WEDNESDAY 24 JUN 2015 10:14 AM


Businesses across the UK are wising up to the fact that mental health and wellbeing is a business benefit and many are changing their practices and internal cultures to encourage a more open environment about these issues. At June’s Mind event at London City Hall, communications and business leaders discussed the ways in which companies can foster more open internal environments and develop cost-effective processes to support employees suffering from mental health challenges.

One speaker, Martin Coyd, head of the environment, health and safety at Lend Lease Europe, said leadership plays a large role in driving this change, “What interests the boss fascinates the workforce.” The panel discussed the ways in which leaders can influence corporate culture around mental health and wellbeing. Encouraging this focus requires a clear designation of ROI. It may involve a costly investment in mental health and physical wellbeing programmes, communications campaigns and employee benefits, but it will help make up for the £920m lost to businesses (data from the public sector) by mental ill health each year.

It can however, also be a inexpensive as equipping a few members of staff to speak about mental health and, as a few panellists add, a couple packets of biscuits to entice people to chat. Paul Farmer, chief executive at Mind said it was about, "Equipping all of us to have that conversation when someone says 'No, I'm not ok.'"

So far, 300 organisations have signed the pledge to enhance their focus on mental health programmes and policies. The event followed research by Mind into business leaders' perspectives on mental health. The report featured essays of stories and comments – both personal and professional – of dealing with mental health in the workplace. Even those in high-stress industries, like corporate law, are seeing the need to change. Robert Elliott, senior partner and chairman at Linklaters says, "As senior business leaders, we have a responsibility to create a culture in our organisations which encourages our people to ask for support and talk openly about their physical and mental health without judgement."

Charities, public sector organisations, digital businesses and traditional businesses alike are wising up to these issues across the UK. But the conversation has only just begun, panellists at last week's event say. Coyd points to a harrowing statistic: in Australia construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than from a fall. Addressing that makes good business sense.

Pete Rogers, chair of City Mental Health Alliance and deputy general counsel at KPMG said recruitment can also benefi adding that Millennials are looking for workplaces with encouraging company cultures. Caroline Wayman, chief executive of the Financial Ombudsman, adds, "As leader's we've got a responsibility to show everybody that the best way to work is not every hour of every day."

The conversation is only just beginning at the leadership level, but with the joint efforts of communications, corporate social responsibility teams, HR and business leaders, mental health is being recognised as an issue businesses need to deal with to foster happy, healthy and in turn, more efficient and effective workforces. That's good business sense.

Mind has encouraged these changes through its London Healthy Workplace Charter, carried out in association with the Mayor of London's Office and with corporate and public partners throughout the city.