9 key takeaways from the Mad World Summit 2019
4th November, 2019
With a focus on promoting best
practice and showcasing practical solutions that enable employers to embed
sustainable mental health and wellbeing strategies, the second Mad World Summit
was packed with content.
Think Tank and roundtable summaries, are on the Mad World website. You’ll also
find links to reports created at the event by BBC World Service, CNBC, London Live, C-Suite Podcast, Benevolent
Health and our own “2020
Vision” show opener. This includes wise words from Sir Ian Cheshire among
others. Please make time to tune in and review all of these materials – it really
is worth it.
of you looking for a quick read, I’ve summed up some of my key takeaways from
#1: There’s no doubt that employers have a key role to play
rallying call of Dr Nick Taylor, CEO and Co-Founder of workplace mental health
platform Unmind in the 2020 Vision show opener set the scene perfectly:
“Organisations are in a great place to be leaders in this space, to start
looking after the mental health of their employees in a really proactive ways
and become champions of the subject”.
doyenne of workplace mental health and wellbeing, Professor Dame Carol Black, added
context in her keynote. She gave us the stark reminder that: “Over a third of
total productivity loss of UK employees is attributable to mental health
Director of Business in the Community, Louise Aston, revealed the shocking fact
that, according to the BITC’s 2019 Mental Health at Work Report, 39% (ie, 2 in
5) of people develop a mental health condition where work was a contributory
“Thriving at Work: the now and next” panel, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind recognised
the key role employers have to play. He stated that the quiet mental health revolution
that has taken place over the last ten years is: “Increasingly being driven by
employers who have taken the baton of mental health and are really running with
it”. He added: “The challenge is to go from good to great…to get to a point
where our conversation around the water cooler about our mental health is as
common as the water cooler itself”.
#2: Measure impact but don’t make it just about the numbers
Carol Black urged attendees to “collect data and evaluate” the impact of their
mental health and wellbeing strategies - reminding us that often employers put
initiatives in place, without asking employees what they want and without
really knowing who needs them the most.
Aston reiterated this, pointing out that there is a disconnect between how
bosses think they are doing and the reality on the ground. She reminded us
that: “What gets measured gets managed” and suggested that organisations
start to publicly report their wellbeing.
echoed the point that Dame Carol’s had made in her keynote: reporting on
employee mental health and wellbeing ought to be considered as important as
Tank session, facilitated by Richard Heron, Vice-President Health & Chief
Medical Officer, BP was focused on how to make the business case for investment
in mental health and wellbeing strategies. Picking up the data theme, which Dr
Heron said is essential for winning over the C-Suite, he said: “You have to ask what the data is
telling you and why should it keep you up at night?”
He stressed that getting buy-in
wasn’t about ROI. When approaching the C-Suite, what is key is knowing what’s
on their mind, the business’s objectives and be clear why focusing on mental
health will help them to achieve them. He also reminded attendees that more
data doesn’t mean better, using the example of Christopher Columbus (“one of
the best influencers I’ve ever known of”) who managed to convince royalty to
back his expedition to North America based on “only three pieces of data and
two tools at any one time”.
A word of
caution around driving strategies with data was raised during the “The
Disruptors” panel. Alastair Gill, Head of People, giffgaff explained that he
has a love hate relationship with data. Both he and Helen Verwoert, Global HR
Director, Dr Martens – Airwair International mentioned that data shouldn’t
drive every initiative – sometimes what’s intuitive and feels right is right,
but that data can and should be used to back up ideas once they have been
same panel, Julian Hitch, Director of Wellbeing, Leon Restaurants warned that
there is a trap of getting too hooked into the data explaining: “Look at what
you are using the data for and why you are measuring”. He stressed that mental
health and wellbeing programmes should be put into place because you genuinely
care about your employees.
onstage conversation between Kelly Steckleberg, CFO, Zoom and Kristoff DuBose,
Founder of trailblazing workplace design company Ciurklaris8 reiterated this.
They emphasised the business benefits that flow naturally when employee
happiness and wellbeing are a strategic priority and central ethos of the
#3: Good work and safe workplace cultures underpin prevention
a recurring theme of the content. Dame Carol Black reminded us that: “The
essentials are about culture and whether you’ve got that organisational culture
right”. One of Louise Aston’s key calls to action was: “Create good work that
enhances mental health for everyone”.
