By: Denise Paleothodoros, Executive Director, Modern Legacy
Today marks the 11th anniversary of Golin’s ‘Al’s Day’ – our global employees’ annual day of service. The tradition began as a befitting way to celebrate the birthday of our founder, Al Golin, and honor his pioneering approach to corporate social responsibility.
Over half a century ago, Al intuitively believed that community service and building goodwill leads to feel-good benefits for all involved, and importantly, builds trust between companies and communities. Years of research studies have since proven that giving back can benefit mental health, physical health, business health and overall economic health.
Al often said, “Happy people make happy clients.” He was steadfast in building a work culture that made employees feel valued, supported and respected, which would have an infectious effect on the creative work and quality of service for clients.
Al’s Day has always been one of those ‘happy’ times that sticks with me. Every year, I cherish the bonding experience with colleagues and the organizations we support. My favorite story will forever be when a Golin team volunteering at a retirement home granted a lady’s wish to visit a pub. She was very happy.
In recent months, our corporate leadership had been reflecting a lot on Al’s ‘happy’ belief.
At the start of 2019, the state of mental health emerged as an important issue in the workplace based on global surveys and studies. It was hard to ignore PRWeek’s survey results within our own industry, which shed light on the toll of stress, anxiety and depression, plus a spectrum of other clinical mental disorders. One statistic showed almost half (49 per cent) of respondents felt under more stress than 12 months prior. This did not make our leaders happy. As a progressive PR agency, we have a responsibility.
As a progressive PR agency, how do we connect Al’s legacy to modern times?
We take a progressive stance. In honor of May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, Golin made the decision to pledge to de-stigmatize mental health within our culture in accordance to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Our CEO, Matt Neale, led the effort, stating “The pledge commits to a culture of openness, acceptance, understanding and compassion…as a progressive agency we want to unite around key initiatives that help employees overcome systemic and societal issues that can lead to stress and anxiety.”
Our HR team offered mental health resource guides and organized weekly trainings, webinars and group discussions centered on emotional, physical and financial health. Some of our brave employees, at all levels in the agency, shared personal stories in confronting their experiences. Offices hosted various activities such as outdoor walks, yoga sessions and meditation minutes.
As we turn our attention to ‘Al’s Day’ this month, our compassion and service will center on the mental health of others in need. In several markets, we continue our tradition of supporting Ronald McDonald Houses, which help to alleviate the stressors that families of sick children face. And volunteer teams around the globe are supporting a variety of mental health therapy needs for veterans, victims of abuse and violence, the homeless, elderly patients coping with loneliness and disabilities, and underprivileged children.
When Al’s Day first began, it was unheard of for an agency to reduce its staff on a business day in favor of community service. Today it’s a business imperative. As volunteering is a well-documented benefit for mental health, Golin’s Al’s Day may be one of the best ‘mental health days’ our employees can take.
As this year marks our first actions taken to de-stigmatize mental health in our culture, we don’t have all the answers about what approaches are most effective. But what has become obvious to us is that just the act of acknowledging the reality of mental health issues has led to many notes of gratitude from employees and a greater sense of belonging. Our leaders are optimistic the ultimate payoff will come with employees feeling empowered and engaged to nurture their own mental health and sustain low levels of burnout and anxiety.
“Happy people make happy clients” will always be at the heart of Golin’s culture.
For inspiration on workplace strategies to address mental health, visit the American Heart Association’s 2019 report, Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis.
To take the pledge to de-stigmatize mental health in the workplace, visit NAMI.