As OUI adapts to the global pandemic, the HR team have fought tirelessly against another potential impact to our wellbeing: mental health.
Working in university innovation is frequently rewarding. The work requires being able to understand and work with a variety of high-level scientific concepts across numerous disciplines, to manage a wide array of relationships with stakeholders with very different priorities, and to constantly re-prioritise based on changing circumstances. The core principle of university innovation – turning research into a reality that can save and improve lives – is one that drives us to be passionate and committed to what we do.
However, combined with the deep complexity of the work, this passion and commitment can deplete our collective mental resources if not carefully managed. Consequently, to safeguard our staff and help them achieve consistent results, looking after wellbeing is central to OUI’s core values and operation.
Mental health and wellbeing
Mental health and wellbeing have been a major focus for OUI’s Human Resources, explained Carolyn Hall, who heads up the two-person team. One example of this has been HR leading the switch of private medical insurance provider to one which includes mental health in its coverage. The result of this is that staff suffering from distress can access wider support, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). At present, NHS waiting times for CBT can be anywhere between several weeks to several months. Through their medical cover, OUI staff can now receive support within a week.
“We’ve also instigated other programmes to support mental health,” said Carolyn. “We’ve worked with the Oxford Mindfulness group to bring their courses to OUI, offered resilience training to staff, given mental health training to line managers so they can effectively support colleagues going through difficulties, and launched an Employee Assistance programme to better support OUI staff through challenging times in their personal or work life”.
Another addition has been the introduction of mental health first aiders. Several staff from across the organisation have now been trained to be able to spot and support people who may be in crisis. Similar to physical health first aid, the role is focused on being a first point of contact as either a preventative measure against a person’s mental health deteriorating or helping someone get support from mental health professionals.
The HR team have also been involved with shaping OUI’s culture through the introduction of company values. Through a consultation with the entire company, the HR team refined OUI’s values to Integrity, Collaboration and Empowerment. These values have since been incorporated into OUI through its internal communications – such as literally writing them on the wall – and through our revamped reward and recognition scheme which runs twice a year to celebrate those who have best exhibited OUI’s values in their achievements.
COVID-19 has been challenging for OUI, not just because of the extra workload but also ensuring people’s health and safety during lockdown. HR has had to manage cases within OUI by supporting staff on their recovery. HR were also central in supporting Jamie Ferguson and his family while he was in hospital and coordinating our response since he tragically lost his battle with COVID-19. The team has also had to remotely support several colleagues whose mental health has been negatively impacted during lockdown. However, the supportive culture that has been created over the last few years and the systems brought in by HR and others, both in OUI and the University, have ensured their operation can continue as normal.
“It’s actually gone really smoothly,” said Viv Parry, HR Advisor. “It’s almost as if it didn’t happen. I can still do what I need to do, can still talk to people, everything’s running as if I’d been in the office.
“I’ve been particularly appreciative at how departments within the University have adapted, they have worked so well and seamlessly with us which has made our jobs easier. They’re now rolling out a new interface and we’re working on getting everyone in OUI into that HR system so we can issue virtual payslips.”
The team have also brought in a new employee management system for reviewing and updating details, booking holiday and managing absences. The new system can be managed through Outlook, which is more efficient and improves productivity. “Viv worked tirelessly getting the data transferred and our staff trained,” said Carolyn.
“Our people are our biggest asset,” said Matt Perkins. “Regardless of the pandemic, looking after everyone’s wellbeing is the number one priority. Without healthy, engaged and enthusiastic staff, research would just stay in the University without the chance to impact on the wider world. The HR team go above and beyond to create a welcoming and supportive culture here at OUI, and are critical in making sure we’re always at our best.”
- Employees: 78
- Average service: 5.8 years
- Interns supported: 3
- Mental Health First Aiders: 6
Our people are our biggest asset. Regardless of the pandemic, looking after everyone’s wellbeing is the number one priority.