Mental health at Dixons Carphone – in conversation with Elizabeth Skelton
Elizabeth Skelton, group head of health and safety at Dixons Carphone, talks to SHP about mental health, risk and advice for young health and safety professionals.
“Positive mental health is hugely important for us.” Skelton states, “we work with two separate mental health charities and have a good support system for our colleagues.”
Skelton’s focus on mental health echoes an attitude that has been rapidly growing among many in the health and safety profession in the last couple of years.
As the safeguards and practice that ensure the physical safety of workplaces have advanced significantly, mental health has remained relatively unexplored.
“We’re tackling this with our mental health and wellbeing programme and by supporting mental health charities and initiatives.”
Skelton explains that there are three ‘areas’ that support Dixon Carphone’s strategy for building a safety culture that takes mental health into proper consideration.
“The first area we concentrate on is mental health promotion. By working with charities like Mix and HeadsTogether we promote mental health services and get the message out that we are here to help and support and that it is OK to talk about issues you may be having.
“The second area is our support network. We have various employee assistance programmes, workplace stress and occupational health assessments and engagement surveys that help us work out how our workforce is feeling and how we can properly support them.
“Finally, we have prevention as our third area of focus. This is quite self-explanatory as it is what we do to make sure we get ahead of any problems that might develop. For instance we have just recently rolled out a wellbeing programme called cornerstone – we recognise that colleagues are at the foundation of our business and therefore need to support them.”
Supporting mental health charity
Dixons Carphone’s commitment to mental health also extends past their own health and safety culture. Since 2001, Dixons Carphone has supported The Mix, a charity that aims to improve the lives of young people between the ages of 13-25 by offering them advice and guidance.
Dixons Carphone and The mix are a perfect match, as The Mix offers its services to young people through various digital and analogue services such as MSM messaging, email and telephone conversations.
“We also launched an awareness programme called #OKTOSAY – Taking steps where we had our employees pin post-it notes on a huge wall. On each post-it note our employees wrote one thing that they were doing to raise awareness of mental illness, some colleagues committed to run the London Marathon for mental health charities, others committed to finding out more about our support network and others chose to do something as simple as asking the colleague next to them how their day was going.
“For a company that is quite male oriented, I think it’s a real positive that we’re raising awareness because traditionally it’s been quite hard to get men to talk about their feelings and thoughts. We’re really invested in developing our colleagues’ emotional intelligence.”
Dixons Carphone’s and Skelton’s enthusiasm for mental health isn’t just morally commendable, it’s a smart move financially.
Economic cost of mental illness
According to the “Fundamental Facts About Mental Health 2016” report, published by the Mental Health Foundation, half of the adult population in the UK believe that they have suffered from a mental illness at some point in their lives. Of that frankly staggering number, a fifth of men (19.5%) and a third of women (33.7%) have had a confirmed diagnosis by a professional.
In 2015, workers took 138.7 million working days off because of mental illness. According to calculations carried out by Oxford Economics, the estimated lost time cost to UK GDP was £25billion.
Perhaps if more companies followed Dixons Carphone’s example, we could see a future where that number is significantly reduced.
Other areas of health and safety at Dixons Carphone
Mental health is not the only thing on Skelton’s mind. A company with as much reach as Dixons Carphone faces quite a lot of risk in its day-to-day operations.
“We have a broad range of different areas to consider when we think about risk.” Skelton explains, “From our supply chain, distribution centre, all the way to our shop floors and delivery and install business; there’s a lot that we could worry about.
“In our shops, our employees have to deal with members of the public, bringing with it potential risk of robbery or violence. We have a robust risk assessment process and a great package of security measures in place so our colleagues can feel safe at work”, Skelton continues.
“Our distribution warehouses have a range of risks from workplace transport to manual handling. Our colleagues are highly trained, so we’ve minimised that risk considerably. But as with all things we can never fully eradicate all the risks – we have a large focus on key safety behaviours so colleagues “do the right thing”.
One gets the impression that, as with all big companies, the need to constantly retain competitive edge can bring new challenges and risks when running a large, successful business.
“We continuously look to the horizon to make sure we keep at the top of our game. This means looking for new and innovative ways of communicating about health and safety. One thing that people outside the company might not know is that we are one of the biggest gas installers in the UK. We make a huge effort to train and support our colleagues and ensure they are working within the GasSafe requirements so we can keep the risk to a minimum, including using micro-training for new product launches and to brief out technical changes on our new learning and development platform.”
“We make sure all our engineers are experienced and highly trained to give us the best possible edge we can get. Once they begin work proper, we reassess them and the quality of their work on a regular basis so that we know they are operating at the top of their game.”
When asked about the main challenges of her work, Skeltin says: “The biggest challenge is probably striking an equal balance between the need for good health and safety practices and the commercial aspects of the company.
“My main goal is to keep everyone happy and healthy. We all want everyone to go home at the end of the day in the same condition they came in, if not better. That being said we need to be proportionate with our actions.
“Adapting to the merge between Dixons and Carphone Warehouse bought its own set of challenges to our colleagues. Dixons was quite a traditional company while Carphone Warehouse were young and fast-paced. Integrating those two communities and cultures could have been a real challenge from a health and safety perspective. Luckily everything is running very smoothly and our management systems are now being harmonised.”
Skelton explains that when the two companies merged, the health and safety team’s remit changed along with it.
“Since I started 18 months ago, we’ve embraced a lot of different processes and focuses. We’ve focused more on mental health, on saying yes more to our customers and on services and repairs. We’ve moved more towards a more holistic service provider as well as a retailer, which brings a range of different risks to manage.”
Advice for young professionals health and safety
Finally, we asked what advice Skelton had for young health and safety practitioners.
“Always aim for something better. If the going gets tough then just push through it. And have the resilience to keep moving forward. Be honest and truthful. Be open and be there to support your operational colleagues in delivering their business objectives. That’s something that the profession needs to remember–we’re here to support the business and say yes more.”
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