It is very exciting being in a new and developing industry. Watching the creation and evolution of new products, services, careers, and career paths.
It is even more exciting when that industry is one that you passionately believe in and that is focused on making the world and the working world a better and healthier place to be.
I have been working in different areas of organisational health and mental health for 20 years now, from when it wasn’t a ‘thing’ and there were only a few of us doing it. I could not have believed that we would now be in a place with the number of people working in different areas of it.
My questions now though are how do we take this recent rapid growth of the health, mental health, and employee wellbeing industry and – without losing any enthusiasm and passion – put some structure in around building up skills and knowledge? How do we develop our industry further and create clearer career structure and paths that give people working in our industry chance to grow and develop?
Is there a Skills or Knowledge Gap in Wellbeing?
I have noticed in my work (as a strategist, consultant, strategic partner, and mentor to people across the industry) that many of the people I work with have come from one background, or a ‘passion’ for health, mental health and wellbeing.
Many have got there by pivoting from other roles and are ‘learning on the job’. They are experts in the field that they have come from (HR, Diversity and Inclusion, Health and Safety, Reward and Benefit). However, they often don’t have training or understanding in all the different multi-dimensional aspects of heath, mental health, and wellbeing strategies required to create organisational change. There is a big skills gap. Especially with strategic thinking.
Workplace health, mental health and wellbeing is a complex beast. Doing it right means creating and launching a strategy or programme that involves numerous parts of an organisation and managing different and varied stakeholders – speaking many different languages.
In my opinion, the pace of evolution in Wellbeing has not been matched by training or skills-led courses for the people working within it.
What should a Health, Mental Health or Wellbeing Role look like?
Rapid interest in Wellbeing has meant that many organisations now have a “Wellbeing Lead’ or something similar. These are newly created roles which are very exciting to see but often face the following challenges:
1. Wellbeing and…
We are seeing Wellbeing roles being tacked on to other roles. For example, an HR professional doing Wellbeing on the side whilst not losing any of their HR workload or responsibility. We are seeing the rise of roles such as Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing, and Health, Safety and Wellbeing.
This isn’t a problem as long as the workload of the individual doesn’t become too much to bear. Though it does raise questions about how seriously health, mental health and wellbeing are taken in an organisation that can’t or won’t commit full resource or attention to them. There is also the question of whether the approach to Wellbeing becomes shaped by the role of the person doing it.
2. Consistency in role
There is a huge lack of consistency in what the role of Wellbeing Lead is. Often the role is created with the intention of raising awareness of health, organising Wellbeing events and creating a strategy. However, it can morph over time into ‘all things to all men.’
Many of the Leads I work with as well as running all an organisation’s Wellbeing programme can become, due to their prominence talking about health and mental health, the person who everyone contacts with problems, questions, and queries. I have seen an example where a Wellbeing Lead, brought in to create and write a strategy, spent 80% of their time counselling people across the organisation in crisis. Without their own support and without the organisation recognising this.
Job descriptions and responsibilities vary dramatically. As does seniority, grade and pay. As the industry develops it would be interesting to see consistency develop across what these jobs are and how to progress in them.
3. Career Progression
This raises an issue being talked about more and more; how to progress a career in health, mental health, and wellbeing. With roles being new and people ‘pivoting’ into the industry I get asked how to help people find their next step. There is not yet an obvious staircase though.
Roles are developing with the people in them. Which if there is a skills or knowledge gap, or the role isn’t clear or involves doing a wide number of different things, means that development isn’t consistent. It also means you must be in the role to grow it, making it harder for people to enter the industry in the first place or to progress their careers by getting experience from working in different types of organisations. And as more of the same gives you more of the same, the lack of consistency in roles means as they develop, they also stay different. That is, if the role can be developed in the first place which many can’t as they are capped by grade and seniority.
4. How should HR fit in with Wellbeing?
Where Wellbeing sits in an organisation is also inconsistent. In many cases this is within the HR function as wellbeing is seen as ‘people’ related so it makes sense for organisations to house it there. Whilst this can bring benefits such as an understanding of the wider People strategy and the use of HR policy and process to make behaviour change, it can also limit an approach. Understanding of HR doesn’t mean expertise in knowledge of health or wellbeing, or how to work across functions to drive an organisational approach.
What Should the Next Phase Be?
I started this piece by talking about how exciting it is to be in a fast-developing industry. I am a passionate believer in this. There has been tremendous growth in health, mental health and employee wellbeing in recent years and long may this continue. Our industry has the potential to impact people’s lives for the better which is why we are all working in it.
It also has the chance to become the sum of all its parts. With people working across Wellbeing from so many different backgrounds we have a real ability to build a multi-disciplinary approach which combines skills, knowledge, and experience from each.
To maximise this though we need to be honest about where we are now and what gaps we need to fill. The skills and experience gap is an immediate one.
Practical training should be combined with a clear framework (perhaps regulated by an industry body) for what different Wellbeing roles are, what is expected from them, and what skills and expertise are needed.
Consistency across this and the development of a clear career path and progression would build standardisation across the industry, help people develop and grow within it and would help build credibility for all the amazing and progressive work being done and the people doing it.
About the author
Amy McKeown is an Award-Winning Strategist and Consultant in Organisational Health, Mental Health and Wellbeing with more than 20 years of experience working with organisations of all sizes including multi-nationals, FTSE 100s, International Parliaments, big 4 accountants, SMEs and start-ups. She is well respected and considered a thought leader in this space. Amy mentors different people across the industry including Global Wellbeing Leads.
Amy has a 6-week practical, skills led course on all aspects of creating and implementing an organisational health, mental health, or wellbeing strategy and programme. Registration is open until 5pm February 24th with the next course starting on March 2nd. You can sign up for the course at https://amymckeown.com/course.