8th October 2020

Join the dots with data for sustainable mental health and wellbeing workplace strategies

4th May, 2019

Claire Farrow

Do you ever have light bulb moments? A sense of sudden clarity? That’s how I felt at the end of the breakfast briefing I attended last month, hosted by the workplace mental health platform Unmind.


My realisation: employers need to start joining up the dots if they want to develop sustainable strategies that support mental health and wellbeing. And insights from data make these connections possible.


If you’re wondering, according to, joining the dots means: “making connections between people or events that seem not to be connected so that you can understand what is happening.”


So where did this inspiration come from?


At the Unmind breakfast, Sir Ian Cheshire, Chairman of Barclays UK and Campaign Chair of the Royals’ Heads Together Campaign, set the scene for a fascinating panel discussion.


This included input from the online retailer Farfetch and the multinational energy and service company Centrica. Two very different organisations - both on their journey to supporting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.


Following the theme of “Turning talk to action” Nick Taylor, Unmind’s CEO, who is a Clinical Psychologist by training, guided the discussion with probing questions such as: “How do organisations leverage the Board?” “What is the biggest challenge you have faced?” “How do you get people to use the service you are offering?” “How do you perceive value for money?” “What does prevention mean to your organisation and what are you doing to support this?”


Across the discussion, several key points started to emerge, all of which come back to joining the dots and the need to inform strategies with data.


Joining the dots to meet the needs of diverse employees


Understanding and meeting the diverse needs of employees is a challenge. This includes hard-to-reach remote workers and contractors. The clear message was the need to really listen to colleagues to work out what they need, then set about turning this into action.


The panel stressed that it is crucial to find the right way to talk about mental health for your organisation. Listening to and understanding colleagues, enables employers to be sensitive to cultural differences and find the right language that will resonate.


Joining the dots between positive and negative perceptions of mental health


This reference to language links to another point made by the panel, which was the need to move toward mental health, or “psychological strength” as something aspirational. The concept of mental health is evolving. Where once the term ‘mental health’ evoked references to mental illness, the term ‘mental fitness’ is now gaining increasing recognition.


Asking a positive question such as “would you like to be as mentally fit as you are physically fit?” helps to harness interest in mental health and wellbeing in a proactive way. Talking about supporting mental fitness is also a more accessible approach to the topic for managers. Which leads me to my next point.


Joining the dots to get different stakeholders involved across the business


So many businesses operate in silos. But joining the dots between different stakeholders, to get engagement across the business, is key to embedding mental health and wellbeing strategies. It seems that a combination of a top-down and a bottom-up approach is what’s needed to thaw the frozen middle.


A Board (including non-exec members) that is properly connected with the agenda, active and visible, not just supervisory, sends a message to employees that it is OK to talk about mental health.


Yet it is the middle management engagement which is key if strategies are really going to take hold. If they are not committed, we were told, nothing will move forward.


How do you get the buy-in from this crucial group? It’s not enough to simply stick something on the corporate intranet. Managers need to be given space to open-up and trained so that they see supporting mental health and wellbeing as part of day to day management practice. We were urged to use all communication tools available to raise awareness right across the business.


Engagement groups can also help to join the dots and encourage collaboration between different departments, such as Diversity & Inclusion and Talent, for instance. All have a role to play in supporting mental health and wellbeing.


An interesting point was raised by an attendee in a side conversation. This broached the need to also join the dots between an organisation’s external Corporate Social Responsibility agenda and its internal wellbeing agenda.


And what about joining the dots between personal and organisational responsibility for mental health and wellbeing? Another key area for ongoing discussion.



Joining the dots with data to determine where to focus strategy


With so many factors to take into consideration, where do you start? This was a question that was voiced by a breakfast attendee. The answers kept leading back to one crucial factor. Data.


It’s the data which makes the connections that give more practical insight into solutions. Data helps to identify where most support is needed; what is and isn’t working. It underpins the business case if further investment is needed.


Data could highlight, for instance, that employees are struggling with sleep, or even loneliness. This might not be the case right across the organisation though. With the right data, a mental health and wellbeing strategy can be tailored to meet the needs of different employees.


Where does this data come from? It could come from something as easy to implement as engagement surveys. In this case, start with a broad question such as “how well are you?” Then get more granular with a question such as “what would make a difference?”


Exit interviews and insights from the website Glassdoor, where current and former employees anonymously review companies and their management, are both sources of data. Baseline absence data can also be used. Unmind’s Nick Taylor stressed that the data should be clinically validated, as with the Unmind Index, if it is being used to determine mental health and wellbeing strategy.


Joining the dots between the moral imperative and the sound business case


The message from the panel came across clearly that if an employer is really interested in its teams and cares about them, then mental health and wellbeing must be on their agenda. People increasingly want to work for a company that shows it cares about its people. Those embracing this agenda will be seen as an active set of leaders.


Yet it is hard to determine how much better a company will perform if it has robust mental health and wellbeing strategies in place. So, the dots still need to be joined to demonstrate value. Without data it is very difficult to make the business case.


One panel member pointed out that for them this is about longer-term investment in people. Nevertheless, they recognise the importance of defining success metrics. These are to track impact whilst keeping in mind that the strategy isn’t purely about short-term wins.


Joining the dots at the Mad World Summit


Interested in finding out more and making a difference to mental health and wellbeing in your workplace? Unmind’s Nick Taylor will be chairing a panel, helping employers to join their dots for sustainable mental health and wellbeing strategies, at the Mad World Summiton 9 October 2019.


With attendees from a wide range of organisations and an array of job functions, it really is a melting pot of ideas and inspiration. If you haven’t already booked you place, you can register here.


We look forward to seeing you there.


Claire Farrow

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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