An insight into the developing awareness of mental health and wellbeing at the core of our people-based sector’s performance” - In anticipation of his upcoming keynote at Mad World Conference, in conversation with Ian Jindal on how retail - and retail’s people - can thrive.
The retail industry employs 21% of the UK working population and contributes 11% of the UK’s GDP. Moreover, those not directly employed are all customers of the products, services and experiences that retailers provide. Retail is a ‘people business’. However, until recently, we have treated our people as “assets” - to be developed, optimised, trained and leveraged to a peak of ‘performance’: much as we would any asset from a warehouse to an IT system.
Missing from this debate around people performance has been the mental health and wellbeing of our staff. Beyond gym membership, fruit in the office and at-desk massage, our understanding of the commercial and societal benefits of mental health and business performance has lagged behind other areas of our complex business.
Mental health is one of the final taboos in the workplace. Hand in hand with progress in society, retailers have embraced diversity, gender equality, and are striving to become disability confident, yet discussing and dealing with mental health issues in the workplace lags behind a society’s increasing awareness. Fewer than 2% of staff would be willing to discuss their mental health and its impact on their role, and employers also feel exposed and under-confident in discussions with staff.
The retail sector is under pressure to perform, yet is also transforming to an experience– and talent-based industry - from shop floor service to data scientists, via technologists and contact centres. There’s an emerging understanding of the benefits of addressing the ‘whole person’ - the mental health as well as physical health. We need to balance performance with sustainability - how do we get from “survive” to “thrive”?
Leading the debate in retail is Sir Ian Cheshire, via a coordinated set of initiatives spanning the UK Government, national expert charities and business.
Ian Jindal spoke with Sir Ian, in advance of his opening keynote at the MadWorldForum conference on October 9 in London.
IR: WHAT HAS BEEN THE DRIVER TO MAKE MENTAL HEALTH SUCH A BROADLY DISCUSSED TOPIC IN SOCIETY AND THE WORKPLACE?
“Realistically it feels like an issue whose time has come. There is a recognition at large that mental health is an issue - with the pressures of social media being particularly acute for young people. The emergent recognition has been reinforced by campaigns like “Time to Change” that Mind has led over many years. The “Heads Together” initiative - led by three of the most famous people on the planet - has started to change the stigma around discussing mental health issues. When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex started talking openly, sharing that they’ve had issues and providing a forum for discussion, it struck an extraordinary chord last year. The topic was no longer an abstract, vaguely institutional one. As happened with other major societal issues like same-sex marriage or HIV awareness, there was a tipping point at which highly conventional role models ask for the issues to be reassessed, and society was ready to listen to that call.
It’s a revelation for people that we have physical health and also mental health. People know how to manage their physical health, and who to call when we break a leg, for example. However the first few steps of managing mental health - how to talk about it, where to go for help - are less well understood.
IR: WHAT IS BUSINESS’ ROLE IN THIS REASSESSMENT?
“Businesses have put in their annual reports that ‘people are our asset’ for many years, but in an increasingly digital, complicated and remote-working world, the quality engagement and performance of your teams is indeed the most critical success factor in business. Businesses are waking up to the fact that if they can help, support and make the most of their teams it’ll be a good result for their business - not just in the short term.
Consider that most of the population goes to work, and therefore most of their time is spent in some sort of workplace. It’s a critical place in terms of mental wellbeing. Until recently companies were concerned that this might be an extra burden - more to look after.
there’s a realisation that they can make a contribution: by keeping someone
mentally fit you can increase productivity, energise the contribution of staff,
reduce sickness leave and of minimise the disruption of staff leaving the
workplace due to catastrophic mental illness. For business, this is an idea
whose time has come.
In all of the businesses I’ve been involved with, the key success factor is the people: the team. Businesses need technology, need capital, but the engine of any business is the human capital, the talent, the energy of the people.
People are the drivers of the business rather than just one of the assets.
IR: YOU HAVE SPOKEN IN THE FARMER REPORT ABOUT THE ‘FLUX’ IN MENTAL HEALTH. HOW CAN BUSINESSES THEMSELVES FLEX TO ACCOMMODATE THIS?
“On the back of greater understanding. Mental health is an oscillating state - much as in physical terms we may gain and lose weight, or become ill and recover. Modern life has become more flexible, more technology-enabled, with more flexible working. In parallel there’s an increased understanding that there’s variation in how people feel. Businesses can provide means to talk openly and flex their procedures to support these changes - allowing breaks, take time away from tasks, and speaking honestly, for example. Staff will perhaps say that they are physically ill rather than admit that they are anxious or depressed. If we can adapt to flexible working then the next stage is to adapt to the ‘cadence of working’, a cycle of wellbeing, and have an open conversation about this.
