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The first of two episodes recorded at the fourth Mad World Summit, which has become the global go-to solutions-focused conference and exhibition dedicated to turning talk into action; creating cultures of care and embedding mental health and wellbeing as a strategic business priority.
Russell Goldsmith was joined by a number of the speakers at the event. In this episode we hear from:
Jonathan Kini (JK), Managing Director at TalkTalk and his colleague Lee Rogers, a performance coach and the founder of TalkTalk’s Wellbeing Community were presenting at Mad World about harnessing peer networks.
Lee explained that the TalkTalk wellbeing community started off with a personal experience of hi, going through mental health challenges. It took him a long time to make sense of that and about nine years ago, he got to a realization that actually he could do something with this having gone through the experience and come out the other side of it. So about four years ago he put his story on LinkedIn, and then from that, wanted to then take his experience and then relate it to other colleagues that were going through similar things. He got really curious around what were the other things that people were challenged by. For him me, it was bipolar. For other people, it might be depression or anxiety, and then it snowballed into lots of other topics such as menopause right now.
There were roughly 50 people when he launched the community and that took quite a long time to get it going. It wasn’t the thing. It wasn’t the trendy thing to do at the time, and it was quite clunky.
JK thensaw the impact that Lee’s story was having on others because actually, for those where Lee was talking to them, it was actually normalizing the topic that Lee was discussing, which is a very personal story of his own, that was helping other people. Lee asked JK to attend an international men’s day videoing where they brought people together to share their stories. JK was just having a conversation with people and what they realized was it starting to normalize that if ExCo members or executive committee members can talk about their own personal insights, then everyone can talk about these things. It’s allowed them to take on the next topic, the next topic and actually bring all the leadership together, which then normalizes the topic for the rest of the organisation, and JK said it’s all credit to Lee, but they now have over 20 percent of the organisation that are on the wellbeing community and it really is helping bring the company together.
Lee shared an example of a colleague called Paul, who was at crisis point. Lee had a one to one with him. He then wanted to share his story. He’d recognized Lee had shared his story and there was a real powerful connection between them and working alongside JK, and through the wellbeing community, showcased it and it had a massive impact on all of their colleagues across the business. His strength and his courage really resonated with all of their colleagues.
JK said that the platform continues to be develop. So, for International Menopause Day, they decided to put together the start of the conversation for a new campaign under their wellness community. They had Louise Minchin, who’s just left the BBC and JK’s sister, who’s a general practitioner, come in and together with JK, they presented on a very personal story around the topic, and it’s had a profound impact where a TV presenter, who potentially feels a little bit out of reach, normalizing a topic, a GP who can be a much more technical and scientific person, normalizing a topic and then the leaders of the business normalizing that topic. The conversation has really accelerated through the organisation, and already the peer networks are starting to connect and actually, a new community is coalescing under the wellness community that Lee set up, which effectively will now take on its own journey. What JK and Lee are doing now is checking across all the communities to see which ones need a little bit more investment, a little bit more involvement, which ones need reigniting with new stories and new people to come in. But they are excited about what they can do and what they can learn from this next conversation about menopause.
Our chat with Estelle Hollingsworth, Chief People Officer at Virgin Atlantic, started with an overview of what she was looking forward to from the panel session she was joining about ‘What If Your Job Was Good for You?’ where they were aiming to talk about allowing people to design their own jobs and the importance of thinking about the return to work, basing it on trust on flexibility and accountability so people can genuinely take stock of where are they going to be most productive, what gives the most energy and how they can build their week based on the task or activity that they have to manage.
Covid’s impact on the travel industry
Estelle explained that the aviation industry has been one of the hardest hit industries over the last 18 months and Virgin Atlantic have reduced by around 50 percent in size. So, it’s been a really difficult time, challenging time for them. She thinks that one of the big things that they did around wellbeing initially was around the communications that as a company, they set out to make sure that everybody got as much information as they could as soon as possible because they recognized that uncertainty creates stress or anxiety for their people. Being proactive around that piece was the starting point for what they did to make sure people felt informed. People felt that they were being honest and transparent and giving them information as and when they could give it to them.
