MADWorld 2021 – How can we identify wellbeing challenges and support employee mental health in the workplace?

Here are some insights from a day of conversation with leaders who have placed employee wellbeing and mental health at the top of their business agendas.
Employees on meeting

While mental health in the workplace was being cemented as a business priority prior to COVID-19, over the last two years, wellbeing strategies have been put under the microscope. the shared experience of isolation, financial stress, health anxiety and, in some cases, bereavement has put into focus the need for greater and more urgent employer intervention in the space.

The long-term effects of the pandemic on our workforce are now clear; Gartner reported that 85% of employees experienced higher levels of burnout, while 40% reported declines in their work-life balance as a result of lockdown. In a CIPD Survey, 37% of respondents shared that stress-related absence had increased in the last year.

The changing working environment has also posed an increasing challenge for employers who are looking to support their teams. Limited in-person contact between managers and employees has made building trusting relationships more difficult, and can also make spotting the signs of struggle harder.

Organisations are looking for innovative strategies and solutions that enable their employees to both self-manage their wellbeing and access help when needed. At this year’s MADWorld Summit in London, run by Make a Difference, leaders gathered to share ideas on how best to tackle these issues and provide effective support as we enter a new way of working.

Some key questions emerged in the discussion, talk tracks and roundtables:

  • What role do managers and business leaders have in employee mental health?
  • How can we support underserved and at-risk employees?
  • Can peer-to-peer communities support wellbeing as part of a wider benefits ecosystem?

Here are some insights from a day of conversation with leaders who have placed employee wellbeing and mental health at the top of their business agendas.

The need for evidence-backed solutions

So much work has been done to combat stigmas around mental health, yet limited numbers of evidence-based solutions have been put in place in organisations.

In the morning session Anticipating risks and keeping staff safe: what working in wellbeing hosted by Togetherall, panellist Gregor Henderson said in that “in the public health space, a treatment wouldn’t be given unless it had a robust scientific evidence base, and I think we need to demand the same of any solutions that we’re putting in place for employees.”

The session concluded that just as businesses use data to measure team and business performance – tracking employee wellbeing through data can be just as effective. “You can’t just say you’re doing something for the mental health of your employees, unless you can track it, show it, and demonstrate it. And the way you learn is by [having a clear view of] what’s not working and what’s not,” said Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of CIPD. “You have got to be very clear on the outcome that you’re measuring.”

“We’re seeing a move from a focus on ‘traditional metrics’ on productivity, and now realise that actually having a group of employees that are healthy physically and mentally is as important. It’s important to understand that the underlying risks are real,” Elizabetta Camilleri, Togetherall Chair, said on the C-Suite podcast at MADWorld.

It all starts at the top

The importance of empathy and proactivity from leaders was stressed in sessions across the Leadership and Collaboration talk track. “We cannot create a wellbeing environment if we don’t train our managers to look after their people effectively” said Peter Cheese. “We’ve got to understand how to train and teach managers, and what we hold them to account.”

However, the expectation doesn’t lie solely with managers to support the mental health of employees as Peter elaborated: “We don’t need to make all our line managers mental health experts, but they’ve got to demonstrate and understand that empathetic connection with their team and their people, to see where they need help.”

Engaging underserved and at-risk employees

Many attending organisations shared that they had implemented internally developed initiatives to help open up conversations around mental health, such as sending out newsletters and providing email support, clear signposting to resources, and checking in with regular employee surveys. While these are worthy initiatives for any organisation, it’s based on the assumption that all people are comfortable to open up to and engage with these solutions.

“30% of employees tell no one about their mental health issues. Practically a third of our workforce is going to work with an issue they want to talk about”

– Amanda Mackenzie OBE, Chief Executive of The Prince’s Responsible Business Network in a keynote at MADWorld

How can organisations support those who don’t want to share? These employees could have high levels of need and be at risk of self-harm or harming others if they are unable to access support.

The power of peer-to-peer communities

Togetherall’s CEO, Henry Jones, and Clinical Director, Dr Tim Rogers co-chaired a number of roundtables that highlighted the benefits of peer-to-peer communities as part of a wider support network, as well as imparting important considerations in creating effective peer support networks internally.

Examples of peer-to-peer groups within businesses includes physical – such as grief counselling groups and special interest communities – and digital solutions like Togetherall. These can be beneficial in connecting those who want to better understand their emotions with people who have had shared experiences. Peer-to-peer communities work for employees with different levels of need, and can even inspire them to seek further support should they need it.

One challenge that emerged from roundtable attendees who have tried was the need for the “right kind of facilitation.” Ensuring that peer-to-peer spaces remain positive, safe and helpful can mean higher levels of engagement from employees.

Making a long term commitment to mental health

Gregor Henderson shared that “we’re being saturated with awareness, but now we need to focus on action.” Leaders at MADWorld Summit 2021 displayed a long-term commitment to prioritising the mental health of their teams, and were able to collaborate with others to create actionable plans into the post-COVID era.

To hear more insights from this year’s MAD World Summit, you can listen to the C-Suite Podcast here.