The Role of Employers in Supporting their Employees’ Wellbeing

Hosted by

Mervyn Dinnen

Analyst, Author, Commentator & Influencer

About this episode

HR Means Business 6: What is the Role of Employers in Supporting their Employees’ Wellbeing

Host: Mervyn Dinnen

Guest: Marc Holl, Head of Primary Care at Nuffield Health

In this episode Mervyn Dinnen talks to March Holl, Head of Primary Care for Nuffield Health (the UK’s largest healthcare charity) about their latest Healthier Nation Index research.

They discuss:

– Mental health in the workplace and how to best support it

– Recognising when employees may need help

– Dealing with anxiety, stress and sleep loss in the face of economic uncertainty

– Menopause and the workplace


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Transcript follows:

Mervyn Dinnen 0:15
Hello and welcome to the latest episode of the HR Means Business podcast. I’m your host, Mervyn Dinnen, and today we’re going to be talking about something which is quite important to me. And that is wellbeing and particularly wellbeing at work. If you listened to the launch episode, you’ll know that this is one of the areas I’m keen to explore over the next year or so that link between wellbeing, engagement, productivity, and how we support our people. And I was delighted to recently get involved with some research from with Nuffield Health, the UKs largest health care charity around how health and well being in the workplace. And so I’m delighted today to be able to speak to Marc Holl from Nuffield Health. Marc, would you like to introduce yourself?

Marc Holl 1:05
Yeah, good morning, Mervyn. And I hope everyone is well. So I’m Marc Holl from Nuffield Health, as you said, the UK the nation’s I guess, the largest health care charity. My role particularly is head of primary care. And what primary care means in the UK is clinical services outside of hospitals. Now, Nuffield Health have got 37 hospitals, over 114 fitness and wellbeing centers, and a number of health care and corporate clinics. My responsibilities is looking after those primary care services of cost of those centers. And that includes things like mental health services, physiotherapy, physiology, private GP, and our rehabilitation services that does happen outside of work in the community and at home.

Mervyn Dinnen 2:02
Okay, that’s a fairly broad reach there. What How did you do the research? And I suppose interesting, why did you do the research?

Marc Holl 2:12
Good question. So we call our research a healthy nation index. And the healthy nation index is Nuffield Health’s own barometer of the State of the Nation. This is our second year doing it. And it’s actually been our first year of capturing the feelings and emotions of people in the workplace as well as those at home. So the key findings was interesting this year, because we were able to undertake the survey of just over 8000 people asking about their physical fitness, their well being their lifestyle, both in their private life as well as at work in the in their corporate organizations, I guess.

Mervyn Dinnen 2:56
Okay, and I suppose the first question is, what was the top findings? I suppose if you want to, because some of it was personal as well, you were asking them maybe split them between health and well being in the workplace, and then in their personal personal lives?

Marc Holl 3:11
Yeah, definitely. So I mean, the health nation index really highlighted the number one concern amongst us all, which is our mental health. For a few years now, we’ve been talking about the concern of mental health, both in our personal lives and social lives and our work. But the pandemic and lockdown new ways of working is really what mental health in the workplace at the forefront of our minds, and our data, the healthy nation index data, as well as other independent data that’s out there across different organizations are really signposting to the men number one concern being our own mental health. So if I take some of the kinds of key findings, which our data suggests, that shows two thirds of employees are uncomfortable about talking about mental health in the workplace, so we appear to be reducing the, I guess, the stigma in some ways, we are talking about mental health more than ever, both in the general population and the workplace.

Marc Holl 4:25
But still, the data from this year is showing that one in three still find it difficult talking about that with their managers with their organizations. So that was one of the top findings for us. And in essence, what what also came about from the data is that one in three, also showing that their organizations are not providing any mental or physical support for them in the workplace. So there’s lots of organizations that are attempting to put on how of the ways of working provision for health services. But yes, one in three are still without any type of provision in the workplace here.

