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Insight: pushing mental health and wellbeing up the business agenda

Employers cannot be deemed responsible or regarded as running sustainable organisations if they do not look after their employees in ways that go beyond simply implementing health and safety guidelines.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Insight: pushing mental health and wellbeing up the business agenda

Insight: pushing mental health and wellbeing up the business agenda

Dr Shaun Davis, global director of safety, health, wellbeing & sustainability at Royal Mail Group, is a big advocate of looking after the 142,000 people who work at Royal Mail Group. This increases by 20,000 when the group takes on temporary workers for Christmas.

His role encompasses looking after their mental health and wellbeing as being part of an overall HR function. “We need to look after people, because we basically cannot run this company without people. There’s also a business and moral aspect to it,” he says, adding that his responsibility for health & safety has highlighted to him that “health has been under-represented” in this pairing.

No longer just about focusing on safety

The focus in companies has generally been around operational safety. For Royal Mail this includes muscular skeletal problems and accidents as well as dog attacks (2471 in 2016-17).

“As a profession health & safety has been 95% about safety and only 5% about health (including well-being). But it has come more to the fore recently. We’re certainly active in the mental health space,” says Dr Davis.

His own efforts at Royal Mail Group have been boosted recently by the publicity mental health has gained from the Princes William and Harry who are also vocal on the subject.

 “The mental health piece has been a slow-burn but with the young Royals [speaking about it] it has really ramped up. The interest in the last three years has meant it has rocketed up the agenda,” he says.

This publicity has been largely good but Dr Davis says he has some reservations about people potentially taking the illness too lightly.

In 2015, he gained his doctorate in ‘Coaching, Wellbeing and Organisational Culture’ with his thesis exploring the role of the line manager in terms of their line management and coaching approach and its ultimate impact on the wellbeing of the people reporting to them.

The conclusions he drew are reflected in his health & wellbeing programme – ‘Feeling First Class’. This incorporates a number of initiatives including: First Class Support, an employee assistance line; First Class Mental Health, a series of online learning programmes and a mental health ambassadors programme; and First Class Lifestyle, which promotes heath through a healthy mind, healthy body approach.

Mental health covers a broad spectrum 

Dr Davis takes the view that his role involves considering the whole person - across all aspects of health: mental, social, and physical. This takes in a broad spread such as diet, hydration, exercise and sleep. The latter he suggests is the “next big thing” in mental health and that technology is playing a part in this as it drives a faster pace of life with a 24/7 nature.

He cites home delivery of online orders as indicative of how consumers’ expectations have changed. Initially people were fine with waiting a week for a delivery and then Amazon brought in three-day delivery and now people can receive their online orders in less than an hour.

“Expectations of customers today are massive. Everyone needs an immediate response and the need for people to respond [this way] is compromising sleep. Fitbits and gamification can play a part in the solution but it depends how the technology is used,” believes Dr Davis.

Direct link to service

The direct link between mental health issues in the retail workplace – whether from sleep issues or otherwise – and poor service are obvious, according to Dr Davis, who says the fact  that employees in retailers often deal directly with customers requires the image that they convey to be wholly positive.

But this will not happen if the employees have problems. “I was in a shop recently and the woman [manager] behind the counter was stressed. I could see she was struggling with a few things and was crotchety with her staff and the customers. This reflects badly on the organisation. The wellbeing of a retailer’s employees reflects on the brand.”

Recognition of this link is driving some traction in the industry. But there are inevitably challenges when embracing mental health agendas. At Royal Mail ,Dr Davis says there is great interest in the First Class series of initiatives but the issue is “getting the message out to peripatetic workers” since many of Royal Mail’s people are out on the road including those working in delivery.

To address this Royal Mail uses a number of channels to reach this important audience including: Plasma screen that relay messages at fixed locations 24 hours a day; an internal newspaper, the Courier; the employee and manager intranet sites; and the traditional WTLL (Work Time Listening and Learning) sessions. 

Meeting the challenges

For companies moving down the path of addressing mental health and wellbeing Dr Davis says it is “not for the faint-hearted and you have to be tenacious”. To promote it through an organisation is hard because, even though society is more comfortable talking about it, the fact is the delivery needs to be undertaken in different ways to individual people – it could be pushing a message or responding to a pull.

He refutes any suggestion that working for a large organisation, like Royal Mail Group, makes it easier to implement programmes around mental health issues because the resources will be typically available. Quite the contrary in fact, he suggests: “With smaller organisations you can get your arms around it. If I want to do something I need to prepare and it’s a long lead time. With a smaller company you can see the effect in weeks and you also know the individual people. In Royal Mail Group it can take years.”

For mental health to be embraced by more companies he says the approach should be to de-medicalise it and not see it in medical terms. “Bring it to life. Why would you not want your people to be at their peak performance? It’s a win/win situation. If you can have a positive influence on people at work then it will flow through. It’s good for business,” says Davis.

It’s the clever thing to do

There is also the factor of younger people being increasingly sensitive about the activities of employers - including health & safety, mental health, and sustainability etcetera - with the result that they are being more selective about who they want to work for. ”They check these things. It’s not just an employers’ market. The talent of the future will decide what’s important to them,” he says.

On a broader platform DrDavis says major retailers should also not underestimate the wider good they can potentially do through adopting progressive mental health and well-being programmes.

“Retailers have global influence. If I can have our organisation competent in mental health and our employees have a conversation with their friends and family then this impact on the wider community cannot be underestimated. This is the same for retailers, particularly large ones,” he suggests.

Working in HR and interested in issues surrounding mental health and wellbeing in the workplace? The Retail Bulletin will be holding a Mental Health and Wellbeing Workshop with Dr Shaun Davis on 6 March. Further details here.  

Further details here

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