“Thriving at work: now and next” panel, Peter Cheese, CEO, CIPD explained: “The
idea of good work is key to the future of work. The outcome of good work should
be good for people. Wellbeing is not a fanciful fad or trend - it is a
fundamental human right. We need employers to think about their duty of care to
people and make sure they are all focused on these issues”. He went on to
outline that a good job is:
A job that pays me fairly
A job where I have my voice heard
A job where my skills are being used
effectively and I’m being developed
A job where people care about me and
wellbeing is an absolute elemental construct, as is work life balance, with
flexible working being a really important part of this
working was a strategy that cropped up in many sessions, from Ian Stuart, Group
Managing Director and CEO, HSBC UK Bank plc’s opening keynote, right through to
the roundtable discussions.
interesting fact that balanced the speakers’ enthusiasm for flexible working
was included in the notes from the roundtable that Brendan Street, Professional
Head of Emotional Wellbeing, Nuffield Health facilitated. These indicated that:
“The benefits derived from home working plateau after 2.5 days. After this, the
impact of home working is detrimental”.
#4: Technology – friend or foe?
impact (as well as the potential) of technology was another recurring theme of
the event. As Peter Cheese said: “Technology seems to be stressing us more and
more” reflecting: “What happened to the 15 hour week? We seem to be working 15
Comedian, Author, Campaigner and Founder, Frazzled Café, Ruby Wax also had
thoughts to share on the topic of technology: “Everyone’s bitching about
technology – but look, we put it there and it’s not going away”. In other
words, it is our responsibility to find a way to make it work for us, not
roundtable takeaways also shed an interesting light on whether tech holds the
key to future proofing workplace wellbeing. Comments ranged from: “Tech has
created or at least exacerbated burnout” to “Tech should be a tool, not a
replacement of human experience” and “Tech should be used to limit tech” to “It
would be good to see more voice technology and AI embedded in mental health
benefits of Artificial Intelligence (AI) were also reflected in other sessions.
MyEva’s roundtable was focused on whether it is possible to meet the financial
wellbeing needs of every individual employee. A key takeaway from this session
was that whilst it is important to have a mixture of digital and human
solutions, AI removes unconscious bias and helps individuals.
potential benefits of AI were also outlined by Professor Peter Francis, Vice
Chancellor, Northumbria University, in his presentation as part of the “Meeting
the university challenge” workshop. In this, Professor Francis explained how
big data and sophisticated algorithms are nudging students into communicating
about their mental health and wellbeing before problems escalate. In this way
technology is being used in a preventative way and is nurturing the human
relationships at the heart of good mental health.
#5: You don’t need a big budget to get started, but be prepared to invest
Austin, HR Director, Wave Utilities, speaking as part of the SMEs Stepping Up
track, highlighted that effective wellbeing strategies have been implemented
without needing significant investment. This was thanks, in part, to the help
of an insurance broker who listened and then took the time to source a
cost-effective health insurance product that met their needs. At Wave
Utilities, initial low-cost strategies have however been a good way to embed a
culture that prioritises mental health and wellbeing, making it easier for more
budget to be made available further down the road.
thinking was echoed by Amanda Lambert, People Director, Three UK as part of the
keynote panel session “Harnessing the power of business”. Lambert explained
that many of the most effective strategies that they have put in place at Three
have not cost the company anything including: changing compassionate leave;
introducing personal days for life moments; reviewing the time off policy.
same panel, Tony Bickerstaff, Chief Financial Officer, Costain explained that
in many cases they have supported mental health and wellbeing by accessing
existing budgets, such as the learning and development budget.
of the same discussion, Rob Stephenson, Founder, InsideOut pointed out that,
whilst it makes sense to start with free or low-cost initiatives, it is
important to make budget available. He summed up: “Let’s build from the ground
up but let’s go there with a big vision”.
Stuart, Group Managing Director and CEO, HSBC UK Bank plc echoed this point in
his opening keynote, stressing the need to invest in healthcare that supports
those speaking up about their mental health. He said: “You can’t turn around at
a big event like this and say we’re really keen to help this and not back it up
with some investment”. Stuart illustrated his point referencing the company’s
significant investment in Bupa insurance that also covers mental health.