Mervyn Dinnen 5:12
Okay, I suppose the mental health finding I know was one of the ones that I picked up on. And the fact that we so many people feel that they can’t raise this, it’s something almost two thirds said that if their mental health was bad, and they wanted a day, you know, they didn’t feel they could work that day, they would make another excuse there either another health thing, or just make an excuse about not being available to work, rather than raise this with managers. And that’s that it’s quite a myriad of reasons. They’re worried about getting judged. They’re worried about how they might be perceived. Whether or not it’ll reflect on other things they do. I mean, what did you find anything out about about how possibly I suppose I’m thinking, how can we do things within organizations to alleviate that, to enable people to open up effectively?

Marc Holl 6:08
Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, the number one message that we should all talk about it. First and foremost, you know, there are still people who are reluctant to talk about it. And the data is still showing, quite rightly that, to your point that people would rather say they had another health condition as opposed to raise their mental health as their cause or their absence taken a couple of days off, or maybe even longer. If you talk if we talk about our general fitness and health as a whole, you know, if we’ve got a cough, cold sore throats, bad back, we’d be the first to say, you know, I’m unable to join that core today. Because my throat is sore, I’ve got tonsillitis, you know, you happily talk about it. Or if you’ve got a bad back, you know, or rugby injury or cycling injury, you’d happily promote almost, you’ve got an injury because it, it suggests that you’re active and your physical, you’ve got back pain, or I’m having physio as well, it all sounds quite engaging, and almost quite beneficial to promote that.

Marc Holl 7:18
But when it comes to mental health, you will not, in most cases, have people open up and say I’m going to take a few days off, or I’m unable to join those big important meetings next week, because I am just feeling overwhelmed. Those discussions just don’t take place. And certainly to the point I made about people promoting themselves going to see a physio or poppin off to see their GP, people are less likely to talk about going to get emotional wellbeing or mental health support from a counselor or CBT. Therapist, for example. So the reasons for that, you know, on the spectrum of people being anxious about the stigma of poor mental health, people are worried about what it might mean will it will it suggest that they are weaker in the organization. And bringing that to a real life situation away from my professional background, I’ve had a couple of friends and mates whom have struggled, and they’ve spoken to me because of my professional background and asked me for advice, as well as being a friend. And when I’ve asked them about talking to their managers in their workplace, they have both said they spoke honestly about why they’re off work, which is great.

Marc Holl 8:41
But there as a side effect of that they really are now quite anxious about the impact it might have on future promotions in the workplace, the the feelings that they might not get the opportunity that they used to have from different senior leaders about partaking in projects, or partaking in presentations or live events, etc, because of what they’ve told them about their mental health. So it is definitely that portrayal of I’m a weaker person because I’ve had some time off or have struggled with my mental health. However, you know, going back to my example, if they had a short term episode of tonsillitis or low back pain or a hamstring injury, that they wouldn’t be having that same thought they wouldn’t be can’t attend that workshop or that project because I’ve got a leg injury or back injury. And what we need to do is try to normalize, you know, mental health is health. Doesn’t matter whether it’s physical or mental.

Mervyn Dinnen 9:44
Yeah, it’s almost with with physical injuries and people you’ve got viruses and stuff, it’s there clearly. It is a reason why they cannot be at work if they are working obviously in an office or a prime location. But mental health is possibly to some not seen as a reason to be not working. And possibly, as we enter the, you know, possibly an increased era of remote and flexible working, it’s almost a case of, well, you know, you can work from home, I know when I’ve been ill in the past, and it’s a physical virus thing, I can do some work from home. But mental health is almost like, well, it doesn’t make any difference whether come to the office or not, I just need some time to myself, for whatever reason. And I mean, is that something that companies you think should be more alert?