Estelle said that they really focused on how to through the situation having to make people redundant, but with as much care and thoughtfulness as they possibly could. And at the time of the pandemic, she was Vice President of Cabin, leading their 4,000 circa crew, which she said was a huge privilege, but equally very challenging. She explained that they were one of the first UK airlines to set up holding pools for their crew and pilots, whereby when they made people redundant, they then placed them in a holding pool where they set up regular communications with them. Clearly, they were able to go out and get other jobs, but with a view that they would come back to Virgin Atlantic once flying resumed and once things got back to whatever normal was going to look like on the same benefits on the same length of service as when they left. That took away a huge amount of anxiety for their crew. It was their lifeline in terms of they live and breathe the company. Estelle said that they are literally everything that they stand for – she said their crew are fantastic in every way. So actually, giving them an opportunity of recognizing that they would come back if they wanted to was really important to them.
During that whole process leading the crew, Virgin Atlantic placed a huge focus on mental health. They lived and breathed it every day and talked about it every day. Also, every Friday, Estelle recorded a video where she shared stories about what the crew were working at the Nightingale Hospital and what the company was doing to support them. It became again a really important source of communication. Every week they also ran mental health first aid calls with their mental health first aiders and crew to give them support because they were then going to go out and support their colleagues and friends get through the crisis.
The good news is that at the time of recording, the U.S. was looking to go back flying on 8th November and so Virgin Atlantic have started to bring cabin crew back and so are giving as much thought and attention to that reintroduction to the company. They have built a digital tool called Reconnect, to help crew, but also ground teams making sure that they can come back in the best way possible and feel again reconnected with th company’s purpose and vision.
Estelle explained that the ‘Be Yourself’ program is at the heart of everything Virgin Atlantic stands for. It came about because their vision is to be the most loved travel company, and their purpose is that everybody can take on the world. There was a real recognition that actually the only way they can achieve both of those is that people can be themselves at work and can bring their true self to work – every single person in the company. When Estelle joined Virgin Atlantic in 2018, they set up the Be yourself philosophy and it came from the people because there was an awareness that actually the world isn’t perfect. Even though they had pockets of what Estelle described as brilliance of inclusion and real understanding of the importance of diversity, it wasn’t consistent right across the board. So, they raised awareness of that and actually talked about the importance of allowing everybody to feel included and embracing the importance of diversity of thought, diversity of background, gender, and every element of diversity. Since then, it’s gone from strength to strength, where they have now supercharged their networks. They have networks to support people with disabilities, mental health, obviously, as well as physical disability and an LGBT+ Network. They have a female scarlet network and also our valued network, which is their ethnic minority. The networks are the people who allow them to think about policies or approaches that are missing or existing principles or policies that need to be seen through a very different lens. They are also doing a huge amount of work around mental health across all of the networks. Estelle is the exec sponsor of the den network, their disability network. They are also looking at it from a disability perspective for both our people and their customers and are doing a lot of work with their leaders around conscious inclusion. They basically instigated behavioural nudges where they are in the moment nudging their leaders to think about what they can do to create an inclusive environment at work, so it creates daily habits as opposed to it being a very separate piece of work – it is integrated into their day-to-day work.
Passport To Change
Estelle said that Passport to Change is all about the community. It is connecting their people, customers and communities and really thinking about what’s the gap in STEM in terms of gender, and how they can readdress that balance to allow more girls, more females going into those subjects at University at College via apprenticeships. Secondly, it’s about the social mobility of recognizing that actually not every child has the lifeline to or access to education like everybody else does. Virgin Atlantic have partnered with Speakers for Schools, Smallpiece Trust and UNHCR to bring all of those elements together to pull together an 18 month curriculum for children in schools from disadvantaged backgrounds to allow them to experience aviation at its best and to get sponsorship from senior executives in the company to share their stories and inspire them to think more broadly about their careers. Estelle thinks that from a wellbeing perspective, sometimes the uncertainty of not knowing how you’re going to access higher education for parents can be quite stressful. So, they are taking away as much of that stress as they can by allowing people to feel that they have equal access to some of the privileges that other people would have and supporting them along the way, providing mentorship and all of the things that maybe some people take for granted. So, she thinks it’s important from the child’s perspective, but also from the parents and the teachers and the wider community as well.
