Singing medicine and four-day work weeks: How businesses are tackling mental health challenges

Ex Cathedra, Forward Carers CIC and Prime Accountants

Businesses across Greater Birmingham are coming up with innovative ways to tackle mental health challenges that employees face.

From singing medicine sessions to four day work weeks, Chamber members write about how they have come up with creative and innovative solutions to tackle the mental health challenges.


Singing Medicine to support mental health – Ex Cathedra

“It is the first time she has smiled” - Nurses, smiling, dancing and singing around a patient’s bed.

Singing Medicine is a technique of harnessing the power of singing for wellbeing.

For nearly 20 years now, every Friday for Ex Cathedra it has been Singing Medicine Friday. We have long known about the research, and have been fortunate to have seen the positive impacts of group singing.

Singing together releases feel-good endorphins, reduces cortisol (stress) and the brain is stimulated thus aiding communication. Each week as we worked our way joyfully around Birmingham Children’s Hospital and other hospitals in the midlands, we understood the privilege and trust placed in us.

But as we all went into the lockdowns and being determined to continue our work reaching those most isolated, we had never considered what life might feel like for us without that singing together.

It was this personal experience for each of us in the Singing Medicine team, along with a gift of a silver lining of the lockdown activities, that compelled us into creating Singing Medicine initiatives specifically to support mental health.

As we reeled, wondering how we were going to get Singing Medicine to those in hospital during the lockdowns, The Oak Foundation offered us a (grant) lifeline.

Simon King, musician and videographer helped us to make thousands of little music videos, with each of us working from our homes, to send to patients.

Then as soon as recording studios were reopened, we moved our video-making to Vada Recording Studios. It was at Vada that we were introduced to Tom Clarke, multi-instrumentalist and lead vocalist of the British indie rock band, The Enemy.

Matt Terry (record producer, Vada Recording Studios) had brought his skills, imagination and music world to enrich our work. He invited Tom Clarke to see what we were doing. Tom asked questions and watched us make our personalised, interactive music videos.

He was interested in how we engaged the viewer in singing through the camera, and he was particularly interested in how singing can reduce anxiety.

Tom has now very generously gifted us an entire album’s worth of music, specifically written for Singing Medicine, to help people who are feeling anxious. He has employed musical devices to calm the listener as the album progresses, with the aim of helping them eventually fall asleep.

The album will be on sale so that those proceeds can enable us to make more, much needed, Singing Medicine visits to hospitals. And then, guided by the advice given to us by NHS colleagues, sometime in the future, when we have raised the funding, we hope to make interactive music videos to go with these tracks. Imagine them as music physio sessions if you will.

For more information, visit our website and spread the word!


Piloting a four-day work week – Forward Carers CIC

Forward Carers CIC is a not-for-profit social enterprise on a mission to create Carer Friendly Communities and Workplaces that improve the wellbeing of unpaid Carers.

At Forward Carers, we are invested in staff wellbeing all year round and wanted to share the ways we support our staff, many of whom have experience of caring for someone who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support.

In March 2023, confident our wellbeing approach was working for staff, our business and our beneficiaries, we commenced a six-month, four-day-week pilot where full-time staff work 80 per cent of hours in exchange for 100 per cent of salary and maintaining 100 per cent of outcomes.

We have partnered with the four Day Week Global Pilot to learn from best practice and ensure that reduced hours do not lead to increased stress or anxiety.

Our aim is to maintain or improve our business priority outcomes while improving staff wellbeing, which is monitored weekly through a short anonymous staff survey. We are currently in Week 10 of the pilot and results are very positive on all fronts.

Research shows that 75 per cent of unpaid Carers worry about being about to continue to juggle work and care going forward.

We believe a happy, healthy workforce is a productive and effective one, and over the past two years we’ve been on a journey to prove this so we can help other organisations to do the same.

In 2021, we introduced a number of new policies suggested by staff to improve their wellbeing, including a Carers policy, Menopause Policy and Wellbeing Strategy.

