Why well being at work matters

A conference yesterday heard why culture is at the heart of mental well being at work.

team of women working


Employers would do better to focus on creating a good work culture than on Pilates and mindfulness if they want to improve mental well being, a conference heard yesterday.

Dame Carol Black from the University of Cambridge was speaking at the Mad World Summit about the “essential enablers” of mental well being at work. They were leadership from the top to normalise conversations about mental health; ongoing line manager support [not “sheep dipping” with a one-day course] so they can recognise when someone on their team needs help; and board level engagement, for instance, through a non-executive who has responsibility for reporting on well being twice a year. “Mental health should be as important to business as finance,” said Dame Carol.

“Culture is key,” she added, citing a strong, clear link between line manager support and reduced mental ill health.

Dame Carol said that employers needed to have good data on mental well being so they could be aware of the extent of the problem they had and the nature of their mental health issues, including what sectors of staff were most at risk. She mentioned also the rise of mental health issues among young women coming into the workforce.

Stress factors included financial concerns, which were more prevalent among lower paid workers, and bullying, including sexual harassment.

Dame Carol said employers needed to know what interventions were the most effective – whether that was line manager training, mindfulness sessions or leaflets, and who uses them. Evidence was important, although it was thin on the ground and evaluation was crucial. It was vital that the interventions got to the people who most needed them. She cited a research study which showed very low participation in initiatives – as low as 3%.

Well being at work panel

The summit, which took place the day before World Mental Health Day, included a series of roundtables and workshops. Louise Ashton, Wellbeing director of Business in the City, chaired a panel on mental health at work. BITC’s figures showed 30% of employees had been formally diagnosed with mental health problems at some point in the last 12 months. There had been progress on reducing the stigma on mental ill health, for instance, but work-linked mental ill health was up 3% on the year before. The most common factor was workload, but nearly a quarter of people mentioned bullying and harassment. Loneliness was a bit issue for young people. The statistics also showed intersectional issues, with LGBTQ+ people were 79% more likely than average to experience mental ill health at work and BAME individuals were 30% more likely.

Fiona Cannon,  Group Director, Responsible Business, Sustainability and Inclusion at Lloyds Banking Group, said it was important that mental health was a strategic priority for employers, led from the top. Lloyds’ engagement survey showed that people with mental health issues were less engaged. Lloyds was training mental health advocates and many colleagues were sharing their stories. Cannon said listening to those with mental health problems was key.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, spoke of the need for good work, paid fairly, where people felt their skills were being developed and their voices heard. Flexible working and work life balance were vital, he said, as well as the ability to disconnect.

The conference also heard from Lou Banks from Rising Vibe! who launched a campaign for mental health aimed at men – Calling Out The Men – encouraging them to be vulnerable and to talk about their emotions. She added that supporting men would also help women.


There were also a series of workshops, including one on how employers can develop their own mental health strategy, led by well being strategist Amy McKeown and Dr Claire Douglas, Head of Occupational Health & Wellbeing at SCS Railways.  Here are some of the suggestions:

  • Be clear about what you want to achieve, for instance, reducing absences
  • Focus on culture and find out what your culture is by looking at who gets promoted and why
  • Create an environment that promotes well being, including for remote workers
  • Signpost to external support
  • Use data, for instance, from employee assistance programmes and occupational health to understand the mental health problems in your organisation
  • Appoint mental health champions or ambassadors to spread the word
  • Get senior engagement and support
  • Share stories
  • Engage with employees through surveys that measure progress – organisations like the What works centre for well being have free templates
  • Train line managers, but support them, for instance, with mental health champions, so all the onus doesn’t fall on them
  • Ensure activities and messaging are consistent
  • Include all stakeholders, including occupational health, the rewards and benefits team and health and safety through a steering group
  • Be clear on where mental health sits to avoid “turf wars”
  • Communicate regularly, from senior leaders down, to normalise mental well being
  • Ensure you reach different workers, including younger generations and different types of workers
  • Weave in mental health to other strategies, such as unconscious bias work
  • Link well being to managers’ Key Performance Indicators so that it is taken seriously.

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