The Business Case For Mental Health At Work
On May 17th HR innovators enjoyed yet another fantastic Soma Analytics event, held in honour of Mental Health Awareness Week.
The format was slightly different, with Lorena Szerman, Chief Revenue Officer, facilitating the panel, and two speakers offering their views around the topic of ‘The Business Case For Mental Health At Work’.
Our speakers were Tom Beaumont, Public Sector Lead in Financial Wellbeing at Neyber, and Chris O’Sullivan, Head of Business Development and Engagement at the Mental Health Foundation (MHF). Both very experienced in the field of Mental Wellbeing.
The topic of ‘business case’ was chosen because although corporate and public sector mental health initiatives are becoming more commonplace, there is little clarity as to what this should look like, as well as what its impact on business and revenue will be in practice.
To kick off, guests watched the MHF Mental Health Awareness Week video:
This was followed by a fantastic 3 minute mindfulness exercise led by Sally Reeves, Soma’s Mindfulness teacher and trained therapist. This left everybody feeling more relaxed, present and refreshed.
The panel discussion then commenced, with Tom and Chris’ comments summarised below:
1. How would you define the Business Case For Mental Health at Work?
Chris shared that in a MHF poll on over 4,000 participants, 74% of people reported feeling so stressed at work that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Of those who felt stressed, 32% reported feeling suicidal as a result, while 17% reported having deliberately hurt themselves.
The MHF has consequently made 2 policy recommendations aimed directly at the workplace.
- Health and Safety Legislation should be equally applied to mental health
- Mental Health should be appraised as an asset rather than a problem. Everyone has mental health and the better it is the better we perform, both at home and at work. The MHF used oxford economics and UK labour force data to analyse what the value added by people with mental health problems is. This was conservatively estimated to be about 226 billion.
Chris further pointed to the detailed cost benefit analysis in ‘Thriving at Work: the Stevenson/Farmer review on mental health and employers’
“the business case is made. I think the problem we have now is changing that business case into business action.”
Tom agreed that the business case has been made, and this is becoming more obvious to him within his work:
“NHS England, NHS Ireland, NHS Wales, and NHS Scotland all have staff wellbeing as a key core strategic pillar when it comes to their forward vision.”
At Neyber it has been found that 97% of the UK workforce will not come to their employer if they are struggling financially. People don’t want to talk about it despite 60% of employed people reporting money as being a major source of stress.
Tom emphasised that we know that taking care of employees benefits the business by referring back to Soma’s FTSE 100 Report. This found that 3 in 4 FTSE 100 companies didn’t mention ‘mental health’ once in their 2016 annual reports, while the companies which did enjoyed up to three times more profit.
Employers need to engage and start the right conversations as well as provide choice, as we all need different things at different times.
2. Research is there, figures are there: why do you think it has taken so long for organisations to address this issue?
- People don’t know what to do. For example managers haven’t always had the necessary training and employees don’t always know how to get help or disclose.
- Not knowing what works. We can’t act without data analysis or indicators, even if we know we should.
- Fear of the scale of the challenge. For example, companies are frightened of what will be found in a stress audit and their consequent legal obligations and liability.
Tom: Big organisations have so much going on that it gets pushed down the agenda. Although everyone is talking about it, the budget and presence of wellbeing focused job roles usually don’t reflect active corporate dedication.
Referring back to a previous Soma event speaker Geoff Mcdonald, who opened up about his own experiences of mental ill health when in an HR position, Tom said
“It’s not until it happens to people, until it happens to the key decision makers, or someone close to them, that it actually opens up people’s eyes.”
Although this is happening all of the time, people don’t tend to share their story. The biggest change will take place when there is a shift in culture.
3. What examples of good and bad practices have you seen while working in your organisations?
Chris: Organisations need to commit and demonstrate holistic, sustained action. To work, this should be bought into by staff at all levels, and have both a budget and ethos driving it forward. It should also create a space in which it is safe and beneficial for people to disclose their personal story. One way of implementing this involves ensuring that managers at all levels are frequently sharing personal stories of struggle, rather than one story being recycled each year.
Further, secondary prevention involves looking out for colleges who are at higher risk of suffering from mental ill health. This means getting support for those with issues such as debt or addiction.
- You have to focus on long term gains and not allow initiatives to peter out.
- This has to be a top-down effort
- The effects of a person sharing their story are powerful, but you need to create and provide a space for this to happen.
- Have ‘champion’ employees who you know you can speak to. This can be as simple as them having a badge. We are social animals and this taps into our desire to communicate.
- Look around your own company, the people and employees you need are already there.
Tom: Technology has a huge part to play, but needs to be married with personal touch. Together these two can support one another. Technology also provides a great deal of access as well as scheduled time to ‘take a moment’ and reflect on how you are and provide you with a short exercise to support your mental health.
Chris: “In 1998 I was a student, I was depressed to the point of suicide, and the thing that kept me alive was peer support on the internet”
The power of tech based communications, chat rooms and anonymous sharing should not be underestimated.
Some of the problems include people being concerned about who does and does not hold data, and if your employer knows about your habits. Further, because mental health is so complex, it can be hard to research and capture the true impact of tech based approaches without sterilizing the population in randomised control trials.
Therefore, businesses need to find a way to share data in a way that does not compromise confidentiality as well as move forward into practice based research that can keep up with the speed at which technology moves and changes.
5. What are the top three things you recommend to employers to get on with right away?
- Communication – ask questions, a space for staff to have their say
- Training – bad reviews can have devastating consequences, good training is essential
- Don’t be afraid to try new things – be innovators
- Address psychological hazards at work
- Reward people for being open, encourage people to speak out
- Invest in line managers
Chris further recommended 3 books that “had changed his life”:
- ‘The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People, and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results’, by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter
- ‘Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity’, by Kim Scott
- ‘Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead’, by Brené Brown, who has also given the popular Listening to shame TED Talk
As the discussion ended, speakers and guests alike shared their favourite stressbusters. These ranged from sourdough baking to kayaking, with running being the most common.
To support networking and reflection, guests then completed a checklist which combined Neyber’s ‘Wellbeing Challenge’ and the MHF’s ‘Employer Checklist’, to evaluate their own businesses. Guests then discussed these in groups, providing for a very interesting icebreaker.
Would you like to attend our future networking events?
Soma Analytics and our guests all share an interest in breaking the stigma around mental health and improving wellbeing through digital technology and analytics in the workplace. If you are interested in attending please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or click the link below.
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Kelaa aims to create a bridge between businesses and their employees, helping them to work together to tackle stress and increase mental resilience, productivity and engagement.