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August 17, 2016

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Wellbeing – an ethical or commercial concern? HSE Leaders Connect

28254614904_dee515095c_zDanielle Stallard recounts the latest HSE Leaders Connect event that took place in Manchester, with important discussions around the value of wellbeing and mindfulness, and if it sits as a moral and ethical concern or a commercial one.

Following the success of the inaugural event in April, HSE Leaders Connect has continued to grow as a nationwide community of the most successful and recognised professionals within the health and safety industry.

Attendees included some of the elite of the health and safety world, in addition to highly renowned wellbeing and mindfulness specialists as speakers for the evening. With ELAS as the generous sponsors, they were invited to a fantastic venue – a charming conference space at University of Salford, MediaCityUK, offering striking views of the vibrant Salford Quays.

The panel featured three highly knowledgeable and passionate professionals within the field of wellbeing and mindfulness – a topic that to some is second nature and others, a complete mystery. The evening’s speakers were Sharon de Mascia, Rachel Watson and first up, Hazel McCallum.

Hazel is widely experienced within the realms of health, safety and wellbeing with many accolades for her role as a ‘Stress Champion’ for the HSE and specialist work in wellbeing and stress management in the years’ since. When discussing stress, Hazel drew upon her own experiences and recollected her career as a nurse in a high care unit – she felt competent in her ability and knew what was expected of her but the element of stress came from the lack of education and lack of knowledge in that environment – aspects of the role that were out of Hazel’s control.

This recollection allowed Hazel to expose the many factors to be considered when discussing stress and the impact it has on us: “stress shrinks our brains”.

It is proven, she explained, that when a person is suffering from stress, the part of the brain that is affected is what we rely on for planning, prioritising and decision making. Surely this presents a very real concern for any employer that expects their staff to make effective decisions and build healthy working relationships? In particular, when looking at studies that show that 1 in 4 suffer from mental health in the UK, with more than half of the population reporting they are ‘extremely stressed at work’.

In simple terms – stress is bad for business and is most certainly a risk factor for health and safety. Hazel highlighted the link between stress and poor levels of engagement, as well as the importance of teaching mental resilience to enable people to recognise the balance between good and bad stress.

Sharon de Mascia, Director of Cognoscenti Business Psychologists Ltd., is an expert in wellbeing, leadership and change and was the second speaker of the evening. Asking attendees to consider if wellbeing is an ethical or commercial concern, it became evident that Sharon had more than just an in-depth understanding of the topic and was keen to delve further into the topic of stress and introduced attendees to ‘the pressure performance curve’ (Robertson Cooper).

We all understand the concept that when stress levels increase, it becomes unmanageable and we experience ‘burn-out’. What many of us aren’t considering is the opposite side to this – the experience of ‘rust-out’, when we don’t experience sufficient challenge in our daily lives and this leads to high levels of stress.

What we certainly do know and understand is the dire impact stress has on our performance (increased risk of accidents) and wellbeing (more vulnerable to serious disease). However, Sharon stated that “wellbeing is not just about health”, highlighting the correlation between wellbeing, productivity and engagement.

Sharon encouraged the room of leaders to consider ways in which issues with wellbeing and mental health can be identified early in order to avoid long-term sickness and to increase productivity. It is vital that wellbeing is an integral part of an organisations culture and should be championed from ‘the top’, recognising that employee wellbeing is an investment – not a cost. This can be achieved through the introduction of mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy, by encouraging exercise/healthy eating and emotional resilience training.

A specialist in this field is certainly the final speaker Rachel Watson – wellbeing consultant, stress management practitioner and resilience coach. Rachel has gained a proven reputation in her field, working with many of the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies and spoke of her experiences of helping various organisations to overcome issues and to embrace wellbeing and stress management.

Similarly to Sharon, Rachel stressed the importance of creating a wellbeing culture and that a healthy workforce leads to greater productivity and a higher level of employee engagement. In order to achieve this, organisations must implement incentives and initiatives as part of their business strategy and these must be driven by the company’s leaders.

Rachel also expressed a slightly different message, raising the point that wellbeing should also be implemented from ‘the bottom’ – employees are ultimately responsible for their own health and wellbeing and so should take ownership of this, ensuring the appropriate measures are in place to ensure they are in a positive, healthy working environment. As a result, organisations and their leaders should be able to confidently ask themselves “are your employees ‘fit’ for purpose?”

As the ever-engaging host for the evening, Director of The HSE Recruitment Network Chris Rowlands had tasked the attendees with questions around wellbeing and mindfulness to discuss and debate, with the aim of collectively raising on-topic questions for the Q&A session.

To round off the evening, it was a lively and thought-provoking group discussion focused on the topics introduced earlier: stress, presenteeism, work/life integration, in-house vs. outsourced management and measureable objectives.

Chris Dark, HSE Director at Sodexo UK and Ireland, kicked off the Q&A and discussed the work the organisation have done to endorse quality of life for their clients, customers and their own employees. Firstly by striving to define quality of life (how do we look after our employees?) and secondly, asking where and how do we add value? Chris recognised that this was not always easy but that it is fundamental to not only the health and wellbeing of employees but to their success as a company.

Throughout the Q&A it became evident that many attendees prioritise the topics that were being discussed within their own teams and organisations – in particular work/life integration and stress. Steve Hails, Director of Health, Safety and Wellbeing at Thames Tideway discussed the importance of having work/life balance with Andrea Dolphin of Balfour Beatty, who asked: “As leaders, do we practice what we preach?”

Photographs from the event are available to view here.

For more information on HSE Leaders Connect, please contact [email protected] or visit the HSE Recruitment website for more information.

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