Written by Poppy Baxter

It’s no secret that working in proposals can be stressful. Between reams of disorganised documentation and tight response deadlines, it’s incredibly easy to get caught in the mental fray.

As bidding consultants at EiB, we take some tendering responsibility out of the hands of technical departments and alleviate the pressure to navigate full tenders alongside a busy day job. Engaging with a work winning consultancy like EiB can, in some ways, be seen as a safety measure, spreading the workload of tendering more evenly. Mental upkeep is paramount to protecting our ability to write compelling tenders under the demands of a tight schedule. There is no one-size-fits-all for how to manage your mental health, so it’s important to honestly self-reflect on our practices outside of the office. This will help create a healthier relationship with our labour that balances work and play, deadline and datenight, ITT and TLC.

Promoting a sustainable work-life balance

EiB model and encourage a healthy attitude to working, and this person-centric approach to wellbeing was hugely attractive to me as a graduate applicant. As someone who lives with on-and-off mental ill health, I know when I am struggling and have learned to stick my head above the parapet when I need to. It was important to me to find an organisation that understands and respects this, in separation to my ability to do my job well. I am grateful to work in a company that listens when I ask for help with neither judgement nor pity, and am confident that this openness informs my ability to write high-quality tender responses.

My mental health will always be a priority, but the subject is also a personal interest and passion of mine. EiB fully supports personal development especially in areas of interest, so I grabbed the opportunity to attend a two-day Mental Health First Aid course and incorporate this principle into my role. I am proud to be a new addition to EiB’s network of MHFAiders, which makes up around 14% of our current workforce and extends all the way into our Senior Leadership Team. Each MHFAider combines their training with a unique understanding of the stresses of their area of bidding, meaning support for colleagues at every level of the business is accessible through numerous channels.

Paving the way to provide key MHFA support

This MHFA training was a huge success, giving practical methodologies to assist in mental health crises from low mood, to panic attacks, to suicide thoughts and behaviour. In terms of practicality, it is useful to understand the scope of the role in comparison to that of a physical first aider. Just as a physical first aider cannot fulfil the role of a doctor or paramedic; a MHFAider cannot fulfil the role of a therapist. The goal of both first aiders is to assist with crisis, walk towards a person in danger rather than turn away, create safety for the person as far as possible and direct towards professional support if needed. We are taught to reduce stigma and provide a safe forum for discussion, regardless of the topic. The training also clearly communicated the science of how our bodies react to stress, promoting radical empathy for people experiencing poor mental health or living with a mental health condition and encouraging us to reflect on our own stress reactions and self-care resources.

Simon Osborne from Cheshire First Aid captained our ship with skill and grace. Ensuring our conversation remained completely safe throughout, he guided us through our MHFA training with enthusiasm, humour and sensitivity. He gave practical, actionable tips to reduce stress amid groan-worthy jokes and biscuits galore. Did you know that eating or drinking something sweet can physically trick the body out of low-level anxiety, by supressing the part of the brain which controls the stress response? While it’s only a very temporary fix, it’s certainly good to keep in your back pocket!

Looking ahead – making positive change in the workplace

More than anything, this course gave me a newfound confidence to speak up about mental health. It is normal to struggle, and a cultural attitude of ‘soldiering on’ does nothing to practically support your friends in crisis. You wouldn’t ‘put on a brave face’ if you broke your leg, so there should be no expectation to do the same if you are in mental health crisis. Transparency and confidentiality go hand-in hand when the goal is reducing stigma – speaking up does wonders to normalise and de-other people experiencing poor mental health, but equally, in a trusting working environment a simple ‘I’m unwell’ should be sufficient explanation for curious parties wondering the cause of an absence.

Since the disparity between mental and physical health is so engrained in our culture, meaningful change will not come overnight. Simon Osborne hopes that one day there won’t be physical and mental health first aid courses, just ‘First Aid’ as an all-encompassing whole, as they are equally important to good wellbeing and a healthy lifestyle. Mental health can only be properly supported in the workplace through top-down normalisation, a genuine willingness to listen and interrogation of our deep-set beliefs.

From a bidding perspective, it is vital to consciously put time aside for self-care during and after a stressful tender period. Only you will know what this should look like, but I enjoy going for a walk, cooking a new recipe or spending quality time with my friends and partner. For managers, it is productive to block out dedicated diary space for an honest catch-up with your team, opening the door for people to speak up when they are struggling. Nothing changes if nothing changes, and even these small changes can generate a significant cumulative effect. If there is one message I can pass on from my MHFA training, it is that there is strength in self-care – taking time to recover from periods of stress allows you to take a step back, and ultimately positions you to better help the people around you too!