Marc Holl 10:39
Yeah, no, I think so. And if we want to go down the sort of channel of hybrid working and remote working, you know, we’ve we’ve seen that it really can benefit us from a mental health perspective, there are definite more flexible ways of work in reducing the burden of driving to work or commuting via public transport to and from the office, finding a car park space close to your office, getting back to feed the children pick up the children’s school vans, all of that, that adds to our daily stress can be somewhat reduced somewhat through flexible working or home working, depending on how we define that. But in essence, it can also contribute towards an increase in stress and poor mental health. Because of things like the always on culture, your laptop is always on your dining room table or in your office available, you know, until the late evening in the day, you hear a team’s call coming in on your laptop or phone maybe that if you were you know, in a traditional office setting, you would clock off and, and go home and not have that always on.

Marc Holl 11:52
So there really is that diversity and that, that impact on mental health in different ways. And when it therefore, when it comes to having that flexibility to for organizations, I think about how people could take a few days off at home, but still work even with poor mental health, or an acute episode of mental health, for example, it’s really important for managers and organizations to understand the cause of that particular episode or that the struggles that the employees going through. And if that is around a project or a particular work event that may be causing somebody to be suffering, it’s important to recognize that and it doesn’t matter if they’re in the office, or working from home, that stress or that strain is, is not going to be any different if they’re working on that particular project at home or at work in the office. So you know, the other shout out and the call out here is to not just be open about mental health in the workplace. But you know, if the employer is willing to talk about what is causing it, is it a home life, social life work life? Is it a particular project at work that’s causing them to have that increase anxiety or stress? To find out why? Because there might be some short term resolution by more flexible working reduced hours or even providing that individual a bit more support on a particular work topic, for example?

Mervyn Dinnen 13:21
Okay. Obviously, you did research beyond mental health, I personally think it is an issue, or it is a topic that we don’t pay enough attention to mental health at work and will be very important over the next few years. Certainly, as we settle into whatever the post COVID working world is plus time of recession and economic hardship, which we will come to a little bit later. You also had other health data around kind of fitness, cholesterol, BMI. What What were the signals you were getting from from that?

Marc Holl 14:00
Yeah, no, good question and around our general physical activity that came from the healthy nation index. And you know, we I’ll just list out a few statistics here that we’ve got over just over a quarter. So 27% of the UK adults are motivated to exercise to increase their mental health and improve their mental health, which is, which is great. 11% of adults say their mental health has got worse, but he’s willing to do something about it. We’ve got 60% Say that lack of motivation is is a barrier to them exercising to get started. So you know, half the population are telling us they would like to exercise, but they just can’t get motivated for example. And interestingly 15% admit to having done no exercise in the previous 12 months to the survey which is staggering, really, because we define exercise not necessarily as gym classes, or you know, running, but that includes any type of physical activity that causes somebody to get out of breath. Whether that is you know, walking, gardening, you know, vigorous housework, walking up and down stairs, for example, you know, quite a few things on there. But when we overlay some of our clinical data that we’ve got, so at Nuffield health, we undertake health assessments on people across the UK, particularly in the workplace.

Marc Holl 15:37
So some of the data around our BMI and cholesterol is really interesting, actually, we done a deep dive on the data that compared our 2021 data. So last year’s data, immediately post pandemic to the year before the pandemic, so 2019. And we’re finding that, that things like their fitness had decreased. So the amount of fit people in sort of the terminology, their physical fitness had got worse since before the pandemic. But things like cholesterol had improved. cardiovascular risk had improved. And significantly, an improvement was seen in BMI and resilience, mental resilience as well. So there’s absolute mix mash of clinical data out there that are showing that in some cases, we are fitter, we are healthier out there, in the general public and in the corporate organizations, but also some data that showing we are still somewhat struggling. And when we look at the resilience component of our health assessments, we we look at how mental resilient they are. So despite the data showing that our mental health, the poor mental health is on the up, the resilience to that, of course, certain population does improve to be improving.

