25th November, 2019 | Queen Elizabeth II Centre
25th November, 2019 | Queen Elizabeth II Centre

Simon Linares of Direct Line Group on mental health solutions in his workplace

Simon Linares of Direct Line Group speaks to This Can Happen again, this time to tell us about his highlights from the 2018 event and what he’s most looking forward to this year.

Q. What were your highlights and what has compelled you to return to TCH 19?

A. For me the highlight of the 2018 event was the huge number of organisations, all in one place, trying to understand the issues surrounding mental health and how to help people in the workplace. This year we’re looking forward to more inspiration and more ideas on how to address mental health in the workplace.

Q. What is Direct Line Group’s mental health strategy and how did that change after This Can Happen 18?

A. The strategy at Direct Line Group is to ensure that everyone can have open and honest conversations about who they are, which embraces one of our organisation’s key values, ‘bring all of yourself to work’.

We want our people to perform at their best, but in order to do this they need to feel fully engaged and be part of an inclusive, open environment where they can be themselves.

They need to be comfortable having open and honest conversations about their mental health. When we achieve this we will know that our colleagues can have open and honest conversations about everything else.

The This Can Happen conference was a great opportunity to see what others were doing in this area. It also reinforced how important it is to stay focussed on keeping mental health on top of the agenda.

The breadth of companies at the event reminded us how big and important an issue this is for everyone and the practical ideas that were shared really helped inform the next phase of our agenda.

We’ve previously worked with Johnny and Neil and also recently formed a partnership with  Mind charity in England (and their partner charity in Scotland, the Scottish Association for Mental Health). Last year we  trained over 130 mental health first aiders, so that we could have at least one mental health first aider on every floor of every building. Mental health has been on our agenda for a couple of years, but the This Can Happen conference definitely helped shape our thinking for the future.

Q. How have your colleagues responded to these changes?

A. It’s been very positive. It very quickly become apparent that everybody has a story or knows somebody who is affected by mental health and who can be better supported or helped by others.

We also had an overwhelming response to our Mental Health First Aid training programme which really demonstrates how important this matter is for our people. We continue to encourage people to celebrate who they are using #ThisisMe and have had some great engagement on our internal communications channels, such as Yammer.

Q. Direct Line Group implemented innovative solutions to support mental health at work some time ago. What was the inspiration for this strategy when it began?

A. Being at a Dive-In Fest event (a festival for diversity and inclusion in insurance) with Johnny and Neil the year before made us realise how important it was to address mental health within our company. It became very obvious that everyone at the session was affected in some way and there was a definite need to address this subject and bring about positive change.

Q. Do you feel that UK businesses are aware of mental health issues on the whole?

A. Awareness is growing and a lot of progress has been made, but there is still a lot more to do before it becomes normal to speak out confidently. The more we can encourage open conversations, the more natural it will be for people to talk about this with each other.

Q. Do you believe that celebrity or royal endorsement of mental health as a critical issue has improved visibility of the topic?

A. Definitely. The more key influencers and roles models can share their experiences or show they are not embarrassed to speak out, more progress will be made, and less of a stigma will be associated with the issue. These are people who inspire others so it will definitely improve mental health awareness.  

Q. There’s a vast gap between awareness and action. How can we continue to work towards bridging this gap?

A. Sharing ideas and focussing on what you can do even if you can’t do everything right now. We need to keep helping everyone and every company to make progress over the next year.

Q. What are you expecting from This Can Happen 2019?

A. I’m expecting another great event that will build on the fantastic energy of last year. I am hoping to learn and hear more useful ideas that we can take back and implement. Also really looking forward to meeting even more participants and hearing about what they are doing in their companies.