Mental well being at work, creating a safe space to talk

In April 2022 something special happened in the Ambassador’s Lounge at the Lyceum Theatre in London. A group of 18 technical, production and backstage managers gathered with facilitators from Impromptu Ltd. Stuart Graham and Euan Shearer from ATG, and Mig Burgess from the University of Surrey.

Our purpose; to explore how to have effective conversations about mental wellbeing in the workplace. Over the course of an afternoon, we worked together to create a safe environment to explore the why these conversations are needed, the barriers that prevent them from happening and the skills needed to initiate and sustain them.  Our group demonstrated courage, humility, skill and humour as we practised together what can be difficult conversations.

Our journey to the Lyceum had started some 9 months earlier with a question.  How could we bring our skills and experience of drama-based training to bear on the challenge of creating a safe environment in the workplace to talk about mental wellbeing?

Impromptu has a wealth of experience in creating engaging, interactive, thought-provoking training programmes combining coaching with drama methodologies. We also have associates who are Mental Health First Aiders and conversations with them convinced us that we could help with creating an environment where people feel able to talk about their mental wellbeing and the skills needed to initiate and sustain such conversations. 

With support from Stuart and Euan from ATG, we focussed on a workshop that would help with questions such as:

  • What to do if you notice a member of your team, or a colleague who seems to be struggling with their mental wellbeing?
  • What if someone approaches you, how do you have the conversation with them?

In creating this workshop, we were hugely informed by research carried out by Mig Walsh Burgess, Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Surrey into mental health in the backstage industry and the 2020 Beneden Mental Wellbeing Report.  Key findings of this research include:

  • A significant decrease in employee’s (across sectors) willingness to tackle mental health discussions from 46% in 2017 to 28% in 2020.
  • Almost 40% of people working in the backstage industry identify with having a mental health condition
  • 60% of people in the backstage industry feel they can’t talk to their employers about mental health.

Our intent was to deliver a workshop that would create an environment of psychological safety for our participants as a launch off point for exploring and reflecting on this challenge. Outcomes for participants would include:

  • Increased skill and confidence in using authentic connection and listening skills to help create a safe environment for dialogue around mental well-being
  • A greater awareness of the internal barriers people face, in both asking for help and proactively helping others
  • Greater confidence that they can make a positive contribution to creating a culture of openness regarding mental well-being

Judging by the pre and post workshop surveys with participants, we achieved success; with  significant gains for them in the following areas:

  • Their ability to notice a potential wellbeing concern in a member of their team
  • Their confidence to raise that concern with a team member
  • Their skill at managing a conversation about mental wellbeing

Their feedback shows they really valued:

  • The clear facilitation and non-judgemental approach
  • The opportunity to observe and actively intervene in conversations
  • The openness of the group

Participant comments

“My biggest takeaway from the day was to realise my tendency to try and ‘fix’ people, so I’m trying to address that.”

“It has given me a greater awareness about how to approach those conversations.”


“It’s triggered the start of the conversation, which is good.”

This is a starting point.  Mental health is high on agenda of many organisations.  Creating an environment where people feel safe to talk will make a critical contribution to individuals, their wellbeing and organisational success.

ATG is the Ambassador Theatres Group which operates 58 of the leading commercial theatre venues in the UK, USA and Continental Europe.  Find out more at