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Personalising mental health and wellbeing: HR’s biggest challenge yet?

Part two: Cary’s Top 3 tips for embracing personalisation to get workplace mental health and wellbeing right

I’ve spent much of my working life thinking about the challenge here, for organisations in particular. I’ve been asked many times over the years for the top 3 things I’d recommend organisations focus on to get mental health and wellbeing right.

Of course, the context changes over time but there are some elements that never change:

1. You need a ‘living’ strategy to guide your efforts

The first challenge is putting together a mental health and wellbeing strategy in the first place… the second is making sure it’s not confined to a filing cabinet!

Of course, creating a strategy requires leadership and vision, but it’s just as much about involving the right people. I, and the guys at my University Spin-off Robertson Cooper, always advise businesses to ground their strategy in an objective assessment of where it is with health and wellbeing right now.

Know your starting point and understand the distance you have to travel to achieve your vision. If you know that, you can plan for the journey and apply the right resources. In addition, you can, and should, build longevity into your mental health and wellbeing strategy by ensuring it’s connected to and aligned with your overall business strategy. When businesses get this right each helps to bring the other to life and you have the best chance of making health and wellbeing embedded culturally.

2. Turning strategy into reality

At some point, the strategy has to come off the page and start to flow into the business. There are a million ways you can choose to do that depending on your goals and context, but some principles are universal. Keep it personal and authentic: there’s nothing more likely to turn employees off than the feeling that your approach is generic and tick-box… they will smell it a million miles away. This is about the communication style you use, as well as the support services you offer your employees. The voice of senior management, preferably the CEO, should be heard on a regular basis. Authenticity is everything.

The other key point here concerns infrastructure (physical, mobile, comms) and roles. If you want your strategy to come to life, it needs the right people in the right roles in the right locations with the right skills to make that happen. So for example, do you have mental health and wellbeing champions who are all trained to the same level and have complete role clarity? Mental Health First Aiders too? Plus line managers who accept their role and have the skills and confidence to perform it (more on that below)? No matter how much you invest in technology, it can’t be personal unless you have people who will make it feel genuinely personal.

All of this should be supported by a programme of activity and events designed to keep mental health and wellbeing on the agenda and signpost employees to the support they need. Again, communications are crucial – so make sure your internal Comms guys are part of your mental health and wellbeing team.

3. Build Capability

Any wellbeing strategy or approach should have at its heart a focus on capability build. Most businesses are in a ‘let’s just do stuff’ phase when they start on their mental health and wellbeing journey, but that only gets you so far. It’s only when you start to base your approach on a long-term capability build across employee, people manager and the overall business (process, support services, measurement, KPIs) levels that you can start to make real progress.

If you take People Managers as an example, they are absolutely key to ensuring the success of any approach to mental health and wellbeing you might roll out. Every employee has a manager who looks to her/him for the basic building blocks of wellbeing – a sense of purpose and experiencing positive emotions every day.

The problem is that most people managers do not have the motivation, skills or confidence to take on this critical role. In my experience, most are overloaded already and are very likely to see mental health and wellbeing as bolt-on at best, and at worst something that’s rife with risk for him/her personally.

“So the message for employers is clear: invest in your people managers, give them what they need to look after the mental health and wellbeing of your employees. You can’t do it without them!”

I’ll sign off by saying this:

Mental health and wellbeing has always been important but now, more than ever, there is an opportunity to make it, and keep it, as much a part of the national workplace conversation as the weather.

We all have that responsibility – whether you’re an old Professor like me, a CEO, a line manager, a contractor or a front-line employee. Ask yourself, what can I do today to improve my own mental health and wellbeing? And what can I do to improve that of my friends, family and colleagues?

Then do it!


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