8th October 2020

“Thrive” An insight into the developing awareness of mental health and wellbeing at the core of our people-based sector’s performance”.

24th July, 2018

Interview with Ian Jindal, published in InternetRetailing Magazine, July 2018, previewing Sir Ian’s keynote at the inaugural MadWorldForum Summit on 9 October, 2018 in London.

The retail industry employs 21% of the UK working population  and contributes 11% of the UK’s GDP [1]. Moreover, those not directly employed are all customer 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. However 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 (see sidebar) 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 Kingfisher, we had employee engagement as a major KPI.
We used the Gallup Q12  scoring [2]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 find 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’ confidence; and creating the right culture of openness and support.

Firstly, using a mapping tool will give you a version of an engagement index specifically focused on mental wellbeing. Business in the Community and others have developed a free, online toolset (see sidebar). This data will allow retailers to target efforts 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 confidence 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 future.

Thirdly, 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.

InternetRetailing will be covering the topic of mental health and sustained performance as part of our Peoplethem at Our thanks to Sir Ian Cheshire for this conversation and you can hear more at his keynote on 9 October, 2018 at the inaugural MadWorldForum Summit in London. Please visit

[1]House of Commons Briefing Paper 06186, 21 March 2018: “The retail industry: statistics and policy”, Chris Rhodes & Philip Brien

[2]Gallup’s Q12 survey - employee engagement tools.







Interview with Ian Jindal, published in InternetRetailing Magazine, July 2018, previewing Sir Ian’s keynote at the inaugural MadWorldForum Summit on 9 October, 2018 in London.

Sir Ian has a storied career in retail and business, and is currently the Government Lead Non-Executive, working with Secretaries of State (in the UK Government’s Cabinet) to improve governance across Whitehall. This is in addition to his roles as Chairman of Barclays UK and a non-executive director at Whitbread. He is currently chairman of Debenhams PLC and was Group CEO of Kingfisher (having been CEO of B&Q immediately prior to that) and he served as Chairman of the British Retail Consortium. Sir Ian chairs the board of Heads Together and is President of the Business Disability Forum President’s Group. Previously he was Chairman of the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change. Sir Ian was knighted in 2014 for services to business, sustainability and the environment.

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