Why mental fitness is becoming a measurable metric pivotal for business success
If mental health support in the workplace is truly to go from being an optional extra to a must-have, its impacts must be measurable. Ryan Herman attends Mad World Summit 2022 to hear how it might be done
On October 11, more than 1,000 delegates from businesses of all sizes attended the Mad World Summit. This annual event, held in the City of London, has become a showcase for new ways of thinking about wellbeing and mental fitness. This year, there were 30 exhibitors promoting programmes, platforms and apps, each armed with an array of facts and figures to prove that mental fitness should be considered a business priority, not just a moral one.
Mental Health at Work, for example, states that mental health issues can cost an organisation more than £1,600 per employee and that presenteeism has a financial impact four to five times greater than being off sick. If that seems counter-intuitive, consider that an individual’s performance is often well below their best if they are overworked and overtired, which greatly increases the chances of making costly mistakes.
Meanwhile, in the main auditorium, the first keynote panel featured a discussion between Channel 4 Chair, Sir Ian Cheshire, Health and Safety Executive Chair, Sarah Newton, and Jon Slade, Chief Commercial Officer at the Financial Times. “What we’re seeing is people feeling like [mental fitness] is part of all our jobs now, and are talking about this in a way that, frankly, 10 years ago people were extremely embarrassed to do,” said Cheshire.
Putting in programmes that will help to maintain or even improve mental fitness among staff is no longer something organisations should d0 – rather it’s a must. Last year, in a Forbes story headlined “Mental Health is Now a Business Metric”, Clay Kellogg, CEO of Terminal, wrote: “Unless leaders give their teams the resources they need, productivity will suffer and retention will nose-dive. Employers are in a unique position to help employees through this era of uncertainty, and businesses that invest in mental health stand to benefit the most. Mental health is no longer just a matter of personal wellness; it’s now a business metric as well.”
While all of this helps to show how mental health, wellbeing and fitness are being taken more seriously, there is clearly still a lot of work to be done. The second session of the day, Call to Action from the Chief Finance Officer, was chaired by Javier Echave, CFO for Heathrow airport, who began by rattling off a series of eye-catching statistics from a Business in the Community survey.
“Eighty-three per cent of Business in the Community members responded that they had identified risks and opportunities relating to health and wellbeing; 51% don’t feel comfortable talking about mental health issues in the workplace, with 29% not telling anyone and 12% [of those] who are courageous enough to share end up facing negative outcomes and even disciplinary actions.
“Thirty-five per cent of members are saying that feeling isolated is the top cause for non-work[-related], mental health issues. And 54% state that [having] too many targets and priorities is impacting on their mental health. This is an unacceptable status quo.”
Echave added that in many businesses there is a conflict between money and health, when the two should be aligned. Addressing the audience, he said: “The finance directors who don’t believe that mental health and money are connected… I hope you realise they are dinosaurs and we know what happens with dinosaurs.”
Paul Hendry, Global VP for Health, Safety and Environment at American engineering giant, Jacobs, also put the case for mental health as a business metric. “Yesterday we did a call for World Mental Health Day,” he said. “We had between 9,000–10,000 people who joined the CEO, me and a couple of colleagues. I started to figure out how much that has cost the organisation. And it’s probably $1m (£910,000), but the CFO sees the benefit…he totally gets it.”
How do you go about putting a case to the board that this is something they should be spending money on, when there are so many other pressures, particularly on SMEs?
“Finance is finite. We’ve got a looming recession. So, capability building and investing in people can often be an unfortunate victim of funding,” said Dorothy Day, Chief People Officer at GoodShape. “If you can prove that whatever you want to invest in can actually have a measurable impact, both in terms of operational and financial performance, then it starts to make more commercial sense.
“I’m a big fan of using data to inform insight and decisions. Because without that, you really can’t create a compelling case. I tend to start with data that already exists in my organisation. I’m very lucky in that I have access to our proprietary database to be able to capture sickness, absence and health data of our own people. But even if you don’t have that, you can still use the data that you have in your organisation to start interrogating and cross-referencing.
“For me, it starts with sickness absence data. It might not be complete. It might not be fully accurate, but it will give you a picture. So if I can say anything to you today, get your data because that is going to be the key to getting an informed business case together.”
New business as usual
The growth of Mad World Summit helps to explain how more organisations are beginning to understand why mental fitness is a key business priority. Claire Farrow, Global Director of Content and Programming at the summit, joined the organisation five years ago, having previously worked with a series of high-profile clients, including the New York Times, in developing conference content for business events. One day she received a phone call out of the blue from Mad World founder Mark Pigou. “Mark said he had this idea for an event, based around his own experience, and he had a very personal motivation for getting involved with the topic,” she says.
Pigou, whose daughter had tried to take her own life when she was in her early twenties, wanted to create a workplace-based forum to boost mental health awareness. “Lots of people simply didn’t know what to do,” Farrow adds. “Mark wanted to draw on the networks that he and co-founder Simon Berger had built over the years working in business-to-business media to really push it forward and help to make this shift from stigma to solutions into the business-as-usual.
“I was already interested in the power of the media as a force for good, because when you work in B2B media you really can push forward agendas. I started to talk to employers and found out there was this huge appetite around the subject. In some cases, people were aware their company was doing something but weren’t talking about it openly, whereas many others didn’t know where to start.”
Since joining Mad World, Farrow has worked with countless companies and has seen first-hand how mental fitness programmes have evolved. “People are talking much more about measurement, for instance, and measuring impact,” she says. “It’s not just about talk anymore. It’s about understanding what will actually work and what will make a difference to a workplace. It’s also about how you can justify the investment, and look at the return on investment.
”For instance, there is now a discussion around whether the reporting on wellbeing should be part of ESG reporting, and that means we’re taking these mental fitness discussions to the next level. So it is no longer something a few people within an organisation are championing – it becomes a business imperative.”
Feel the strains
Laura Butcher, Director of Engagement and Brand at ICAS, who leads on mental fitness, says: “We launched our mental fitness pledge a couple of years ago. We are in for the long haul – this is not a passing fad to be cast aside in a couple of years. It’s only by involving our members, colleagues and firms that we will remove the stigma. We have a dedicated group of ICAS colleagues who give up their time to ensure we are doing all we can. From our free helpline and app for students to events with no-nonsense speakers and advice on wellbeing and our mental health training for all ICAS colleagues, we want to get people talking about mental fitness so that it becomes the norm.
“I was chatting to a few members at an ICAS event recently. Within 10 minutes we had covered politics, family, wellbeing and the menopause. The openness of those people was inspiring. We need even more CAs, especially those who are business leaders, to keep sharing their experiences.”
Farrow stresses the steps to take to ensure these measures work. “The most important thing is not to do things to your people – it’s to listen to them, to get an understanding of where they’re at and what their needs are,” she says. “The best way to do that is to have one-to-one conversations, which is how it could work within an SME. With a larger company, you can have focus groups. Sometimes people are put off by the idea of them because they think it will open a can of worms. But you soon start to see similar problems emerging and you get a sense of where stresses and strains are coming from, where people need most support.
“It’s important to tune into the kind of language that they’re using. And make sure you’re sensitive to diversity within your organisation as well, because different people and cultures have different approaches to this topic.
Farrow concludes: “I hope that the pandemic has shown clearly that without healthy people a business is nothing. If you have managers who know how to listen to people, and know how to make them feel they’re needed at work, who provide the right training and the right resources, then obviously people are going to be more engaged. And people who are more engaged are more likely to thrive at work – to the benefit of themselves and your business.”