‘Incentivise a more empathetic workplace’

Employers should be offered an incentive to prioritise well being at work, a conference heard last week.

Mental Health Image. Waste paper and head silhouette


Employers should be given a financial incentive – such as a reduction in National Insurance contributions – for taking concrete steps to create an empathetic workplace, a mental health conference heard last week.

Norman Lamb, the former Minister of State for Care and Support, said supporting mental well being at work was a win win for employers and employees.  Mental ill health is the leading cause of workplace absence in the UK.

Lamb was speaking during a MAD World Summit panel discussion on mental health in the workplace chaired by Jon Slade, Chief Commercial Officer at the Financial Times.

The panel kicked off with a discussion about how employers had been managing in the last six months. David Oldfield, Group Director of Commercial Banking of Lloyds Banking Group, said it had been a very challenging period. Covid had moved from being a health crisis to an economic crisis and it could turn into a long-term mental health crisis if preventive action was not taken, he said. Lloyds has 50,000 employees working from home, which has given people greater work life balance. The crisis has emphasised the need for a “culture of care”. Lloyds has set up a coaching helpline for colleagues, a Your Resilience portal where there are articles and other material aimed at boosting people’s resilience. It has trained leaders in emotional resilience and has 1,300 mental health advocates across the business. It has also been working with Business in the Community’s well being group on polling which shows higher levels of trust in employers with regard to mental well being. However, he said there was still a long way to go to reduce stigma and boost mental health in the workplace.

Digital transformation

Ann Francke, Chief Executive of the Chartered Management Institute, spoke about some of the good things that had come out of the last months. She said good management and leadership had never been more important. She said Covid had  accelerated several trends: digital transformation – the move to remote working had shown it was possible not to be office bound and had ‘humanised’ work. Francke said online meetings were a ‘great leveller’ with everyone being in the same small box and being able to see into each other’s homes. People’s engagement and job satisfaction had increased and people were happy to get a break from long commutes, although childcare had been a big issue. Leaders had become more inclusive, with more pulse surveys, roundtable discussions and a greater focus on talking and sharing. Francke said with the pressure to be more agile and with increased challenges ahead, there would need to be more focus on mental well being and a conscious effort to take preventive action.

Norman Lamb, who chairs the board of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, said fatigue was a big issue for frontline workers as were concerns about health, particularly for BAME workers. Staff had developed a ‘can do’ attitude and embraced digital communications. The Trust he chairs had done weekly broadcasts to all stuff, giving them information on how to keep safe and on well being. The Trust had developed rest and recharge hubs for people who needed to take breaks. There was also a 24/7 helpline. However, he recognised that the next months would be a big challenge.

Dr Richard Peters, Chief Medical Officer at Network Rail, said complacency was now a danger after the new ways of working had become normalised. That meant the company had to keep reminding people about safety messages. It had done a well being survey which showed 63% of staff had seen their mental health affected by Covid. It had set up a well being taskforce and working group and had trained line managers. Ongoing challenges included difficulties in understanding people’s moods if they were working remotely.


The panellists were also asked about the challenges of the next few months. Francke said people are aware that it is going to be hard going so they need reasons to celebrate. That includes recognising outstanding leaders. Some companies give out certificates and do weekly shout outs to outstanding managers. Others have well being days off. Giving people flexibility and trusting them to get their job done is important as is getting people together to talk about the pressures they are experiencing and how they feel about them, she said.

Lamb said his Trust nominated people who had performed brilliantly and will hold an awards ceremony. He said that rewarding individuals who had gone the extra mile should be accompanied by general support and compassion for people who were just about getting through the crisis. That meant empathetic leadership. This could be backed by online counselling such as Kooth provided. The app could also be used as a source of data on what people were worried about most and could help employers to put plans in place. Lloyds focused on burnout for World Mental Health Day last weekend. With winter approaching, Oldfield said it was important to be proactive and focus on a positive workforce culture.

Dr Peters said it was important to keep communicating about all the advice and support that is available, to hear from senior leaders regularly, to focus on the importance of rest by diarising breaks and to give people the flexibility and information they need to look after their health. He spoke about how people could have a number of different health challenges, how physical health issues such as back strain, impact on mental well being. He added that Network Rail uses virtual mindfulness rooms and said it is important to have a space to go where people can talk to someone if they need to. He also emphasised the importance of giving people more control over how they work and providing support and information in case of redundancies.

With regard to the long term, Francke said it was important that we didn’t return to “factory settings” after Covid. Good things had come out of the crisis, she said – empathetic leadership, the importance of listening, flexible or hybrid working and a focus on transferable skills for those in industries worst hit by the pandemic. It was important, she added, that those most affected, women and minorities, should be included in post-Covid jobs creation.  Oldfield called on employers to design mental well being and care into every part of an organisation.

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