#6: Leadership and the notion of no policy
important role that leadership has to play leading by example was referenced
throughout the day in the keynotes, tracks, panels, workshops and roundtables.
Some of the key points made were:
· Lead from
the top but don’t try to hold the reins too tightly
· To get
line manager buy-in, avoid ivory tower initiatives and ‘them and us’
environments. Create a vision but then immediately empower teams locally to act
flexible working but don’t have a policy on it. Give management local
flexibility to adapt and work out what’s needed. If you put in a policy, you’ll
be crushed by bureaucracy
need to add context and boundaries but employees should be encouraged to pilot
initiatives from the ground up. The more freedom you give people, the more
responsibility they take.
· Set the
tone from the top that it is safe to speak up and set the example by speaking
has an obligation to role model healthy behaviours
your leaders; good leaders have more engaged employees
development plans for employees that are linked to wellbeing – not just a
development plan about your skills, your knowledge or your behaviours, but why
not have a development plan that is going to enhance the wellbeing, the energy
and therefore the performance of individuals in workplaces
· If you
don’t have a CEO that is driving this agenda, that doesn’t have to be the end
of your mental health strategy. The practical and pragmatic approach of
designing a mental health pathway for an organisation can be a very effective
way to drill down into root causes of issues as well as to break down stigma.
· If you
don’t have leadership buy-in, it’s really helpful to be able to put forward a
solid business case for supporting mental health and wellbeing
leaders, don’t underestimate the importance of active listening. The thing that
we can all do is listen to our colleagues without judgement.
#7: Think about how you can encourage your supply chain to support their
sessions touched on this key point moving forward. To really build momentum
behind this movement, organisations can go a long way to encourage their supply
chains to support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees. Interesting
initiatives were mentioned that are encouraging supply chains to prioritise
mental health and wellbeing, such as the Mindful Business Charter and the Mindful
can encourage supply chains to support this agenda by providing access to
relevant training and guidance, echoing their strategies, or it could be giving
suppliers access to your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
as some large public funded organisations are doing, suppliers can be
encouraged to support this agenda by writing a mental health and wellbeing programme
requirement into the procurement process - requiring suppliers to demonstrate
that they comply when tendering for work.
Farmer said in his keynote panel “We’re nearly half way there” in terms of
achieving the vision set out in the Thriving at Work Stevenson Farmer review of mental
health and employers. Encouraging suppliers to support the mental
health and wellbeing of their employees will surely turbo charge progress.
#8: Focus on the organisation but also the needs of the individual – including
mental, physical and financial health
importance of recognising the role of the organisation but taking a personal
approach were also mentioned on many occasions. “Focus on organisational issues
rather than focusing on the individual” said Peter Kelly, Senior Psychologist,
Health and Safety Executive in the 2020 Vision show opener. Meanwhile, in the
same video, Stacy Thomson, Founder, The Performance Group said her vision for
2020 and beyond is that employers will be looking at mental health and
wellbeing from an organisation perspective but also looking at education and
McCarthy, Director of Human Resources, SAP UK & I emphasised the need for
flexibility and making sure programmes are in place to meet the changing needs
of employees at different life stages.
The Disruptors panel stressed the importance of looking at people as
individuals, rather than representatives of different generations, emphasising
that whilst its challenging to make sure you provide for everybody’s needs, the
more you label, the more you create division.
Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing & Sustainability, Royal
Mail Group and Chair, Financial Wellbeing Workstream, BITC also urged attendees
to remember that mental health is intrinsically linked to financial and
physical health, so programmes need to reflect this.
#9: Employers’ needs are evolving
conclusion was drawn more from side conversations rather than from the
sessions. It seems that as more employees are coming forward needing support,
and the importance of prevention, good work and workplace culture are also
rising up the agenda, employers’ needs are evolving. Suppliers of mental health
and wellbeing products and services need to ensure they understand employers’
evolving needs so that they can adapt accordingly
attended this year’s Mad World Summit, I’d love to hear what the key takeaways
were for you. You can contact me at email@example.com.
<< GET THE MAD WORLD NEWSLETTER >>
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.