Mervyn Dinnen 17:05
Okay. The, I suppose it’s interesting that there is I suppose this this this difference between people doing more exercise and people doing none. And some of that might be, I suppose, a spillover from the last couple of years. But again, the, I suppose one of the questions that comes to mind always is is, what is the role of the employer? So, you know, are they because if you keep too much tabs on this, you know, people want to live their lives, they want the flexibility and freedom, they don’t want their employer telling them, You should do more exercise or this than the other. So what I suppose one of the themes that I’ve been wondering, since I saw the research was, what’s the input? What are the what what can an employee or somebody’s manager or somebody’s director, or even teammates supervisor, do to encourage somebody I know, they’ve decided they’re not gonna do anything about it? There’s a lot you can do. But obviously, your fitness and health affects performance at work, as well as personal personal life. So I mean, have you got any ideas where how this could possibly be encouraged and raised?

Marc Holl 18:21
Yeah, I mean, it’s really important, first and foremost, to raise to jump on that point you made around, you know, the evidence around the productivity because there was a staggering amount of evidence out there and data that shows that a fitter healthier, both physically and mentally healthier, employees are more productive, and are able to perform better in the workplace, no matter what their job or career is. So it’s really important that when we consider about the approaches organizations can take to promote that it will have a positive return on investment from a productivity perspective. So keep that in mind when we’re talking about what organizations can do. First and foremost, organizations owe it to employees to attempt to promote the benefits and the positivity of activity and exercise in the workplace. So purely, you know, whether it’s a dedicated team or in most cases, it tends to be an individual that’s often tagged on to health and safety. So you might have somebody in an organization or workplace who is responsible for health safety, well being and often Environment and Sustainability is tacked on to that as well. But definitely, you know, have somebody or a team that are looking at strategies of how to improve the health and well being of their employees is important.

Marc Holl 19:43
And there’s definite return on investment of having that individual or that team because they are able to come up with initiatives that is focused on their employees based on their industry based on their activities that they do at work and their employee demographic Fix. So that definitely helps. As far as what they can do, they raising that awareness of, you know, promoting positive health in the workplace where organizations can, you know, provide that functionality or facilities for health and wellbeing services. So some organizations will fund things like physiotherapy, counseling, CBT, health screening, health assessments, private GP, of course they can, and many organizations do, but others can simply adopt good habits by promoting things like focus time in the workplace, or having focused time on diary where you’re promoting people to get out for a walk during the day, you are promoting people to take the stairs instead of elevators in the workplace, you are promoting things like workplace walks, where teams can go out and have meetings while walking, for example, you could have wellness days, many organizations, including my organization, Nuffield Health, we have this year, we have two wellbeing days, and we’re promoted to take those days for ourself to do something healthy.

Marc Holl 21:14
On ourself, whether it is a walk or bike ride, or a day our spa or gym, for example. There are initiatives that can be quite affordable, but will go a long way to the employees recognizing that an organization is taking the time and thinking about their health and well being. For organizations that have got facilities that I talked about previously, or whatever they might have. Things like employee assistance programs are a cost effective way of providing some support. However, uptake of those types of services for mental health services or mental health support should I say, is very low. Unfortunately, too often having a dedicated mental health service is proactive in supporting the employees. But what organizations need to do is consider how they promote those services, because things have changed. You know, there used to be a time of having posters on the back of toilet doors, in locker rooms on notice boards. But now with people coming into the workplace for particular meetings, or working from home or, you know, having different ways of delivering their, their work, people, organizations need to consider how they promote what is available to employees, whether that is through screen savers mail merges out to them or to their employees, or having ambassadors or champions across the organization where they can promote what is available to them. The key thing that we’ve highlighted from the beginning of this podcast has been around the mental health. And one of the key things that employers should consider is really, you know, what, what they can provide employees at time of crisis. And in the last four or five, six years, mental health champions or mental health first aid, as a known over here is proven very popular way of training and upskilling ordinary employees to be trained how to manage a crisis, how to manage an individual who has come to them about their mental health and how to signpost to services, whether that is internal to an organization, or external through, you know, health care, health care, public health care services, or charities, for example. So again, that is another way an organization can really respond to some of the data that we’re seeing.

