Profile: Amy McKeown On Creating A Wellbeing Framework And Choosing Suppliers

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At this year’s MADWorld Summit on 21st October, mental health consultant Amy KcKeown will be running a free to attend workshop from 11.15am – 12.00pm entitled: Mental health strategy 2.0 post-Covid: a guide to creating a wellbeing framework and choosing suppliers.

In this profile interview, Amy shares valuable tips and offers a glimpse of what she’ll cover in person during the workshop.

First, can you tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you come into your role looking after workplace mental health and wellbeing?

I have never not been involved in workplace mental health and wellbeing; it is our family business. I grew up the daughter of a Consultant Psychiatrist who, in the 1980s, specialised in stress, anxiety and depression. I spent my 20s running a mental health tech start up. I wanted to take my father’s knowledge and clinical experience around mental health to people proactively and confidentially at work to help prevent problems from occurring. It seemed an obvious thing to do. I built up a decade’s worth of experience in all aspects of organisational health and mental health.

After having my children, I’ve now re-launched my career. I independently consult to a number of different sized organisations (from governments and SMEs to FTSE 100) helping to write and implement evidence-based health, mental health and wellbeing programmes. I work with every client differently working with stakeholders and using their data to design and measure interventions and comprehensive, end to end strategies that will work for them.

What are the main obstacles employers are facing when it comes to implementing effective workplace mental health and wellbeing initiatives?

There are three main obstacles that I tend to see in my work with clients:

  • Overwhelm. I get approached by many organisations who want to do the right thing around mental health. Either at the start of their journey, or later on when the approaches they have tried aren’t giving the results that they want. Many are overwhelmed with the choice of providers and things now on offer and don’t really know where to start or what to do. There is a lack of knowledge about what will work or next steps. Usually also no strategic approach; more a collection of initiatives and activities pulled together. I think a big obstacle for many is overcoming the overwhelm and building a simple strategic approach. Then knowing how to procure the right providers to deliver this.
  • Resources. Many organisations have big visions for their mental health initiative but still aren’t committing the resources, either financial or people to achieve the outcomes that they want. I spend a lot of time managing expectations between what people want to achieve with their strategy, and the money and time they are willing to put into it. Mental health needs to be an embedded part of the way an organisation operates, woven into all policies, processes and systems. A core part of performance management and reviews. To achieve this you need many stakeholders working together and a whole organisational strategy. With sufficient money and resource behind it.
  • Senior leadership commitment. Although things are changing slowly there is still a need for mental health to be championed by senior leadership. I speak to many organisations where senior leaders are now talking more about mental health, but they aren’t role modelling good mental health behaviours or yet committing the organisational resources necessary to make big change. Often the people most committed to changing things are the People team, and more junior employees. Getting the board on board and prepared to invest, change systems and processes and culture can be a challenge. Even from organisations proudly talking about what great work they are doing around mental health.

What would you say has been the most important aspect of employers’ workplace mental health and wellbeing programmes (in general) in recent year

I think the last year has all been about connection. Making sure that employees and organisations stay connected and talking during the most extreme year we have collectively faced. Connection and flexibility. Giving individuals and families the flexibility to find their way through the pandemic and the individual circumstances that every one had. The organisations who focused on both connection and flexibility are the ones that I believe fared the best.

Now it’s about building on this and building systems, processes and strategies around health and mental health that go a step further. That weave levels of support across the organisation. That maintain connection and flexibility but include more defined care pathways to help, and more extensive health and mental health provision.

Since COVID-19 what has been the most effective aspect of workplace mental health and wellbeing programmes that you’ve observed?

Making sure that there is a strategic, end to end approach to health and mental health with clear care pathways and signposting to help. Effective strategies are ones that are simple, clear and well communicated. It’s about everyone in the organisation knowing what mental health support there is and how to get to it. And that this is thought through and effective with the right health providers involved. Promotion, education and prevention activities are important but need to be joined up with care pathways and organisational systems and processes that support employees quickly and early. An organisation needs a clear idea of what good health and mental health looks like and guiding principles and a framework around this.

The pandemic has forced mental and physical health to the top of organisations’ agendas. Our goal is to make sure it remains a priority and becomes embedded as business as usual post-COVID. How can people driving this agenda within their workplaces achieve this?

The pandemic has changed the employee, employer relationship. For the first time in my career I believe that employees have the power to make change. People are leaving jobs where they don’t feel they have the flexibility or support that they deserve. Mental and physical health isn’t a nice to have any more. It has to be a core part of an organisational People proposition. Employees will demand it and leave if they don’t get it. And see through wishy washy approaches that are more talk than anything else. People driving the agenda need to be strategic and effective.

I also feel that the pandemic has shifted the way we view healthcare in the UK. It’s opened the door to conversations about who is responsible for our health and mental health. With an NHS now backed up with waiting lists longer than before records began we can’t take our health and mental health care for granted.

Smart employers will be looking at commissioning their own health care services for employees. For two reasons, getting them well and back to work if there are issues (nipping problems in the bud) and as part of engagement and an overarching People proposition (making employees feel valued and supported).

I’m increasingly having these sorts of conversations with organisations. Helping them figure out how to do this. Health and mental health providers aren’t being seen as ‘employee benefits’ any more but part of a good business strategy necessary to keep employees well and working.

We are delighted that you will be joining us as a speaker at this year’s MADWorld Summit on 21st October in London. Is there anything you’d like to share with readers about your workshop “Mental health strategy 2.0 post-Covid: a guide to creating a wellbeing framework and choosing suppliers”.

I’m planning a really practical session about how to write a strategy and procure suppliers. I want to share my decades of experience and knowledge (the sort of work I do with clients) with your audience. My aim is to make it interactive and fun, giving attendees the chance to ask me questions and put me on the spot. Together we can come up with the right answers for them, hopefully giving useful and practical answers that can be taken straight back to their workplace.

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Post Pandemic we are at such an interesting time for workplace mental health. Many organisations want and need to do more with their strategies but are unsure of their next steps. Especially when it comes to developing a strategic approach to mental health or picking the right health providers from the thousands that are now on offer. I’ll share some of the frameworks and questions I use to simplify this so that decisions made are empowered and conscious. That time, money and energy spent will provide a return and produce useful outcomes.

What are you looking forward to most about the MADWorld Summit?

I’m looking forward to being back with people. My peers, colleagues and industry friends. Talking to and learning from them. Hearing how people have survived the pandemic and where they are now (physically, emotionally, work-wise). It’s been such an extreme and disconnected two years for us all and I haven’t seen most people for such a long time.

I’m also excited to see what health providers and suppliers are up to and what new products and services are on offer.

The pandemic has put mental health at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I don’t think that there has ever been a more prominent time for our industry, or opportunity for us to work together and change things going forward. We need to make sure that we share our experiences and support each other to make the changes needed to make workplaces more mentally healthy.

Collaboration not competition. Now is the time to take our learnings from the pandemic and ensure that we create a new employee proposition and culture, not just slipping back into pre pandemic norms which didn’t work for many people. Days like ‘Mad World’ give us the opportunity to do this. To get together, share and create a new vision for the working world.

The MAD World Summit is on Thursday 21st October, in-person at 133 Houndsditch in Central London. The Summit is the go-to event for employers who want to Make A Difference to workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing. For more information visit the event agenda or to book visit the booking page. Full details about Amy’s workshop are here.

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