Wellbeing: the next frontier for DEI

A conference heard yesterday that wellbeing is the next frontier for diversity and inclusion and should be embedded in all parts of an organisation’s infrastructure after Covid.

Mental Health Image. Waste paper and head silhouette


Well being is the next frontier for diversity and inclusion, a conference heard yesterday.

The annual Mad World summit heard from a range of speakers across industries, from Netflix to Centrica.  

All were agreed that mental health has moved up the workplace agenda during the pandemic. The issue is how to keep it there. One way is through making a clear business case about the links between mental well being and productivity, between physical and mental health, between mental health and lower absence and dropout rates and between mental health and diversity and inclusion.

Many people are not severely mentally ill, but are languishing, Dr Wolfgang Seidl, Workplace Health Consulting Leader UK at MercerMarsh Benefits, told the conference. He said it is important for employers to use data to drill down into the reasons for this, which, outside of Covid factors, could include discrimination, financial stress, poor quality jobs and a lack of training of managers in the importance of mental health. Dr Richard Heron, Chief Medical Officer at BP, added that workload and structural changes also play a big role.

Seidl and Marteka Swaby, founder of Benevolent Health, spoke of the need to build trusting relationships and safe spaces both online and offline where people can talk about their mental health. Heron mentioned employee network groups, sharing stories and an empathetic approach. This doesn’t mean managers have to be counsellors. They just need to show that they care and signpost people who need extra support to the places where they can get it. 

There were calls to embed well being within the infrastructure of organisations, in their risk registers, their investment deck slides and their annual reports, and to make it a strategic imperative. 

In another session, mental health advocate Geoff McDonald from Minds@work spoke of the need for specific wellbeing surveys rather than just a few wellbeing questions on engagement surveys, for a wellbeing plan, for the use of more data and for a recognition of the health part of health and safety. Another issue mentioned was the need for leadership resilience surveys, which is something that Aon do, given senior leaders’ mental health has a trickle down effect. 

The future of wellbeing

In a focus on the future of wellbeing, Dhavani Bishop, Head of Colleague Health, Wellbeing and Experience at Tesco, said now is the time for employers to reflect on what has worked during the pandemic and what needs to be retained and to think about weaving wellbeing into every part of the business, from line manager training to the tone of voice of the organisation, rather than just having it as a standalone wellbeing plan. She added that wellbeing is intertwined and overlaps with diversity and inclusion, learning and development and reward strategies.

Emily Gabrielson, Health and Wellbeing Manager at Centrica spoke about the importance of flexible working for wellbeing. The company has a flexible first policy and is looking to ensure flexibility extends to the frontline, for instance, through annualised hours, given the industry is busier in the winter months.

At another session the importance of community connection, a sense of purpose and volunteering was discussed as part of wider social wellbeing.

Jilly Calder, Vice-President, Human Resources, UK & Europe, at SNC-Lavalin, Atkins and Faithful & Gould, also spoke of the need for ensuring employees have downtime on a day to day basis rather than giving them the occasional extra day or week off.

Debbie Bullock, Wellbeing Lead at Aviva, highlighted the need to be vigilant about equal opportunities for those working remotely. Equality needs to extend to how you work, she said, and those who are remote need to be included. She noted too that there had been a lot of focus on different generational approaches to wellbeing and flexible working, but said that personality type also played a role when it comes to how someone wants to work and what type of wellbeing strategy is best for them, whether that is online forums or face to face sessions or something else. 

Like Dr Seidl, Andy Holmes, Global Head of Wellbeing at Reckitt, spoke of the need to target the large section of people who neither have very bad or very good mental health – the “lethargic middle”. Increasing their wellbeing could have a bigger impact and a knock-on effect on those who are really struggling, he said, adding that it is a good idea to speak about mental energy rather than mental health, given that it ebbs and flows at different times.

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