‘Mental health and wellbeing of employees is definitely further up the agenda’, SHP meets Rob Stephenson
SHP speaks to mental health campaigner and CEO of FormScore, Rob Stephenson, about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the health and safety profession and what more needs to be done to ensure business’ are doing all they can to maintain ‘mentally healthy’ workplaces.
Please can you introduce yourself and talk a little about your background?
Rob Stephenson (RS): “I’m a mental health campaigner on a mission to help inspire the creation of mentally healthy workplaces. Workplaces where people can put their hand up and say I’m struggling with mental ill health and seek help, but also workplaces where people can feel equipped and empowered and have the literacy to prioritise wellbeing. I experience bipolar disorder, and previously managed my condition under the radar with just close friends and family knowing. Even in a business that I owned with a team that I had a lot of respect for and loved, I still put physiotherapy in my diary every time I would go see a therapist. When I shared my story, I realised that so many people, even in my immediate network, experienced mental ill health and do so in silence because of a fear of how they would be perceived. That really galvanised me to be on a mission to try and smash the stigma and create those mentally healthy workplaces.
“So there’s a few main things I do in that space, I’m founder of the Inside Out Leaderboard, which is a non-profit organisation. We publish an annual list of business leaders who are open about their challenges of mental illness. I am also Co. Founder of the Inside Out Awards, which are a celebration of mental health and those that champion it. And then I’m the founder and CEO of FormScore, which is a technology start-up helping individuals be more intentional about wellbeing and allow organisations to get an insight into the wellbeing of their teams in real time.”
What impact do you think COVID-19 has had on the health and safety profession and, more specifically, its focus on workplace mental health?
(RS): “ I think COVID-19 has obviously had a direct impact. As we re-enter the workplace, helping people with that journey to psychological safety, when there is a fear that being out in the big, wide world, the place that we’ve conditioned ourselves to know, is dangerous because of the pandemic itself, is really important.
“I think, helping people attain psychological safety and dealing with people feeling anxious about re-entry, is a big aspect of the pandemic. More generally, on mental health and wellbeing, COVID-19 has certainly elevated the discussion, because of the loss of social connection for many, or the increased stress levels for others.
“Mental health and wellbeing of employees is definitely further up the agenda and lots more organisations are talking about it. I think continued and ongoing action on improving workplace wellbeing and mental health is going to be really key as we travel through the next few years. There’s a lot more talk we need to see, more sustained action, I would say.”
Do you think there has been a wider focus on health & wellbeing, because of the pandemic and, if so, what impact has that had on the profession?
(RS): “It has certainly given health and safety directors and their teams more power to make positive change, but they have also been under pressure to do so. I think health and wellbeing is an interesting one as to where it sits in an organisation, for some organisations it will sit squarely in the health and safety kind of function, others it will be more in HR, we have seen a rise of dedicated wellbeing leaders, or those responsible for mental health. I think it’s certainly created impact and momentum.”
Tell us a little about FormScore and what it does?
(RS): “FormScore is a very simple idea. At an individual level you give yourself a score out of 10 in answer to the question, how are you today in respect of your mental wellbeing? Then you would tag what is driving it, whether it’s sleep, exercise, connections, work, stress management, whatever it might be, and this helps the individual build up a picture of what’s driving their wellbeing, their form, and then with that knowledge they can be a little bit more intentional about managing it.
“What we do in the workplace is actually aggregate those scores up with the consent of the individual and anonymously, but we aggregate them at a team level and an organisational level. So, what we’ve got is effectively a real time measure of organisational and team wellbeing that’s really helpful right now where you’ve got remote hybrid teams. We’re not seeing people as often as we would normally do. We’re not picking up those visual cues as often as to people who might be struggling. The finance function for example might be trending down on their form score because of lack of sleep, so that gives the health and safety professional or the wellbeing lead or whoever is responsible for wellbeing to say, ‘OK, maybe we’ll put some lunch and learns on about how to get better sleep or manage stress’. Then within an organisation, you can personalise your wellbeing response.
“The other thing we’re doing is looking to really drive engagement in existing solutions and particularly at EAP schemes, because if somebody is trending down to a four out of 10, low form very low form, then what we want to do is try and drive engagement to the existing resources of the organisation. And that’s quite exciting because, from a very simple tool, we can hopefully help you make those employees aware of the resource they’ve got which often they’re not aware of in an organisation.”
What have you found from FormScore users on their own health & wellbeing over the last year?
(RS): “It’s really interesting. We’re starting to collect quite a lot of data now and, certainly through the pandemic we saw a natural drop in average form score. As you know, various challenges and worries or anxieties were causing people to trend a bit lower. Interestingly, what we’re seeing, typically, as the negative drivers of form in the data in stress management, is work as the biggest negative driver of forming an organisation, along with sleep and physical health. It’s interesting, because there’s obviously the pandemic itself, but then there’s the long-COVID implications. I experienced long-COVID myself, which effects my ability to exercise, and my ability to handle physical activity. I think many people in organisations will be experiencing that challenge, which I’m sure the health and safety code colleagues will be working on.
“Work is an interesting one, because work can either be a force for good in our world, or it can be a detriment to our wellbeing. I think, regrettably in a lot of organisations, work will be seen as a negative, and I think there’s been some interesting work coming out of business in the Community about it. For me, a lot of the initiatives around mental health and wellbeing are responding to the negative impact that work has on people’s wellbeing. As we rethink how we work and where we work and how we empower individuals to work with autonomy and trust and I think we have an opportunity to create more of a positive impact on our mental wellbeing from a work perspective.
“We would typically be employing adults to do jobs and trust them to do so, and I think we’ve shown in the pandemic that we can be trusted to collectively to get things done. I would say where we need to help people who are working more remotely is to prioritise their wellbeing whilst they’re doing that, what you find is people go from Zoom to Teams back to back with no commute to break it up. There’s no stepping out to go and get your lunch, there’s no walking to a meeting room and, you know, we’re not so good at putting those micro-breaks in the day to recover. So, I think one area that we can help people while they’re working remotely is just education and improving literacy about how to manage wellbeing when you’re not going into the office.”
Finally, you will be speaking at EHS Congress in Berlin in November, what can delegates expect from your session?
(RS): “I’m going to be covering a lot of things that we’ve been talking about, but in a bit more detail as to how to help care for mental health and wellbeing of employees in remote and hybrid working models. There’s going to be lots of practical tips there on how to build cultures of psychological safety, how to check in with employees and how to really help people with that transition as we go back into the physical working environment.
“It’s going to be interactive; we will do a live FormScore pole to get a temperature test of how people are feeling in the room.”
Hear more from Rob Stephenson on day 1 of the 2021 EHS Congress in Berlin, from 9-10 November, in his talk, ‘Caring for employee mental health in remote and hybrid working modules’.
Click here for the full EHS Congress agenda, COVID guidelines and to register for a place at the event.
Click here for more from EHS Congress on SHP.