announced a suite of mental health initiatives for employees, which aim to increase the level of support available to staff, while also reducing the stigma associated with mental health and other impactful ‘life events’. The first initiative is an expanded Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which will offer 24//7 counselling support and other wellness services to Hames Sharley employees and their immediate families.

Following almost two years of the firm’s six practices being placed in various states of lockdown, and with a growing number of employees reporting feelings of isolation while working from home, the company decided to review its existing mental health and wellbeing policies to determine how they could be improved. With mental health hotlines services experiencing extensive wait times due to unprecedented demand, it became clear that the immediate priority was the introduction of a 24/7 mental health support service that staff in NSW and VIC specifically could access without extended waiting times.

“We’ve always had an open-door policy at Hames Sharley and encourage all staff to speak openly and seek support if they’re ever feeling stressed or overwhelmed. However, we also know that sometimes people prefer not to discuss personal issues with their employer, which we completely understand, so wanted to ensure we were offering our employees as many options as possible,” said Caillin Howard, Managing Director, Hames Sharley.

“The introduction of the EAP, run by Assure, an Australian mental health organisation, will provide our teams with access to professional and confidential services any time of the day or night. It was really important for us to choose an organisation which uses registered psychologists, whose services were immediately available with limited wait times, and who offered their services across a range of mediums, including phone, video call, SMS or face to face meetings. And because this is a holistic service which aims to support staff for any personal, family or relationship issues they may be experiencing, we felt it was important to also offer access to the service to our employee’s immediate family members.”

The new EAP is just one tool that forms part of Hames Sharley’s suite of initiatives to increase awareness about, and reduce the stigma surrounding, mental health and other important issues. Over the coming months the company will reintroduce Mental Health First Aid training for employees, which will help them recognise the signs of mental health distress and how to approach those who might need help.

The company is also taking a proactive stance on raising awareness about previously ‘taboo’ issues through the rollout of its People & Culture article series - stories which go beyond architecture to give an inside look at the people behind Hames Sharley. Raw, insightful and honest, these first-person accounts tell tales of personal struggles, having already covered hard-hitting topics such as depression, anxiety, cancer, and suicide. Hames Sharley believes that by putting these stories into the public sphere and ensuring staff can see their colleagues most vulnerable sides, they can help reduce the stigma associated with mental health and other typically unspoken issues.

“I’ve been incredibly touched by the stories some of our staff have shared for our People and Culture series, and I’m humbled by the fact that they’ve felt comfortable sharing these incredibly personal journeys with us. This initiative is such an important step, because the more we talk about mental health issues, the more we normalise it – the last thing we want is people feeling ashamed or trying to hide the fact that they’re struggling.

“Inclusion is very important for us at Hames Sharley, and we are always looking at ways we can improve our company culture to create the most nurturing, supportive work environment. Although we have always had the mental health and wellbeing of our employees top of mind, the COVID-19 pandemic really highlighted for us that we could be doing more, and I’m incredibly proud of the new initiatives we’ll be implementing over the coming months,” said Mr Howard.