First, how are you (really)? 

I’m good! Which is how I answer this question regardless of how I actually am (because, what Brit doesn’t?), but you’ve caught me on a day where it is genuinely true.

Say I knew nothing about Oatly, what can you tell us about what the company does & why you do it?

Oatly makes dairy alternative products from oats. You’ll most likely know us through our bangin’ Barista oat drink. Our mission is to turn ‘what we eat and drink into moments of healthy joy without recklessly taxing the planets resources’.

What’s working well for you at Oatly when it comes to supporting your people’s mental health at work? 

Our partnership with Self Space makes a huge difference. 75% of our team have signed up, it’s a benefit that the team really values and appreciates. 

We also make time and space to regularly talk about mental health, using things like Mental Health Awareness Week to engage in discussion. Plus, we’ve provided lots of opportunities for people to get trained and educated on mental health topics – half the team have now had some form of training.

Possibly the biggest thing we do to support people’s mental health is to offer genuine flexibility, trust and autonomy to everyone that works here. We don’t mandate time in the office and we’re not prescriptive on working hours. We trust people to do their best work in a way that works for them and for their team.

What does it mean to bring our whole self to work? Can we? Should we? 

I think people feeling able to embrace and express who they are at work without fear is important. One of our Guiding Principles at Oatly is ‘Feel at Home’, and we take collective responsibility to live this principle so people feel they can bring their authentic self to work. I think part of this spirit is challenging what is traditionally deemed ‘professional’. We have curated a culture that makes space for your ups, downs, quirks, creativity, weird hobbies, fashion sense, successes, fuck ups, etc.

But, in terms of being your ‘whole self’ at work, there definitely needs to be some self-awareness. Let’s take the example of someone feeling angry about something whilst at work. Being inappropriately abrasive or antagonistic in the name of living your authentic experience of ‘feeling angry’ shouldn’t fly. Rather, I’d hope someone in this position would feel safe to openly name their feeling, and perhaps seek out a colleague to ask for some time to vent, or to push back a meeting by 5 mins to grab a cuppa, breathe and recalibrate. 

What is something that you struggle with at work?

I sometimes struggle with the feeling of holding the needs of the business, the needs of a collective team and the needs of individuals at the same time. You’re sort of playing a game of holding space for, and fairly representing different agendas, priorities and emotions. And that can be tough.

What are some of the challenges you have overcome for which you are proud of yourself? 

I have ADHD and dyslexia, which come with daily micro challenges. I have to be incredibly intentional about creating the right conditions to be able to focus. I get overwhelmed in the office if it’s noisy and busy, my mood changes every hour, some days I get almost nothing done, while other days I’m hyper focused and work for 12 hours and then feel exhausted. I struggle with consistency, attention to detail, remembering things, organising myself, filling in forms, prioritising, following instructions, sitting still in meetings… the list goes on. 

But, I have done a lot (a lot) of work to understand how to work with, rather than against, these challenges and to lean into some of the great traits that come from being neurodivergent.

What was the story of work in your family?

My mum took a few years off when we were young to care for my brother and I, but most of my time growing up she and my dad worked. I think for my dad, work is tied up into his sense of purpose and identity in a more profound way than it is for me, which probably isn’t atypical when we’re generalising Baby Boomers vs Millennials. My dad also sometimes makes jokes about being ‘first in, last out’ – I think he operated in a working culture that placed much more value on working super long hours and schmoozing. I want to do the best work I can in the most efficient and effective way so I can finish up and have a beer…

Do you ever feel not good enough?

Of course! I’ve worked in stand-alone people roles for my whole career, so I’m “self-taught” in that regard – I often have no idea what I’m doing.

What is something surprising about you that your colleagues might not know about?

I think (hope?) for the most part I come across as broadly having my sh*t together at work, but I’m a disaster in my personal life. In the last month alone, I’ve lost over £200 due to not cancelling subscriptions, late fees, not returning stuff I’ve bought. My work email inbox and calendar are meticulous, but my personal life versions of that… don’t even ask.

What are you scared of?

Sending out some kind of highly confidential HR-y email to the wrong person.

What is one thing that you are not saying — that needs to be said?

People’s energy, mood, emotions and motivation are anything but static, but I think we typically expect ourselves and others to be consistent with input and output every day. Can we normalise space and grace for low days and supercharged hard work on good days and stop fighting/ hiding the ebbs and flows of being a human?

What do you do to take care of your own mental health?

I could sanctimoniously reel off the usual suspects here, meditation, exercise etc. But I think the main thing is that I’m self-reflective and make an effort to understand how my mood and emotions work, so I can manage them as best I can. Seeing a therapist at Self Space is a huge help in navigating that.

What can employers do to really support the mental health of their people?

Allow and promote flexibility, encourage self-awareness, take opportunities to talk about mental health openly, train your leaders on it, treat employees like HUMAN BEINGS, trust them, make empathy a core part of the culture, have structure and support in place to deal with more severe mental health issues, spend money on it. And, well… ask your employees what more you could do and take action based on what they say.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone in your role if things aren’t working well at work?

It depends on what isn’t working, but I think the most powerful thing you can do is to try and ask the right people the right questions.

Honest conversations about mental health at work.

Working Well invites HR, People People, and business leaders to inhabit vulnerability and authenticity in having a proper conversation about what’s working well at work, what’s challenging, and how they look after their own mental health.

We still work with the outdated idea that we should check the messy parts of ourselves at the door of our professional lives, but the best leaders are the ones that hold consciousness around this and model that it’s okay to show up fully.

Join us in positively shifting the culture of mental health at work.

One good conversation at a time.