Watch the webinar
Today's webinar took the form of a conversation between the CBI’s own Chief Economist, Rain Newton-Smith; our HR Director, Lauren Adams; and Michael Cole Fontayn, Chairman of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe. The main subject was mental health, although we also touched on some other areas. Here are the key takeaways:
- What the Prime Minister announced yesterday
- The Bank of England’s prognosis
- The importance of mental health – now
- Good policy comes from the top…
- …and involves conversation.
What the Prime Minister announced yesterday
On Sunday, Boris Johnson made his televised statement about the next phases of the lockdown. Yesterday, he appeared in Parliament – and his government published a range of documents – to provide further details. Rain began the webinar by summarising what we’ve heard.
Her main point was that, while the government’s call for people to return to work if they cannot work from home is “an important change of emphasis”, it is not a sudden and dramatic reopening of the economy. The process will happen gradually, across a number of phases, and perhaps even at different paces in different places. “We’ll see differences between what happens in different areas and regions,” said Rain, “because the R-number will move differently between them.”
Besides, many businesses have either already implemented or were thinking about implementing their own return-to-work plans. As Rain put it, “[the new advice] is just part of a journey that they’ve already been on.” There is no flick-of-the-light-switch moment.
Yesterday did bring clarity on some of the particulars of the restart, including the safety guidance for different forms of workplace – and, something we’ve been waiting for, advice on facemasks. “If you are on public transport, or in shops, on in environments where you do need to be within two metres, then face coverings are advised,” explained Rain.
And we should get more clarity today, particularly when it comes to the government’s economic support measures. Rain anticipated Rishi Sunak’s parliamentary statement, in which we are likely to hear about the extension of – and changes to – the Job Retention Scheme (JRS).
The Bank of England’s prognosis
Last week, the Bank of England published a report on the crisis. Rain, who has previously worked at the Bank, also summarised it for the webinar.
The report revealed “no major change in the policy that the Bank of England is putting out”. Interest rates will be kept the same – with the base rate at a historic low of 0.1%. And the pace of quantitative easing will also be kept the same – although a couple of members of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee did vote for it to be quickened.
As for the economic outlook, the Bank set out a “v-shaped scenario”: an economic contraction of 14% this year but followed by 15% growth next year. Although, as Rain pointed out, they also emphasise that “it’s hard to make forecasts” at the moment, amid so much uncertainty.
There were other forecasts in the report, though: household spending 30% lower in June than it was in December; unemployment peaking at 9% before going back down; inflation falling below 1%, mostly because of low oil prices. “It could be a low-inflation environment,” said Rain, “but one that’s still hugely challenging for many households and businesses.”
The importance of mental health – now
The main subject of the webinar was mental health. Michael, who has done lots of work to promote mental wellbeing in the workplace, explained why this has always been important – but perhaps even more so now.
“This is a very human crisis,” he said, “as well as a health crisis and a financial crisis. Whatever part of the cycle of life you are in… you’ve been affected. We also know that for every person who’s died as many as six are suffering intense and complicated grief – exacerbated by the fact that people haven’t been able to grieve properly.”
There are business reasons, as well as personal reasons, to care about mental health, Michael continued: “How can you afford not to reanimate and support your staff back from a time of fear, if you want your business to flourish? There is probably no better time to be focusing on that.”
Good policy comes from the top…
What does this mean practically? Michael suggested that mental health should be a significant part of any business strategy – including by having it built into any risk assessments. “Health and safety at work should involve a mental health aspect for your staff and, crucially, for your leadership.”
Lauren agreed with this systemic approach, adding that the CBI “really starts that from the top”. She continued: “We were starting from quite a good place [as the crisis took hold], with a strong mental health strategy in place already.”
It’s important, Lauren said, that mental health is discussed at the leadership level, to ensure that this process happens. “Research has found that having someone at a leadership level [talking about mental health] is crucial to driving change.”
In fact, it’s not just research. Several years ago, Lauren began to “open up about my experiences [with mental health problems] and how they have been impacted at work, and that was the real turning point.”
…and involves conversation
When asked by an audience member for his top five recommendations for “instilling confidence” during the return to work, Michael began with “conversation” – “include employees or employee representatives in the conversations… listen to what staff are saying.”
The same goes for mental health in general. Michael recommended a “wellbeing check” as people return to work, to ask how “employees’ lockdown experiences have been – have they had any fears about returning?” Lauren revealed that the CBI has been running staff surveys to this effect, as well as “really utilising” existing staff forums and networks, and deploying a “healthy mind app” that provides “a confidential space where [employees] can discuss their work”.
There are a number of formal ways in which businesses can encourage this kind of conversation – including by introducing mental health first aiders. These are staff members, Lauren explained, who have been trained to “recognise the signs that someone may be suffering from mental health problems”. The idea is not for these first aiders to “take the place of any medical professional”, but to be a point of contact for anyone who is struggling – and a signpost to useful resources.
“Our mental health first aiders were doing a great job, but they weren’t really utilised before [the crisis],” said Lauren. “But the amount of conversations they’re having now is massive.”
There are a number of places where employees can be trained to become a mental health first aider, including through MHFA England.
Key questions we answered:
- Rain, the Bank of England published their scenario of the potential impact of this crisis on the UK’s economy and its recovery. Can you give us an overview of what it says?
