In the UK, one in three people of working age have a long-term health condition and as many as one in four people might suffer from mental ill-health. As a business, that’s a huge loss of talent.
With the UK’s productivity under the spotlight, many businesses are thinking that a well-thought-out wellbeing and mental health strategy not only helps with their performance, it also makes their company a better place to work.
“Healthy, engaged employees are much more likely to be in work and be productive, and that has an impact on an organisation’s bottom line,” says Lauren Adams, HR Director at the CBI.
“We spend so much time at work - it can help foster good mental health and wellbeing, but it also comes with an element of stress. Organisations have a requirement to make sure that their culture and their policies and practices aren’t exacerbating that stress, and that they’re supporting their employees to thrive and remain well.”
The CBI launched its own wellbeing strategy 18 months ago. “It’s wide-ranging, so it’s got some tangible outputs and support, but it also targets our organisation’s culture and makes sure that our wider company policies support wellbeing,” says Adams.
In addition to toolkits for teams and individuals, the CBI also provides guidance for managers. It has also invested in training for mental health first aiders to support colleagues, and in-house training is provided for all staff and managers, which focusses on recognising triggers, looking at ways to support people if they’re struggling, while also creating a culture of wellbeing.
“We’re lucky to have the ability to invest in tools. We have an employee assistance programme, which is open to all staff and their friends and families, and that’s a confidential hotline that they can call for support. Also, through our private medical insurance, we have a really good mental health provision, with talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and access to meditation tools such as Calm and Headspace.”
Collaborating with third-party organisations has proven a valuable part of the CBI’s strategy – partnering with Vitality for private medical insurance, UNUM for an employee assistance programme, as well as working with mental health charity Mind.
“I’m definitely a believer of using experts where you can,” says Adams. “It’s quite an oversaturated market now, and that’s where organisations like Mind can help to signpost you to the best and most appropriate resources.”
Leading by example
Encouraging openness around discussing mental health has been instrumental in the CBI’s shift in culture when it comes to mental wellbeing. And that is a shift that has been led by Adams herself.
“When we originally launched our strategy, I had been in work, but living with anxiety, OCD and depression for around a year or so, and had been very much struggling outside of work. I realised that in my role as HRD, if I wasn’t being open and talking about my experiences and how they impacted my career, then how could I expect the rest of the business to?”
Adams shared her personal experiences with the organisation at an all-staff briefing – a brave step that caused a shift in the way mental health was discussed among colleagues.
“Talking about my experience so openly felt like a catalyst for change in the organisation. Mental health then became a topic that people talked about more and felt safer to share, and off the back of that we then launched our strategy.”
Adams’ experience demonstrates the importance of leadership when it comes to opening up the conversation of mental health in the workplace.
“Wellbeing has to be a leadership priority, or any initiative is undermined,” she adds. “Leaders ultimately set the tone and culture of an organisation, so if they’re demonstrating that it’s a priority and investing in it and encouraging their managers to do the same, then the rest of the business should follow.”
When it comes to her own mental health, Adams has the benefit of a good team around her and an organisational strategy that is enabling her to recover in her own way.
“Mental health is a constant spectrum for all of us - sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. And mine, just like anyone’s, will go up and down. The big things have been my team and my line-manager’s support. When I am struggling and need to either dial back my work or work a little bit more flexibly, we can have an honest conversation around that.”
The benefits and tools put in place since the launch of the CBI’s wellbeing strategy have also given Adams support through difficult periods. “Both times I’ve been unwell I’ve been lucky to have access to CBT. I’ve used that and other tools that we’ve got on offer here such as Headspace to just create some space throughout my day, our flexible working policy has also been a huge help.”
A strategy worth sharing
In a relatively short amount of time, the CBI’s health and wellbeing strategy has been a success - empowering staff and managers, while giving them tools and policies to support themselves and each other through stressful times. Positive steps have been made in shifting the organisation’s culture to one that is more open and supportive of mental health issues.
So, what key advice can it pass on to businesses looking to prioritise mental health among its own workforce?
“Make it a leadership priority,” says Adams. “It will help break down the stigma around mental health. Work needs to be a safe space. And making mental health a leadership priority will help create that.”
Ensuring managers are properly trained is also key to any wellbeing strategy. “They need to be able to recognise signs that somebody may be struggling,” adds Adams. “They need to recognise when to take preventative and targeted early action to relieve any pressure or provide the support that somebody may need. Then if somebody is unwell, they can then support them to return in a healthy way.
“Thirdly, whether you’re a small or big organisation, look at the resources that are out there to help build a culture that encourages health and wellbeing. That cultural change is important. The Mental Health Gateway is a good starting point which was developed by MIND. It’s got a lot of tools and resources that can be used.
“When it comes to mental health, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. As an organisation it’s about finding the tools and resources that are best for yours.”
For more insight and information on mental health in the workplace, you can read the CBI’s report - Front of Mind: Prioritising Workplace Health and Wellbeing.