Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

March 7, 2018

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Leadership, communication, education and support – are these the keys to managing workplace mental health and wellbeing?

Health and Wellbeing @ Work conference highlights day one

The 12th Health and Wellbeing @ Work conference, taking place on 6/7 March 2018 at the NEC in Birmingham has highlighted the crucial need for communication, support, training, leadership and culture shifts.

The conference programme, which has featured talks on mental health, resilience, suicide, culture, management, occupational health, long term physical health, reporting, attendance, and much more, runs alongside the exhibition which includes stands from Mind, Mental Health First Aid England, Bipolar Uk, occupational health and physical health organisations, as well as universities.

“A business case had to be put forward, and sickness absence alone demonstrated the point that for every penny put in, you get a pound back, with outcomes including increased engagement, participation and attendance.”

workplace mental health

Making the case for wellbeing

Opening one of the lecture theatres, Christopher Deacy, Assistant HR Director (Health, Safety and Wellbeing) Cardiff Metropolitan University, shared the findings of the university in terms of being able to strategically implement a successful wellbeing programme.

“We aspire to create a learning environment that enhances health, wellbeing and sustainability.” Christopher said, adding: “We are not perfect – but we are going in the right direction”.

The strategy, to provide mechanism and support for employees and students to make informed healthier lifestyle changes, and develop health and wellbeing provisions at Cardiff Met for its wider communities, required senior management commitment and corporate buy in. Making it not a ‘nice to have’ but something integral.

The barriers included whether it would be perceived as tokenism – “another badge for the wall”, trade union concerns over if the strategy was really about health and wellbeing – or about squeezing more out of people, and management concerns over if it was really needed.

A business case had to be put forward, and sickness absence alone demonstrated the point that for every penny put in, you get a pound back, with outcomes including increased engagement, participation and attendance.

“Sickness absence in 2006 was around 3.5-3.8%, which fell and plateaued to 2.5%. When you measure that in direct wage loss it is a saving into the multimillion pounds. It makes a very big difference.”

Making the case for mental health

Ian Wilson (Chair of the health and wellbeing committee at Atkins) and occupational psychologist Emily Hutchinson from EJH Consulting explored the challenge they had of bringing mental health training and mindfulness into a male dominated, engineering workforce.

Through a Time to Change pledge, Mental Health First Aid, Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, mindfulness, the Health and Wellbeing @ Work Conference, and Yammer conversations – the company started to really focus on wellbeing.

Language and timing was key, they explained. Four years ago, the company was not ready for mindfulness. However, as mental health and wellbeing was spoken about more, workers were more prepared for the concept of mindfulness. The company however referred to it as “train the brain” sessions, which had a better level of buy in from engineering employees.

“Bringing in neuroscience and looking at the way we react to stress and how mindfulness can help, really appealed to the employees” said Emily.

Katie Mason and Tom Oxley looked at the Major Employee Review undertaken at Mondelez, which owns Cadbury’s and Trebor) – and asked the question “what comes next after a strategic review?”

The review included a look at policy and procedure, an employee survey, confidential employee interviews, reporting, and stakeholder engagement.

“56% of people were unaware of available support and two thirds with lived experience hadn’t disclosed their situation to managers” Tom said, adding: “We needed a strategy. We planned to smash the stigma – perfect the process – show support – talk and train – and measure again”.

“Businesses have to be prepared to listen to tough things about themselves, they must listen properly to the answers and then they need to work out what they are going to do about it” Tom concluded.

So how is this done? Getting senior leadership commitment is the first step, making people aware of support available to them, training people managers, reviewing policies, promoting positive wellbeing stories, and giving access to technology for self-help.

“You need to question as a manager if you have been given enough information to support your teams, and as an employee you need to make sure you are aware of all of the information available to you” Katie added.

“We needed a strategy. We planned to smash the stigma – perfect the process – show support – talk and train – and measure again”.

Making the case for suicide prevention

“A person dies of suicide in England every 107 minutes.”

Suicide is taking more lives of young men than any other cause, yet the money, time and resources put into suicide prevention are so much less than money spent in other areas. This was a key theme in all the talks on suicide at yesterday’s conference.

Martin Coyd, of Mace, focused on suicide in construction, which has over a 3% higher than national average suicide rate as an industry.

“It’s the ultimate GIG economy” said Martin. “Phone usage increases by the end of the week as people are trying to get work for the next week.

“Many men struggle with finding a purpose and understanding their role. This is key”.

Andrew Kinder, Professional Head of Mental Health Services, Optima Health – a chartered occupational and counselling psychologist noted the three things to look our for in a person who is potentially suicidal – a “trance”, a loss of will, and the beckoning of death.

Life stresses, substance misuse, hopelessness and helplessness, unemployment and long term physical ill health were also highlighted as risk factors.

Dr Steven Boorman CBE, Director of Employee Health at Empactis, Chair of the Council for Work and Health, and author of the 2009 independent report into wellbeing in the NHS, gave a very personal approach to suicide, in his afternoon talk to a packed room.

He discussed coming to terms with experiencing a suicide in the workplace of a teenager more than two decades ago – and how it has impacted him.

Discussing the details surrounding the suicide Dr Boorman highlighted one very key point; there were no contingency arrangements in place, and no one really knew what to do or understood the profound impact it could have on the company.

“Employers need policies and procedures for suicide prevention, but they also need to plan for the aftermath of a suicide, focusing on leadership, communication, education and support.

The conference and exhibition continue today (7th March 2018) at the Birmingham NEC.  

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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