Our Wellbeing Strategy recognises the high incidence of mental health issues amongst UK workers and that for some staff, work can cause or exacerbate mental ill health.

We also recognise that employees from diverse groups may be more likely to experience mental health issues, less likely to seek help and feel more stigmatised.

To support staff to manage their mental health, we’ve embraced hybrid and flexible working, introduced an Employee Assistance Programme, gifted staff two days’ volunteering leave and invited staff to take an hour long Wellbeing work-out each week to do something that supports their physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual wellbeing.

We also worked with staff to develop a 121 Supervision form that allows employees and line managers to discuss physical and mental wellbeing each month.

An evaluation of the staff feedback experienced a wide range of benefits including improved physical (62 per cent) and mental (87.5 per cent) wellbeing, feeling more connected to the team (87.5 per cent) and more connected to the local community (75 per cent).

If you’d like to find out how we can support you to develop inclusive Carer Friendly Workplaces for staff balancing work and care, get in touch at or visit our website.


Launching a Thrive at Work Scheme – Prime Accountants

Here at Prime, we take mental wellbeing very seriously, understanding that not only do we have a duty of care for our employees but also the effect positive mental health has on productivity within the workplace.

It is no secret the accounting profession can be a stressful one. Indeed, a recent survey released by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants showed nearly three-quarters of accounting professionals globally want more from their employers when it comes to addressing their mental health needs.

Steve Harcourt

Thrive At Work Scheme

To place wellbeing at the forefront of our agenda, director Steve Harcourt launched the Thrive at Work initiative.

Steve said: “We were looking at ways to bring together and add to the wellbeing schemes we already had in the workplace around the start of 2019 and I immediately felt signing up to the Thrive at Work programme would be immensely beneficial for us here at Prime.  

“As part of the Thrive accreditation, we were required to train Mental Health First Aiders within the company, so we decided to train one person for each of our offices in Coventry, Solihull and Birmingham.

“Naturally, I attended an Adult Mental Health awareness course to provide an introduction to mental health and the factors which can affect people's wellbeing.

“Spotting the early signs of poor mental health is exactly what we did through Thrive at Work, and it’s already shown great results for us in that far more of our staff are bringing up any issues they might have, rather than keeping it to themselves.

“Taking positive steps to also improve mental health in the workplace through regular exercise and stretching through the day proved popular with the teams at Prime.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea that workplaces are taking positive steps to improve mental health in the workplace, not just for employee’s wellbeing but to improve productivity and reduce absenteeism. 

“Employers can often be confused about what they can do to help their staff and we found that through the Thrive at Work scheme, it was more about spotting early signs and signposting to professional services for help.


Mental health champions

“Some of the changes Prime has made include assigning three ‘mental health champions’ who are responsible for assisting staff to monitor their own and each other’s mental health and spotting any signs something may be wrong. Alongside regular messages on our intranet, a signposting system was also put in place which allowed employees to find the help they needed for their specific issue.


Switching off

“Another initiative we have launched is ‘switching off’. We understand whether you’re working onsite or remotely, it’s important to strike a healthy work-life balance.

“That means we encourage our team to take regular breaks throughout the day and switch off screens when the working day is over. Instead of making themselves available 24/7 to respond to work calls, emails, or other messages, we continue to highlight the importance of focusing on friends and family, taking the time to relax, recharge, and enjoy themselves.


Relaxation techniques

“We have also launched relaxation techniques. Relaxing and recharging require more than just zoning out on the couch in front of the TV. To reduce the damaging effects of stress and protect your mental health, you need to activate your body’s relaxation response. This can be done by practising relaxation and mindfulness techniques.


Mutually supportive relationships

“Finally, we feel developing mutually supportive relationships with our teams, has played a vital role in boosting morale and reducing stress and anxiety in the workplace. With an open-door policy, we can help our employees manage their workloads before it becomes a crisis of mental wellbeing.”

For more information, visit their website or call 0121 711 2468.


What does your business do to tackle mental health challenges? We would like to know!

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