Wolfgang had just taken part in the morning keynote panel session on the topic ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing: From Margins to Mainstream Business Priority’. He explained that the discourse about mental health is progressing now. While a few years ago we might have just lamented about mental health and we would have focused on just destigmatising it, today, it was pretty down to earth. He said that there was a consensus amongst the speakers of saying, we just need to humanise the workplace and people realise that not everything that is called mental health needs the intervention of a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist. But in fact, we need a way of relating to each other. That’s the best preventative action you can take when it comes to stress and various forms of distress, because having a relationship with people, being connected, and doing good for others is actually the most impressive stress busting exercise, to be honest with you.
Wolfgang helps his clients to understand what empathy and self-care and helping others and engagement means in the workplace. But in addition to those super important points that he said just sound fluffy to some people but aren’t fluffy, they of course, help them also to find the right data to back it up and translate what they are doing into the right type of business language that is also essential for anyone who runs a business. So, they know how to create dashboards and how to find the data. We all have data on private medical insurance, on apps and statistics on demographics. Companies have data from their employee assistance program, but also from their occupational health service and health screening and so if you cross-reference the data, you get the full story of health and then what you do is to create pathways that people can access in a time of need, and the outcome of that is phenomenal. He added that if you do proper return on investment calculation, you find that companies who have access to good mental health pathways reduce their exposure in the claim’s ratios of private medical insurance by nine percent, 16 percent reduction in average cost of claims, 41 percent reduction in terms of absence associated with mental ill health and 60 percent improvement in therapy outcomes. So, it’s a whole gamut of intervention, some of them on what you might call the softer end of interventions and the other one on the hard-nosed business facts that we also need. He therefore wants organisations to be able to report on health and mental health in particular. It has to be a boardroom issue. It’s not supposed to be a nice add-on. It has to be central to your business strategy. And the companies of his clients who do it best are the ones that have conceptualised a company strategy that is talking in the same breath about clients as they are talking about employee wellbeing because the two of them are inextricably linked and so are the diversity, equity, and inclusion criteria of their colleagues. All the mental health initiatives will probably be hard going and not lead to very good return on investment and proper outcomes in terms of your subjective well-being, if you have a one fits all type of health and wellbeing strategy. But if you are cognisant of how mental health challenges affect differently men and women, younger and older employees, members of ethnic minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, then you have got something.
Simon added the statistic that we all have mental health – not one in four, one in six but we all have it, and therefore we all have to look after our own and those around us. He therefore wants people to know that this is our time to make the change that we can all make. Over the last two years, we have all had in some way shape or form our mental fitness affected in some way, maybe through grief, very sadly, for those that had lost loved ones, through loneliness, stress, anxiety and any of the other episodes that people may have felt. But if stigma is going to be systemically eradicated in the workplace, let’s do it now.
Simon said that he looked up the word stigma and definition was something along the lines of someone who has done something so drastically wrong that they are ostracised from being a person, and it actually puts in the definition, the example of mental health. So, he added that it’s great having your spokespeople, your champions, your advocates in mental health, first aiders, the CEOs who tell their own story and write and cut the cheques. But everyone has to look after their own mental health and others around them and be empathetic and look after their own resilience and their engagement, both for themselves and for others. And in that way, we will make systemic change
Mental Health Awareness For All course
Mercer and Mad World are collaborating to create a workplace mental health awareness course for all.
