Event focuses on corporate wellbeing: mental health in the workplace

Member News published by Cambridge Network

The heavy cost of mental health issues – to individuals, employers and the wider UK economy – cannot be ignored, and there is no quick fix, a Cambridge Network audience was told yesterday (Weds), World Mental Health Day.

"Different sectors have different workforces and products – but all employees respond in similar ways to the absence of ‘good work’ or a ‘good workplace’ by having symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression or musculoskeletal problems - and ‘presenteeism’ increases," Professor Dame Carol Black, DBE, FRCP, FMedSci, told a 150-strong gathering at the Network's Corporate Wellbeing Showcase.

Dame Carol, Principal of Newnham College and author of several influential reports for government about work and health, cited the October 2017 Stevenson/Farmer review of UK mental health and employers, Thriving at Work, which found that:

  • 15% of workers have a mental health condition
  • 300,000 with long-term mental health problems lose their UK jobs each year
  • the cost to employers is more than £33bn per year
  • the cost to the State is more than £24bn per year
  • and the cost to the whole economy is more than £73bn yearly.

"There is a need to understand the challenge in your own workplace," she said, "And it is of interest to employers because Deloitte's analysis of cases where an investment had been made in improving mental health showed a positive return on investment."

Poor workplaces, poor work and poor management all contributed to poor mental health, but how many employees would report that they had stress, anxiety or financial worries? Because many people still struggled to talk about such issues, it was difficult for organisations to gather data – and therefore difficult to address problems, she said:

If you don't know what your problems are, then you cannot target them.

Dame Carol said further studies were needed, but research had been underway for the past five years. She had been involved as chair of the advisory board for Britain's Healthiest Workplace Survey. It seeks to create awareness of the importance of workplace health and wellbeing and to build an evidence base for employers to make improvements, and for employees to engage with their modifiable risks.

Results of the survey around workplace stress in 2017 showed:

  • 54% of employees have at least one dimension of workplace stress, with 27% having two or more. 
  • Key drivers are lack of consultation about change (28% incidence rate), lack of control over work done (25%), and strained relationships with colleagues (19%).
  • Employees under unrealistic time pressure and demands lose the equivalent of 6.4 days productive time each year.  
  • Bullied employees lose 5.9 days of productive time a year.

She said there was a need to understand workplace culture, in particular a need for leaders to view employee health and wellbeing as an important indicator of organisational success, and for employees to be aware that an organisation had help and interventions in place to address mental health issues.

So, what could be done? Offering fruit, bottled water, exercise classes or bicycle schemes were all well and good, but these were just "sticking plasters", she said. " And don't just 'sheep dip' managers. Think carefully about their capability, because the top driver for employee engagement is how much employees believe their managers are investing in their health and wellbeing."

She recommended employers to ensure they provide good workplaces as well as good work; follow evidence/best practice to address mental health issues, using some of the many available toolkits and frameworks, and –importantly – evaluate their efforts over time as they aspire to create Total Worker Health.

Dame Carol was the keynote speaker at Cambridge Network's event, supported by The One Group, which took place at the new Postdoc Centre at Eddington.

Other speakers included:

  • The lifecycle of sustainable wellbeing development (Jacqui Kemp & David Lynch, Your People Potential)
  • How Redgate Software is supporting wellbeing at work (Nina Griffey, Redgate Software)
  • Sustaining healthy behaviour in the workplace (Sheila McDerment, MC Works)
  • The need for a strategic approach to mental health related training in the workplace (Ruth Brown, CPSL Mind)
  • Financial Wellbeing in the Workforce (Kevin Brown, Caroline Pepper, Graham Sibley, NW Brown

The event also included a diverse exhibition of materials and services aimed at promoting health and wellbeing. Some examples are pictured here:

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