“The traditional drivers of value have been shaken, new ones will gain prominence and there’s a possibility that the gulf between what markets value and what people value will close.” If what the Governor of the Bank of England told the Economist is true, will the Covid-19 pandemic be the catalyst that accelerates adoption of external reporting on wellbeing? Could it even become mandatory – in the same way as organisations must now report gender pay gap data?
These were the questions we explored at our second #COVID-19 virtual roundtable, with Josh Krichefski, CEO EMEA, MediaCom; Helen Gillett, former CEO, Affinity for Business; Peter Kelly, Senior Psychologist, The Health & Safety Executive; Mia van Straelen, former HR Director, IBM, Jonathan Gawthrop, Wellbeing Director of facilities management company Emcor UK and Kirstin Furber, Chief People Officer. The discussion was led by Claire Farrow, Content Director, Make A Difference Events and Catherine de la Poer, Halcyon Coaching.
Despite the range of perspectives, there was much common ground.
The idea of public reporting on mental health and wellbeing is not new. Back in November 2018 the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Health and Social Care created a framework to get employers started with voluntary reporting on disability, mental health and wellbeing. Yet few organisations do this.
Seven weeks into coronavirus lockdown, we explored the pros and cons of reporting on wellbeing, as well as thoughts around supporting both psychological safety and productivity as many return to their physical workplace.
Carrot or stick?
Josh Krichefski believes firmly that companies should be reporting on what they are doing to ensure a level of mental wellbeing and resilience amongst their people. He also thinks that the Government can do much to advance this agenda.
After all, mental health is not a new conversation, at least not in the UK. Employers have had time to make changes.
Some organisations are already doing great things with company culture, where employee wellbeing is everybody’s instinctive responsibility. On the other hand, many are still doing nothing. For these late-adopters, is reporting on wellbeing what’s needed to bring them on board?
Whilst a good idea in theory Krichefski cautioned that, with so many businesses facing challenges in the Covid-19 economy, this is not the time to beat them with another stick.
Inspiration to match the perspiration
Helen Gillett is a fan of gender pay gap measurement but believes that reporting can easily become a tick box exercise.
She thinks that, rather than relying on reporting to incentivise organisations to adopt mental health and wellbeing programmes, organisations need ‘inspiration to match the perspiration’. Employers are craving insights into practical and implementable wellbeing programmes that work at different scales; concrete examples that they can use to benchmark best practice*.
The spotlight should also be shone on case studies from organisations that have survived other crises by putting their people first.
The devil’s in the data
Statistics generated by reporting on wellbeing create awareness. They can galvanise an organisation around data and insights that may have previously been overlooked.
However, Mia van Straelen pointed out that many companies do not know what to report on. She wondered what shape reporting could take as one size does not fit all when it comes to workplace wellbeing.
Jonathan Gawthrop believes that any reporting metrics would need to be consistent across organisations and that we aren’t anywhere near understanding what these metrics could look like.
Performance, control and psychological safety
Peter Kelly, reminded us that rather than focusing on reporting, the more immediate problem is getting people back to work.
He warned that many are anxious about their return. Many will have had their mental health impacted in different ways by the pandemic. The result is an absence of psychological safety and a potentially steep increase in employee mental ill-health on the horizon.
He said: “A key problem is that people don’t feel any sense of control over what’s coming. Everyone is feeling their way in the dark. But if you give people a bit of control, that can really help”.
Echoing this point, van Straelen recognised that many like the flexibility of working from home (and the saved commuting time), and that a sense of control contributes significantly to wellbeing,
She believes that performance management should be revisited. Her plan is to link performance – with clear parameters defined either individually or by job role – directly to whether employees work at home or in the office. If performance is not high, for whatever reason, an employee will be brought closer to the inner circle of the organisation.
Kelly reminded us that employees won’t be up to 100% productivity on day one of their return to the workplace. He said: ”People have nothing to go on from the past and that’s really important to remember”.
Change for the better
Gillett reiterated that whilst for some people lockdown will have improved their wellbeing, for others it will have materially worsened.
Kelly cited evidence from the World Health Organisation, which has identified three categories of people: those that don’t want to go back to the old way of working; those who are developing abilities to cope; and a final group who don’t want to be at home. Anything employers do on wellbeing needs to accommodate these different needs.
There was a consensus for innovation as an alternative to public reporting. Could insurance companies for example charge lower premiums to companies that have made wellbeing a strategic priority?
There was a clear sense that even if the pandemic is not the catalyst that propels reporting forward, it will surely make organisations think strategically about mental health and wellbeing.
De la Poer reminded us that it’s fundamental that we equip our workforce to be fit for the future and create resilient organisations, that prioritise wellbeing holistically so that they are built to withstand future crisis.
With some warning of a possible recurrence of the pandemic later this year, what we as employers do now is critical. Now is the time to make workplace wellbeing a priority, with mandatory reporting perhaps something for the future. We need to prepare for change, be flexible in our approach and welcome innovation.
As Kelly said: “You’ve got a chance to do wellbeing properly”. But it can’t simply be a matter of putting in place an Employee Assistance Programme or a mindfulness or resilience training course – it’s got to be an organisational approach, where wellbeing is integrated into everything.
A huge thank you to our virtual roundtable participants.
About the authors:
Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Make A Difference News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times