8th October 2020

5 tips for getting senior level buy-in to support mental health in the workplace

20th November, 2018

Claire Farrow

It’s key to have the support of the CEO or at the very least a senior level sponsor, if mental health initiatives in the workplace are to have real traction across the organisation. This was a point that was stressed again and again at the first Mad World Summitin October.

As Sir Ian Cheshire, Chairman, Barclays UK, urged attendees in his opening keynote “Ruthlessly target your CEO. If you don’t get your CEO on board, frankly this is all quite nice but quite hard to do”.

But how do you get your CEO, CFO or at the very least that crucial senior management sponsor to buy-in to the need to support mental health in the workplace? Here are five tips I’ve collated from presentations and conversations at this year’s Mad World:

Tip 1: Target your CEO with 2 or 3 maximum tangible actions theycan do

Giving concrete examples, Sir Ian Cheshire suggested you could ask your CEO to:

·      Hold a “town hall meeting” – an informal corporate gathering – and talk about the latest mental health programme

·      Be seen to be supporting one or two particular initiatives

·      Specifically endorse an initiative, such as This is Me, that profiles people talking about their own stories. This opens up permission to speak about mental health, which people still find very hard to do

Tip 2: Don’t be shy about this; push your CFO with a clear business case

Again, Sir Ian Cheshire insisted “It would be lovely to say that ROI isn’t important, but if we are going to get traction, this is about getting budgets”. He added “If you want to avoid this becoming a minor philanthropy exercise, you have to generate some form of ROI, some form of business case”. Possible angles for the business case suggested were:

·      Work on the basis that if you support mental health and wellbeing in the workplace well, you will retain talent

·      With mental ill-health now the major cause of sickness absence, focus on how tackling mental ill-health will improve sickness absence levels

·      Don’t underestimate the source of pride you will create in the workforce. People feel great that their business is tackling mental ill-health. Business success is based on the engagement of teams, making motivation and engagement a reasonable part of ROI

Tip 3: Get an audit from the Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index

This was a suggestion from Josh Krichefski, CEO, MediaCom in his keynote panel which focused on “Putting workplace culture and mental health at the top of the agenda”. Krichefski highlighted that “Ideally, all CEOs would take mental health incredibly seriously”, but if they don’t, he suggested, the best way to effect change is to make a business case. One way to do this is to commission an audit from the Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index. “Have a look at their figures, then take a look at what it’s costing your business. Then you can actually quantify the business effect”.

Tip 4: Look through the lens of client feedback and customer acquisition

Along with Anna Rasmussen, CEO and Founder of Open Blend Method, Karen Williams, CFO, Avios facilitated a roundtable discussion at the Mad World Summit focused on engaging the modern workforce, the mind-set of work life blend over work life balance and the impact on wellbeing and productivity. Williams brought a business perspective to the discussion and provided insight into how to tackle these issues at a board level for that all-important buy-in.


Key points raised in response to the question “what do you need in order to make the business case with your senior stakeholders?” included:


·       Look at client feedback and real time data to demonstrate the impact on the bottom line

·       Tap into the personal experience of the stakeholder – what keeps them awake at night?

·       Your people strategy can impact the win criteria for new customers


Tip 5: Have a dedicated mental health professional in-house

Finally, a suggestion made to me by one of the Mad World attendees at the event. Perhaps more relevant for those looking to sustain boardroom buy-in, rather than those getting started. It was suggested that, if an in-house mental health/occupational health professional is available, their support will most likely be deployed by senior stakeholders too. There is no more powerful way to retain buy-in for mental health initiatives in the workplace than if the CEO is able to experience first-hand the benefits of the strategy.

Breaking news: Mental and physical health given parity of esteem

Released today, following a great deal of campaigning by many, the Health & Safety Executive have revised the ‘First Aid at Work’guidance, triggering all organisations to consider mental health alongside physical health as part of their first aid needs assessment.

As Karl Simons, Health, Safety, Security & Wellbeing Director, Thames Water pointed out in his LinkedIn post “This change, that will inevitably influence UK plc, will bring a wave of sweeping change and promotes consideration of providing information and training for managers and employees, employing occupational health professionals, appointing mental health trained first aiders and implementing employee support programmes”.

This is still optional. The opening line of the guidance is “HSE cannot tell you what provision you should make for first aid. You, as an employer, are best placed to understand the exact nature of your workplace and decide what you need to provide”. However,it sends a clear message to communicate to the CEO and senior management team: mental health and physical health are equally important and budgets to support them should reflect this.

Please share your tips for getting the CEO’s buy-in with our Mad World community, so we can continue our journey together from stigma to solutions. Send your suggestions to claire@madworldforum.com

For more information about how your organisation can support mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, register hereto receive Mad World News and updates about the Mad World Summit

Claire Farrow

Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Mad World News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times.

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