Occupational health professionals and their HR colleagues need to work on their influencing skills and improve their ability to establish a strong case for investment if they are to get business leaders to take employee health and wellbeing seriously.
This was the main message from a panel discussion that took place at the MAD World Summit earlier this week, which aimed to equip HR and health and wellbeing professionals with the information needed to press for further investment in mental health support.
Dorothy Day, chief people officer at employee wellbeing and performance insight company GoodShape, warned that investment in people can often be slashed in times of spiralling costs – and there is an increased risk of this happening as the cost of living crisis continues and recession looms.
However, she said that business leaders needed to understand that cutting investment in health and wellbeing is a “false economy”, that will harm their reputation and customer experience and lead to resourcing shortages.
She said that employee health and wellbeing professionals need to arm themselves with the data needed to put forward a compelling case for investment.
“Finance is finite. Sometimes the intent from the C-suite can be positive, but sometimes the issue is knowing where to prioritise investment,” she said.
“We need to prove that what we want to invest in can actually have measurable impact on both operational performance and financial performance. Then, all of a sudden it starts to make more commercial sense [to business leaders].
“We need to reframe the way we influence… what we need to do is convince our well-intentioned but conflicted C-suite that investing in a wellbeing strategy actually isn’t about increasing overheads, but is about getting some measurable returns from that investment.”
She advised delegates to start with data that already exists in their organisation, such as sickness absence data, even if it’s incomplete.
“It might not be complete, it might not be fully accurate, but it will give you a picture [of what the impact of poor wellbeing is],” she said.
what we need to do is convince our well-intentioned but conflicted C-suite that investing in a wellbeing strategy actually isn’t about increasing overheads, but is about getting some measurable returns from that investment” – Dorothy Day, GoodShape
Paul Hendry, global vice president for health, safety and environment at engineering services company Jacobs, said that getting the CEO on board with his organisation’s mental health programme had been a “massive accelerator”, but this had taken time.
It launched its Mental Health Matters campaign in the UK in 2014, said Hendry, with just 12 people. Two months later, around 5% of its workforce of 7,000 had volunteered to be a mental health ‘champion’, showing clear demand for mental health support among its employees.
However, Hendry came up against numerous barriers when trying to launch the programme globally, particularly from the United States, where the company is headquartered.
He was eventually able to present data showing how it would benefit Jacobs to the CEO and CFO. Of particular influence, he said, was the fact that poor mental wellbeing was estimated to cost the organisation $80m (£71m) per year.
“It took me about three years to launch this globally,” said Hendry. “It’s important to have stamina. If something you’re passionate about is knocked back – think of another way you can tell that story.”
On World Mental Health Day on Monday (10 October), Jacobs attempted the “world’s biggest mental health check-in” with its workforce, by encouraging them to use its mental health check-in tool.