This year’s MAD World Summit was opened by young British poet Tom Roberts, who told the story of his best friend’s near suicide, hitting home the power of stories and the importance of looking after our collective wellbeing.
Indeed, the idea of working together in collaboration, across not only organisations but also sectors, to embed wellbeing into a company’s overall strategy was a key theme threading through the entire event.
In the five years since the event’s inception in 2018, the challenge has shifted significantly: it’s less now about smashing the stigma around mental health at work and more about gaining the vital buy-in of the c-suite and measuring wellbeing’s impact in order to do this.
The first part of the stigma battle has happened
As keynote speaker Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman, Channel 4, said, in his session on supporting health and wellbeing through challenging times to a brighter future for work: “The first part of the stigma battle has happened, it’s not over but the sense that the workplace is somewhere where you can discuss and get help and support is a big shift.”
He went on to describe himself as a “realistic optimist” who is “enthused about what the next chapter brings” saying that mental health at work is now fully on the agenda “but it’s still a journey and there’s an awful lot more to do”.
His co-panellist Sarah Newton, chair of the Health and Safety Executive agreed, added “we should be seeing Covid as a springboard” to build on the raised awareness of the importance of mental health and maintain momentum.
Money and mental health are aligned
The second keynote panel honed in on the topic of engaging the c-suite, particularly the chief finance office and was chaired by Heathrow Airport’s CFO Javier Echave.
“Money and health are aligned,” he said. “Finance directors who don’t believe that money and mental health are connected are dinosaurs… and we know what happened to the dinosaurs.”
In the same session, panellist Dorothy Day, chief people officer at GoodShape, argued that the key to convincing the c-suite is data – saying that now is “the time” to “reframe the way we influence”:
It’s time to reframe the way we influence
“If we can prove that whatever we want to invest in can have a measurable impact on operational and financial performance then, all of a sudden, it starts to make more commercial sense. We need to show that investing in your wellbeing strategy isn’t about increasing overheads but about getting returns on that investment.”
This was a view echoed throughout the day. Ryan Hopkins, future of wellbeing lead, Deloitte, in his session on embedding wellbeing, for instance, implored delegates to move past the “surface conversation” and “not just ask people about wellbeing once every three months” but create cross-functional teams constantly on the case.
“We need to use data to prove the value to the board because, until we do, they’re not going to give us any more money,” he said.
A ‘variety’ of data points can support compelling arguments
Day conceded, though, that this challenge is “easier said than done”. Luckily there were plenty of experts on hand to share their tips on how to go about measuring wellbeing effectively.
Deloitte partner Elizabeth Hampson shared the findings from her research to a packed room and was full of useful nuggets about the variety of data points that could be used to support more compelling arguments for investment. She also highlighted the fact that the earlier employers invest in wellbeing, the better the return on investment, and that a key issue employers should be looking at now is their role in supporting employees in terms of financial security, given the cost of living crisis.
Being yourself at work leads to better psychological health
Her findings were then followed up by Kerrie Smith, associate director, health and wellbeing, Mace. She gave a real-life example of using data to demonstrate the value of continued investment in wellbeing. For example, she showed how research proved that those who felt they could “be themselves” at work have high psychological health, are more willing to stay in their jobs and feel more comfortable revealing if they have a mental health issue. Data also helped her show that poor wellbeing plays a part in employees leaving the company.
CEO of Unmind Dr Nick Taylor’s session on ‘Measure it, manage it’ was similarly full of statistics supporting the investment in wellbeing. However, he also encouraged delegates to pushback on the pressure to “put things in nice buckets and spreadsheets” for the c-suite and be clear to them that “this is not a simple topic”.
He, too, reiterated the point that progress has been made, but there’s still much work to do and that there is currently “a gap between how employers perceive what they’re doing and how employees experience it”. Like Hampson, he urged employers to realise the impact of the cost of living crisis on “the nation’s mental health”.
Line managers play a pivotal role
Another key issue weaving through the conference was the pivotal role that line managers play in cultivating a mentally healthy workforce. Cheshire described training line managers to have conversations about mental health as “the single most important thing an organisation can do”.
This was a perspective supported by Simon Blake, OBE, chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England, who chaired the ‘Future’ stream, saying that line managers represent the “missing piece of the [wellbeing] jigsaw”.
Overall, the big message from all sessions was that the industry has done a great job in terms of starting the conversation and now the focus needs to shift from talk to action. As Echave put it:
“It’s time to be courageous. The status quo is the enemy to beat. We all have to stand up. I ask you to join the revolution. This is about changing our ways of working. If you struggle, you are not alone. We are all fighting together and this is a fantastic event where you can join in. So, join the madness!”
Photo taken from opening keynote on call to action from the chief finance office. From left to right: Dr Heather Melville OBE CCMI, Dorothy Day, chief people officer, Good Shape, Paul Hendry, global VP for health, safety and environment, Jacobs and Javier Echave, CFO Heathrow Airport