IR: WE HAVE KPIS IN RETAIL FOR THE ‘OUTPUT’ AND PRODUCTIVITY OF OUR PEOPLE - DO YOU THINK THAT THERE ARE MEASURES REGARDING THE HEALTH OF OUR TEAMS?
“From personal experience, running B&Q and then Kingfi sher, we had employee engagement as a major KPI. We used the Gallup Q12 scoring  for our employee engagement KPI. Engaged staff gave better service, resulting in improved sales. At the other end we measured customer impact via the Net Promoter Score, and so both the input and the result were tracked. Arriving at Barclays I fi nd that these are the two measures they’ve adopted too.
Behind the use of the employee engagement there’s an understanding that you have to engage with the ‘whole individual’. Looking after their physical wellbeing and working conditions are important, but we need to include the mental health aspect too. If an employee is able to thrive then their contribution, capacity, resilience and performance will increase - individually and as a team.
IR: SUPPORTING MENTAL WELLBEING IS A NEW DEMAND UPON LEADERS AND THE ORGANISATION - HOW CAN RETAILERS PREPARE?
“There are three areas - getting data and an understanding of your current state; building managers’ confi dence; and creating the right culture of openness and support.
Firstly, using a mapping tool will give you a version of an engagement index specifi cally focused on mental wellbeing. Business in the Community and others have developed a free, online toolset. This data will allow retailers to target eff orts and development.
The tools aren’t simply for big companies. Large enterprises have an opportunity to lead throughout their supply chain, but there are also solutions aimed at SMEs who lack HR departments and large teams.
The second is to build the confi dence of managers, to equip them with the tools of what to say and do, and where they can get help. When a team-member admits ‘actually I’m struggling a bit’ the manager might worry that their actions could make things worse or that they could be in trouble. Just as we now have ‘disability confident businesses' we could have 'mental health confident leaders in the future.
create an open and honest culture within the organisation. A powerful technique
is to use stories to build culture. Where people, especially leaders, share
their experiences of having, sharing and surmounting issues then all staff realise that there is support, a career even
if they experience ‘flux’ in their own mental health. Talking also teaches
people how to speak about their mental health.
I’ve found that inside Barclays (where we’ve done a ‘This is Me’ campaign) one of the most powerful parts is where senior people say they’ve had an issue, how they’ve dealt with it, and that it’s a part of my life, and part of my reality.
“THRIVING AT WORK” - THE STEVENSON/FARMER REPORT
Released in October 2017 this is an independent report conducted by Paul Farmer and Lord Dennis Stevenson. The Prime Minister Theresa May commissioned the report in January 2017 saying “Many employers are already creating healthy, inclusive workplaces, but more needs to be done so that employers provide the support needed for employees with mental health conditions”. She continued a thread of interest that her predecessor David Cameron had also supported.
The report’s summary talks of the mental health challenge in the workplace. While there are more people with mental health problems in work than ever before, some 300,000 people with long term mental health problems lose their jobs each year.
In addition, some 15% of people in work have had symptoms of a mental health condition. The cost to employers is between £33bn and £42bn a year. The report makes the case for increased productivity and quality of life as the joint results of an increase in mental health - a point borne out by a series of academic studies and 200 case studies for the report. The Report’s Vision is that in ten years’ time:
❚ Employees have good work, which contributes positively to their mental health, society and the economy.
❚ we all have the knowledge, tools and confidence, to understand and look after our own mental health and the mental health of those around us.
❚ All organisations, will be aware and equipped to recruit, support and develop individuals with mental health conditions, and aware of how to get expert, timely support.
To achieve this, the report sets out what we describe as “mental health core standards” that all organisations are capable of, namely:
❚ a mental health at work plan;
❚ mental health awareness among employees;
❚ open conversations about mental health and the support available when employees are struggling;
❚ good working conditions and a healthy work life balance
❚ effective people management;
❚ monitor mental health and wellbeing.
‘Enhanced’ standards for larger and examplar businesses include:
❚ Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting
❚ Demonstrate accountability
❚ Improve the disclosure process
❚ Ensure provision of tailored in-house mental health support and signposting to clinical help
The report is available at the UK Government’s website.
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