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It's time to talk about mental health in the games industry

Rich Eddy explains why Jagex got involved with MIND's Workplace Wellbeing Index

"Morning! You okay?" he said.

"Fine! You?" she lied.

"All good!" he lied.

They lied to each other. Multiple deadlines piled on top of each other, the volume of tasks mounted with unclear priorities, the long period of crunch... it was all clouding into one wholly unpleasant state. A state where even thinking straight was a struggle. The brain fogging confusion, the rapid over breathing, the dry retching, that bloody pounding heart. The screwed-up sleep, the agitation, the constant worry, the self-frustration, the low-mood troughs that went deeper every day, the just wishing it was all over.

Pressure in the workplace can be positive; it can motivate and spark us into action. However, anything that poses a threat to our wellbeing is stressful and impacts our mental health. Stress is defined by the Health and Safety Executive as 'the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed upon them' and it has a nasty habit of sliding into an anxiety disorder, into mild depression, into severe depression.

At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening. Suicide.

We must talk about this because, right now, talking about mental health issues and associated disorders, such as anxiety and depression, is taboo in the workplace. We don't find it easy to be open about mental health issues because of the association with psychological illness and that sense of personal failure.

"We don't find it easy to be open about mental health issues because of the association with psychological illness and that sense of personal failure"

This week, May 8th-14th, is Mental Health Awareness Week and it's time to talk.

Research by mental health charity MIND and YouGov found that people, across a variety of industries and sectors, are experiencing high levels of stress. Over half of those surveyed (56 per cent) said they found work 'fairly' or 'very' stressful. Nearly a third of respondents said they wouldn't be able to talk openly with their line manager if they were stressed.

Additional findings reported by the Time for Change campaign suggest that one in every six workers is affected by anxiety, depression, and stress every year, and 95% of employees calling in sick with stress gave a different reason because of the stigma attached to talking about mental health.

At Jagex, we're working with MIND, which leads the Time to Change and Time to Talk campaigns. The campaigns encourage employers to adopt wellbeing initiatives in the workplace and facilitate discussions that enable people to talk about their mental health without any stigma attached.

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MIND is currently running the 'Time to Talk' campaign

This is not something we're doing just because it's Mental Health Awareness Week; this is something being woven into the fabric of how Jagex operates. In March, Jagex was recognised by MIND for its commitment to wellbeing in the workplace and became the first games company to be placed in the Workplace Wellbeing Index, a benchmark of best policy and practice.

The Workplace Wellbeing Index recognises companies that have introduced initiatives to promote and support positive mental health. The 2016/17 Index saw Jagex lead the field in the category that recognises a company that is committed to 'Achieving Change' within the workplace.

"We have a long-term commitment to support the mental wellbeing of everyone at Jagex," explains Sarah Smith, head of HR operations at Jagex and a Wellbeing Champion. "Introducing a wellbeing programme was important to us and to have it highlighted by the Index as one that is Achieving Change makes us incredibly proud and, in turn, that recognition contributes to the wellbeing of everyone who invested their time in establishing it. We'll grow and build on our wellbeing programme and we hope to inspire others in our sector to join us in a movement for change."

"We'll grow and build on our wellbeing programme and we hope to inspire others in our sector to join us in a movement for change"

Sarah Smith, Jagex

The Jagex Wellbeing programme was initiated in 2016 and involves a team of Wellbeing Champions from across the company. The programme has featured workshops on the themes of Resilience and Mastering Life's Challenges and included mental health training courses on subjects including Mental Health First Aid, Mental Health Awareness, and Managing Mental Health in the Workplace.

Office space has been set aside as a quiet room for people to take a breath when needed and a Wellbeing resource channel has become a fixture on the intranet. In addition to providing both internal and external resources to assist people requiring advice, we've promoted World Mental Health Day to our massive community of RuneScape players.

This year we've partnered with three key charities to support mental health awareness, with a focus on affecting change for young people. We're fundraising for CPSL Mind, The Prince's Trust, and YMCA Right Here and hope to support them to the tune of 150,000; money that will be invested in their established mental health awareness programmes.

During this Mental Health Awareness Week, we're focusing on breaking down the stigma that surrounds talking about mental health. We're encouraging people to talk about how they are really feeling - going beyond "I'm fine!". Wellbeing activities are on offer too with mini health MOTs, Tai Chi tasters, massages and relaxation sessions open to all.

On Monday, Phil Mansell, Jagex's COO and acting CEO, signed the Time to Change Pledge. The Pledge is a corporate commitment to how we, as a games company, think and act about mental health in the workplace. By signing the Pledge, Jagex has joined a growing movement of more than 450 employers across the UK.

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Jagex boss Phil Mansell signing the Time to Change pledge

The Time to Change campaign also advocates the positive effect on a business that supporting employee mental health can have. It states that tackling the stigma of talking about mental health can make a real difference to sickness absence, presenteeism levels, productivity, and retention.

Since signing the Employer Pledge, 95% of businesses claim it had a positive impact on their organisation. To boil it down to pounds and dollars, try Happiness Works' calculator, which estimates a business of 100 happy people could be boosted by over 200,000 every year from a decrease in absenteeism, staff turnover, and increased productivity.

"A business of 100 happy people could be boosted by over 200,000 every year from a decrease in absenteeism, staff turnover, and increased productivity"

Good management within any organisation is also vital in managing the causes of work-related stress. The Health & Safety Executive Stress Management Standards provides a competency framework that identifies behaviours that either have a positive or negative impact on people across an organisation. It's a good place to self-check how you interact with your co-workers and it can be found in the HSE's Managing the Causes of Work-related Stress book, which is free to download (page 62: A Competency Framework).

Having a healthy and productive team in place is not just an ideal for any company, it's an essential. We're all aware that the game development sector can be pressurised but it's time to talk about how to prevent that pressure boiling over into work-related stress and associated mental health issues. Jagex receives great advice from MIND regarding wellbeing and mental health, and there are resources and training courses available on the charity's site.

More information on MIND's Workplace Wellbeing Index and how to participate can be found here - it would be amazing to see a host of studios recognised in the next Index and showcase the industry as one that is achieving change in managing mental health in the workplace.

Have a good day, but, if you don't, talk to someone about it.

Resources
MIND
Time to Change
The Samaritans
Suicide Prevention
The Mental Health Foundation
SaneLine

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Latest comments (1)

Jeremiah Moss Software Developer 5 months ago
If you don't take care of the mental health of your workers, you are doing your business a disservice and will suffer from productivity lapses. When Ford Motor Company reduced their workdays to 8 hours and increased wages in 1914, their productivity went up so much their competitors were forced to follow suit.

I imagine this is doubly true in software development, where the focus on mental tasks is far greater. Burnout and stress are gonna hurt your bottom line - avoid the urge to rely on crunch time, and manage schedules with mental health in mind.

It is actually sad to see an industry so full of (and sometimes even proud of) having "crunch time" near the end of projects and hard, inflexible deadlines. I understand the desire to have a release date for a product - but to be honest, I think the best quality products are actually the ones coming from companies that say "it's done when it's done." I think a part of that is because they're handling employee mental health better.
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