Simon explained that
Wolfgang explained that hewrote the script and did the scientific advice and had the pleasure of interviewing six top class celebrities about their own mental health story. There’s someone who was the world champion in boxing, a supermodel, somebody who works for the BBC, somebody who used to be one of the most impressive footballers, now retired. There are people in there who are famous in the acting world or who have experienced trauma. He said they used empathy to have a conversation and so get incredibly valuable information from those big stars who have a good story to tell about how they fell into the depths of mental distress and how they came out of it the other end. The other aspect of it is they use a very down to earth language. They do not want to have people mistake the films as a lecture. It is something that reaches out to everyone. It is not limited to managers or a particular country. It really talks to the essence of relating to each other with empathy. And it doesn’t matter whether the person you are talking to has nominally speaking an eating disorder or depression or anxiety issues. It’s just a way of being human with one another and being cognisant of relevant referral routes so that you can also discharge your duty of care, whether you have it legally or it’s just a subjectively perceived duty of care and it is being delivered in a multimedia, very colourful type of way.
There’s a subtle voiceover to guide the audience because they are asking a few gentle questions at the end that demonstrate they have really, truly listened, that they have become more self-aware, that you can trust them more if you were a colleague of theirs, to look after their own mental health, but look after each other.
Nick set the scene for us in terms of mental health at the moment in 2021. He said it’s a really interesting time. We’ve obviously just been and are still going through the health pandemic with Covid and it’s worth remembering when we came into that, we actually had a massive problem with mental illness, particularly in the workplace. Mental illness is the leading cause of absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover, and that was pre-COVID. And what we’ve seen as a result of the health pandemic is that very unfortunately, tragically, the prevalence of mental illness has increased and there are now numerous studies coming out demonstrating that the prevalence has increased quite significantly in some places. So, the problem that we had before that was really big has just got even bigger. The more positive trend, however, is that as a result of what we’ve been through, Nick thinks we’ve become more open about talking about our wellbeing and talking about our health. We’re checking in with one another more often. And in a way, what we’re seeing is the shackles of stigma that have held the topic back for such a long time are falling away and that’s allowing for a more honest, open conversation, which is a real opportunity for all of us.
Nick explained that in his session, he was speaking with people from very large global organizations talking about how over the last 18 months, the employee experience has changed more than perhaps in the 30 years before that and so what that means for the hybrid world of work. How will organizations make sure that they’re really doing the right thing around their employee wellbeing in a hybrid setting? He said that there are so many challenges with that because ultimately, we have a very diverse workforce, and that diversity is realized by people having different lives and therefore being wanting to be met in their employee journey at different points based on what’s going on in their lives. So, it’s really complicated for organizations, but does present a big opportunity.
Unmind Nick’s background is that he is a clinical psychologist, and he became deeply frustrated with the fact that all of the focus on mental health is on reactive health care and not on proactive health care. But prevention is better than cure in all areas of health care. It’s why we brush our teeth twice a day. It’s why we all exercise. Mental health is no different. He explained that Unmind are about five and a half years old and they take a proactive and preventative approach to mental health, empowering employees and organizations to manage their mental health on an ongoing basis rather than waiting for problems to occur. They work with global organizations around the world in empowering their employees.
Amanda explained that there’s been a lot of talk around what do we actually need to do to begin to tackle some of the mental health issues in the workplace, and for her, it’s quite an inspired piece of thinking that goes, but don’t just tackle the problem, go one stage further. She said that there’s been so much work done on how to create fitness and healthy people in the workplace. What’s that equivalent? And clearly you would never expect a workplace where there were physical hazards, for that to be acceptable, you would have a very good process for piping up about them. And so just apply that same thinking to mental health. So, it wasn’t a great leap of logic to say what would happen if your work was good for you? And what might that mean?
The Business in the Community Wellbeing Leadership Team is a collaboration chaired by Lloyds Bank, with national partners, including Mind, Mental Health UK, the Society of Occupational Medicine, Affinity Health at Work and endorsed by CIPD.
Amanda explained that the report was evidence based, action driven. She explained that 41 percent of employees experience work related mental health symptoms, which are caused or worsened in the last year as a result of work. Couple that with the fact that 30 percent of people don’t ever pipe up about the fact that they’ve got an issue, and then 12 percent of people have realized that they were either demoted or removed from their post as a result of talking about mental health.
