Fostering Connection & Offering Support

10 October 2021

Conrad Gargett HR Manager and AMWF member Brooke Tranberg outlines some of the practice’s wellbeing initiatives, including in-house Social and Wellbeing Committees, a well-promoted EAP, open conversations about mental health, and a pre-COVID all-company Archi-Tour to foster connection.

Conrad Gargett, 170 employees
Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Townsville, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia)

Does your practice have processes in place (formal or informal) to check on people’s mental wellbeing? How successful have these been?

It is usual for our Team Leaders to check in on their teams and as a larger firm, we are lucky to be able to support a dedicated HR function. We are about to introduce a system of one to ones to ensure that no-one is missed in our check ins.

What support systems did you have in place pre-COVID?

We have had an Employee Assistance Program in place since 2016. It has been well promoted and regularly utilised for one on one sessions, on-site sessions and for mental health training. Our Social and Wellbeing Committees meet often to discuss ways to promote and enhance social, physical and mental wellbeing.  We have run Mental Health in the Workplace toolbox talks for our Senior Leadership and Administration teams. We offer an additional day of paid leave each year for participation in Community Engagement. We annually participate in awareness campaigns including Mindful March, RUOK Day and Mental Health Month.

Our HR Director and HR Manager are both located in our head office in Brisbane, so have (normally) done monthly visits to other studios to ensure continuity of contact.

In February 2019, we held an all of company ArchiTour to Hobart, which greatly enhanced the connection between our studios and was a great success. Our intention was to run these every two years, but we have been stymied by COVID so far – fingers crossed for 2022!

Have you implemented any new initiatives or strategies to improve wellbeing since the arrival of COVID in early 2020? What are they and how useful / successful have you found them?

The main change we made was introducing Teams (like most architectural practices!) so that there was a daily check in within teams. This system of communication has continued in all studios and has greatly improved connection, providing a greater opportunity for support and mentoring across the practice.

We ran a program of yoga online during lunch breaks and held some fun days like ‘wear your favourite band t-shirt’ day and ‘silly hat’ or ‘silly socks’ day, as well as ‘dress like a superhero’ (for Hero for Heart Kids) day!

How have you communicated your policy, strategies and initiatives to employees? Have you rolled these out in formal meetings or training sessions, or informal catch-ups, for instance?

Our Wellness Committee meets frequently and issues a Wellness Wednesday newsletter twice a month including information about physical, mental and social wellbeing strategies currently underway in studios, interesting articles and upcoming activities. Frequent COVID updates are issued to all studios. Where physical activities (such as Weekly October Walks on Wednesdays!) are not possible due to lockdowns, we encourage staff to find other ways to participate and provide resources and ideas. Our Managing Director facilitates a First Monday of the Month Meeting for all studios and Friday afternoon catch ups (which existed pre-COVID face to face) have continued via VC where face to face is not possible.

Practice owners/Directors often neglect their own needs. How do your practice leaders take care of their own mental wellbeing?

They have recruited and promoted a great Senior Leadership team to support them. We had discussed introducing a ‘hold each other accountable’ program – but it never got off the ground! A good reminder to gently encourage them again perhaps, so that they can continue to be good role models.

Do you have any plans or ambitions for future initiatives to address mental wellbeing issues within your practice?

Setting up and maintaining a more structured one to one system is becoming increasingly important, given our growth. We’ll maintain our other existing systems and continue to seek feedback from staff.

What advice would you give to other practices based on your experiences so far?

Don’t just talk about ‘work/life balance’ – make sure you are putting it into practice. Setting up a Wellness Program doesn’t have to cost lots of money; it just needs support of the Leadership team, and a couple of enthusiastic champions, then some good training and ongoing time and resources allocated to maintain it. Openly discussing the effect that physical and social wellbeing have on mental health are very important.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask someone how they are and know that you don’t have to have all the answers if they aren’t. But do have some resources on hand and/or an EAP in place so you have something to refer them on to – and remember to follow up.