Mervyn Dinnen 23:46
Okay, we’re coming towards a close. But this is a topic which kind of lends itself to, I think, a much longer discussion and debate. So maybe I’ll have you back on the podcast at some stage, I suppose. Two things I wanted to raise. One of the things that are one of the findings, rather, that your research showed was to do with women and the menopause, and a lack of support or lack of knowledge or lack of, I suppose help for women who are going through the menopause and understanding and I suppose the other one, I don’t need to put them both together. But I suppose it’s the two points I’d like you, you know, before we we wrap up to look at is with the current economic situation, worsening? One of the things that as well, you found in research which unsurprisingly, you know, levels of anxiety and stress were rising. But sleep was worsening. It was quite noticeable how, how worse people were saying their sleep was whether it’s the quality of the sleep or the length of time they’re able to sleep without kind of waking up and kind of tossing and turning as Tough. So if I could, I suppose, use those two and say, you know, your your observations on those?

Marc Holl 25:07
If I start with the sleep, I mean, the data that we found was 74% of UK adults reported a decline in their quality of sleep in the 12 months leading up to the survey. And I think one of one in 10, people reported that they were getting only between two and four hours asleep. Which is, which is unreal. You know, it’s unbelievable, really, because that amount of quality sleep, or not necessary quality sleep, that amount of sleep, is really going to burden their general health and well being and productivity in the workplace, as we talked about. So that it’s staggering, really. And I think what has led to that poor quality or particular reduction in the amount of hours is probably directly an influence of stress, worry and anxiety, I’m trying to think of when I personally struggle with my sleep. Number one was being a new father, you know, having a newborn child in the house, where the you know, you are limited to a couple of hours sleep is number one, but the other occasion is wherever there is stress, anxiety or worry, you know, it’s whether that stress is low levels, such as I need to get up to catch an airplane or train to my you never have good quality sleep, your mind is always on that thing that is burdening you. And that might just be one night, every now and again. But if you are struggling with something in your life, whether that is at work at home, family member, whatever that might be, imagine having that type of broken sleep day in day out, because you are constantly worrying about something, not just that one off, you know, needing to get up in the morning that stress, that anxiety is sitting with you that is directly going to be correlated with poor quality sleep.

Marc Holl 27:07
So a real investment in people’s mindset of how they focus on sleep, there’s been an increase in the use of meditation, mindfulness before sleep, to try and switch off both mind and body. Thinking about how you use technology in the bedroom. So you know, switching off mobile phones, iPads, tablets, etc, before going to bed is something people need to consider the type of aesthetics in the bedroom, you know, making sure dark colors, blinds or curtains to really consider the natural sleep rhythm that we have to get into in order to have good quality sleep. But in essence, you know, what most people should be focusing on is getting a good six to eight hours a night’s sleep. And what works for some people might not work for others. But considering techniques of of how to facilitate that before going to bed is going to be really important. And then the second point you made around menopause. You know, menopause is a huge, huge subject at the moment. There is lots of media and press articles out there around menopause, which is an absolute important topic. It’s something that has not been addressed, and has not had the subject of focus for enough leading up to sort of present day really, and it is really important that in the workplace organizations consider the impact of menopause has on their workforce. When the time comes, and it’s around, you know, if we talk about flexible working, you know, it’s it’s considering everything available to an employee, if they were going through any other sort of life changing episode, it’s having that same flexibility for those episodes, as you should do for menopause. You know, we’ve now seen organizations high street shops that are bringing out clothing range from menopause, the attention it’s getting it is fantastic. And absolutely, it should have been there before now. So there is definitely things to be done in the workplace to support individuals going through menopause. Definitely.

Mervyn Dinnen 29:29
Thank you Marc, a very illuminating interesting, and I think quite a few good insights and advice there. Really enjoyed chatting to you, the healthy nation index is available and for for people to access. And I think it’s time to pause and reflect particularly through I suppose the more difficult times we might be going through how organizations can support their people, which I think is going to be a big topic over the next two or three years. So Thank you for your time and I look forward to catching up with you again.

Marc Holl 30:04
Thank you Mervyn. Appreciate it.

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