- The main message from the scenario is a familiar one by now. Namely, a big fall in GDP this year of -14% followed by a recovery of 15% in 2021. This is what economists sometimes refer to as a “V-shaped” recovery – with a sharp fall in output followed by a rapid recovery.
- With household incomes lower, and many saving more as they look to tough times ahead, household spending is expected to be 30% lower by the end of June than it was in December. Business investment is 40% lower.
- The scenario assumes that the unemployment rate rises to 9% in Q2 2020 but falls back gradually as the economy recovers (to 7% in 2021 and 4% in 2022). The JRS is expected to have reduced this peak significantly and then lowered the long term impact on the economy.
- The sharp fall in oil prices is expected to push inflation below 1% in the coming months, and then weaker demand keeps inflation low as supply comes back slowly.
- Government support measures, such as the JRS, are also assumed to remain in place and then be unwound over the same period.
- Rain, what has the CBI identified as some of the key employee wellbeing issues during this crisis? And what are some of the steps businesses are taking to support their employees’ mental health?
- This has always been, first and foremost, a health crisis. And, throughout all of this, businesses have been clear that the health and wellbeing of their people must come first.
- They’re not hurrying to restart, and they recognise that this must be done in a way that protects people – physically, mentally and economically.
- Top of the CBI’s 5 principles for a successful restart is a health-first approach. Trust is key. And a major part of that is following the government’s guidance on operating safely, to secure the confidence of your employees and customers.
- Partnership and communication is essential – with a focus on flexibility, consulting employees every step of the way, and developing solutions together.
- I think there are five main issues:
- The anxiety among staff caused by the health risks of coronavirus, especially for staff who are vulnerable or live with someone who is
- The isolation and loneliness that comes from lockdown – not being able to see family and friends in person, and not knowing how long the current crisis may last
- The increased pressures placed on those with caring responsibilities, whether that’s parents having to fit their work around home-schooling, or carers looking after dependents with pre-existing conditions, or those who’ve fallen ill with the virus.
- The workload demands that high staff absence places on employees
- The ongoing worry about still being paid and keeping your job when the future remains so uncertain.
- Lauren, could you give us more detail on what the CBI has done to protect their employees’ mental health and wellbeing?
- We asked staff to feed their concerns and ideas into our return to work plan.
- We’ve also used our Staff Forum to check in on people’s overall wellbeing.
- And taking into account both pre-existing mental health conditions, as well as the increased stress and anxiety people are feeling more generally, we’ve mobilised our Mental Health First Aiders and launched our Health Minds app to give people space and support
- We’re also giving employees opportunities to think about something other than coronavirus, with virtual socialising – such as online tea breaks, quizzes, dancing and singing apps.
- We’re not alone in this. We’ve heard many great examples from across organisations and sectors, with companies’ launching online platforms/web pages dedicated to health and wellbeing.
- Michael, what was the focus of your efforts on mental health before the coronavirus?
- For every person who has died during this crisis, as many as six others will suffer intense and complicated grief. This is exacerbated by people not being able to grieve properly and not being able to attend a funeral.
- Our lives are a marathon, not a sprint. If we can get wellbeing right we can lead more sustainable lives and careers.
- If you want your business to be operationally resilient and competitive, you need to recognise that your workforce is key to that.
- What does one need to do to become a mental health first aider?
- Mental Health First Aid England (and other companies) train mental health first aiders. These are trained to recognise the signs of someone suffering from poor mental health.
- They are also there to help you produce proper signposting to your workforce within your organisation.
- They work with teams to develop their own mental health action plans. At the CBI, we frame our plans along the ‘stop/start/continue’ strand. This means – what will you ‘stop’ doing that is negatively impacting your mental health? What will you start doing to improve your mental health? And what will you continue doing that benefits your mental health?
- Michael, what are the top considerations for instilling confidence in staff returning to the workplace?
- Active communication is key, and listening as much as talking to employees. Make it clear, transparent, and frequent.
- Reduce ambiguity as much as you can when communicating with your employees.
- Include employees in the conversation about the return to work. If there is anxiety about health and safety at the workplace, talk about it. Staff may come up with innovative ideas on how to improve the workplace from a safety perspective.
- The CBI runs a series of work groups which you can join. The City Mental Health Alliance is another useful resource.
- Rain, how similarly do we have to think about the challenges of people working from home compared to those coming back to work?
- One of the positives from this crisis, I hope, is that employers recognise that when the conditions are right, productivity when working from home can be very good.
- You need to have good methods of communicating with your teams when they are working from home.
- We have had more regular all staff briefings – once per week. We also have regular team catch-ups across our teams.
- This helps our colleagues across the country and abroad feel like they are part of the CBI effort and feel they are connected to what is going on.
- I would recommend asking who would like to come back into work. Recognise that some will relish the opportunity and for others, the prospect of coming back to work will be very challenging.
- What can a manager do if they think that someone is suffering from poor mental health, but that person is not acknowledging it?
- Start the conversation in a normal fashion. Find out about the person’s life generally – their home life, whether they have kids etc. and then ask them questions on how they are managing the balance between work and childcare. How they are finding working from home?
- Having a team mental health action plan, written down, helps each employee recognise any signs of poor mental health within themselves.