Simon Arnold, CEO, Optima Health on Workplace Wellbeing Trends and the Make A Difference Awards


To mark World Health Day on 7 April, I was delighted to have the opportunity to catch up with a true leader in workplace wellbeing – Simon Arnold. 

Simon Arnold is the CEO of the major occupational health and wellbeing provider Optima Health. He is passionate about improving health and wellbeing in the UK workplace.

We are delighted that Optima Health, along with Royal Mail are co-sponsoring the inaugural Make A Difference Awards. After a year like no other, these awards are our way to stop, think and thank the individuals and employers who have really made a difference to workplace mental health and wellbeing; those that are leading the way and inspiring others to follow their example.

In this exclusive interview for Make a Difference News, Simon shares insights into workplace wellbeing trends he’s seen emerging over the past year, including how new applications of data are helping employers to meet specific wellbeing needs and achieve the increasing need for flexibility. He also gives tips on what he will be looking out for when it comes to judging the nominations for the Make A Difference Awards.

Q: Simon, what a year it’s been! What are some of the workplace wellbeing trends that you’ve seen emerging since we went into lockdown in the UK in March 2020? 

It certainly has been a year like no other. I think workplace wellbeing has changed fundamentally – and for the better. For a start, wellbeing is now a board agenda item – it is not good enough to hope you have the balance right – organisations need a health and wellbeing strategy and are seeking to get more directly involved in helping their people look after their own wellbeing.

For many organisations, mental wellbeing is now a key consideration and many new support mechanisms and peer support programmes have emerged to provide far more active help in times of need.

We have also seen a move to more proactive and preventive programmes – using data to target initiatives, particularly around major risk factors such as obesity, asthma and cardiovascular disease.

Linked to this, we have been excited to see the tangible emergence of Connected Health – linking up data and technology to automate decision-making and using complex, clinical algorithms to ensure the right care is provided at the right time, in the right way. It’s a fundamental shift in healthcare delivery.

And finally, there has definitely been a greater recognition of the need to manage our own health and wellbeing as individuals – with online and offline support tools now in place to enable what I would call ‘supported self-management’.

For our own business, we recently conducted a survey among our Optima Family to reflect on what the last year has meant for all of us – what we have found difficult and also what positives have emerged from it. Whilst there have of course been challenges, it was refreshing to read through some of the positive experiences; less travel, more time with immediate family, and for many, a better work life balance. 

For us, and I am sure many other organisations, we therefore recognise that flexibility is going to be key moving forwards. It is vital that we learn from our experiences over the last 12 months and listen to our employees to understand how we can support their wellbeing as we come out the other side of this pandemic. 

Q: What do you hope will be the lasting legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic when it comes to workplace wellbeing?

I think there will be many, but certainly flexibility and the greater use of technology in healthcare will be one area – remote consultation and engagement enables wellbeing to reach more people quickly and effectively. It is the start of a real transformation. I am also pretty sure that companies will continue to build greater wellbeing support for their employees into the future.

At the same time, we have all seen the benefits of kindness first-hand over the past 12 months. The sense of community spirit has grown tremendously, from checking in with a colleague to helping out a neighbour in need. As we come out the other side of the pandemic, I hope we see this kindness continue to spread through workplaces.  

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Q: Why do you think the Make A Difference Awards are a good idea? What do you hope they will achieve?

I think it’s essential that we not only recognise the valuable contributions that individuals and organisations are making to workplace wellbeing, but also use these examples to help others implement their own health and wellbeing interventions. The Make A Difference Awards will highlight the changes that we can all make to improve our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us.

Q: Finally, you and the other judges will soon be selecting a short list of nominees from the nominations we’ve received for Make A Difference Awards. What will really make a nomination stand out in your eyes – both for the person and the employer that has made the most difference to workplace mental health and wellbeing from March 2020 – March 2021?

For individual nominees, I will be looking out for contributions to workplace wellbeing which can be scaled up; what can we all learn from the actions of one individual? For employers, I will be looking for interventions that can be or are already embedded into the culture of that organisation and seek to reduce some of the pressure on the NHS with proactive support. We are looking for sustainable changes that can really make a lasting impact for their employees. 


Thank you Simon for sharing your insights. Nominations for the Make A Difference Awards are open until midnight on 15th April. You can submit your nominations for the individual and/or employer who you believe has made the biggest difference to workplace mental health and wellbeing over the past year here.

It’s quick, easy and free to make a nomination. We’ve already received a raft of great entries, so don’t delay – nominate today!

About the author

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.


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