Amanda said that when it comes to organizations having mental health and wellbeing on the risk register, they need to measure how people are feeling and need to set what their benchmark is and then need to decide they are going to accept a certain amount of risk of that figure getting worse. If you don’t measure it, you’re not going to know what gets measured gets done. So that’s for a start. But she thinks just the big finding they had was it’s important to co-create your job with your line manager. She added that so many of the issues we face in terms of are we creating a diverse and inclusive workplace, are we thinking about wellbeing holistically – these are all around the calibre and the quality of the manager to have those conversations. Because if someone started by saying, what does it take for you to be as successful as I know you can be, imagine a conversation with your employee started that way. So much else would come off the back. So, she thinks it’s not only the measurement side that will start to tackle this because psychologically it was quite hard for people to get their head around a few years ago, which is why there was a lot of talk because people were still conceptualizing this. Now we’ve got to get after this. So, it is practical, tangible stuff. It’s co-creation. It’s this constant collaboration and sharing what we learn, which should hopefully mean that we are not having this conversation again in the future.
The main call to action the report is asking companies to do is to tackle and genuinely acknowledge they want to put mental health and safety on par with physical health and safety and embrace what that actually means, and then genuinely make a commitment to co-create good jobs with people and have that conversation.
Our final guest on the first episode from Mad World was mental health and wellbeing strategist and consultant, Amy McKeown who had just given on ‘Mental Health 2.0. What are good mental health strategy and framework looks like?’
Any explained that she hasbeen in health and mental health for 20 years, 20 years of writing and putting in strategies to organizations of all sizes. So, she was talking about what Mental Health 2.0, i.e., post-pandemic mental health looks like and guiding people, organisations, through what a good strategy looks like, what a good framework looks like, and most importantly, how to navigate your way through the many health and mental health providers there are now to buy the right things to implement it.
To ensure your company has a good strategy, Amy said you have to make sure that it’s comprehensive and end to end. You make sure it’s got the right support. You make sure it’s got the right stakeholders. But she thinks we need to move out of raising awareness and reducing the stigma. So, looking at what health and mental health provision you’ve got across the board, what education, prevention, and promotion activities you are doing, what early intervention for staff, the role of line managers and employees in that and then what health care support you’ve got for people who were off sick and how they’re then managed back to the workplace. So, a comprehensive end to end strategy, but that you’ve actually embedded through learning and development, inductions, training. It’s part of your HR policies. It’s a whole organisation approach.
Amy said that a lot of the people that come to her are wanting to do something with good faith but are totally overwhelmed, in a kind of rabbit in the headlights type way with how much there is out there in terms of apps and services. To her, you write your strategy first and then you choose the right providers based on that strategy. According to Amy, a lot of the providers out there, and she said there seem to be more each day, can’t show really good outcomes or clinical outcomes. So, what she tries to encourage employers to do is to not think about health as an employee benefit, but as a health service or something that needs to be based on the clinical outcomes to have an impact. It’s being really clear what you’re buying and why and for what purpose and making sure that you’re efficiently and effectively using spend to drive your strategy.
Amy thinks we’re still in a position where health, mental health and wellbeing are regarded as HR issues and that in 10 years’ time, health and mental health will be where ESG is now. The key message for her is that the conversation for the next decade will be who pays for health care and what is an organization’s role in both paying for health care and for ensuring good health and employees. She said that if she was Boris Johnson, she would be looking at clearing the NHS, which is backlogged and broken, by offering huge tax incentives to organizations that are prepared to commission decent primary, secondary and mental health care for employees. So, for businesses, she would say this isn’t an HR nice to have. It is a board level issue. You have an incentive to make sure that your staff are happy and well and are in the workplace. It is a bottom-line business issue. And over the next 10 years, we’re going to be asking who pays for health care because the taxpayer can’t afford to anymore?