Good mental health at work is good for business

November 20, 2019
Good mental health at work is good for business

At Mad World 2019, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD. We talked about good mental health in the workplace, and how too many business leaders fail to understand the actual importance of this. And so I decided to write up some of our conversation, in the hope that you might learn something new about the importance of good mental health at work.

Wellbeing is still seen as a fad

For some companies, wellbeing and mental health at work, is just the latest fad that they need to embrace, in order to keep up with the times and generate good PR. I talked about this during the Future Of People Conference 2019, and I talked about it again at Mad World with Peter Cheese.

“This is what worries me about so many things in the world of work” says Peter Cheese. “It’s very easy for the cynical business leaders to say: Here’s another fad. Let’s assign some person to be responsible for mental health at work, and they’ll just do whatever they need to do”

He explains that business leaders are under pressure to do lots of things. So in order to make a difference, we need to make an effort to confront the sceptical business leaders, and emphasise why this topic is important.

When making the case, remember that the bottom line of business is profit

It’s nice to imagine a world where businesses don’t need to worry about profits, and instead, they only focus on giving employees whatever they want. But this is unrealistic.

“The reality of business is you’ve got to make money” Peter tells me. “There are interesting debates about how much money a business should make, but you can’t run a business without making at least some money. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in.”

Peter therefore says that if you’re going to convince the sceptical business leaders that good mental health at work is important, then you need to bring it back to this bottom line. 

Wellbeing is intimately linked to your ability to make money

“You have to lose the image of wellbeing as a pink fluffy idea” Peter tells me. “Instead, you should be trying to show that it is intimately linked to your ability to make money.”

Peter says that demonstrating this comes down to evidence. He says that we have to find, and prove, the connection between good wellbeing, and strategic business outcomes.

“Some of the easier things you can link it to might be absence, sickness, retention, things like that” he says. “And some companies, like BP for example, are linking good wellbeing to things like safety outcomes. But the most fundamental link, is the link to productivity.”

Wellbeing can decide whether an employee will be productive or not

Peter says that when you feel you are being well supported at work, then you’re less likely to be stressed, more likely to work harder, and less likely to leave the company. And he says that there is a growing body of evidence to support this.

“The evidence tells us that good wellbeing is linked to productivity” he says. “And the work we do at the CIPD adds to this. For example, when we do surveys that look at what makes ‘good work’, we find wellbeing to be the dimension of good work that is the most important. And it has the biggest influence on whether a person is going to be productive, and whether a person is going to stay in the organisation.”

We know already that high turnover is expensive. So even if you don’t care about the wellbeing of your employees – although, you really shouldn’t be running a business if you don’t – then surely, anything that promises to increase productivity and reduce turnover, is worth considering.

The CIPD is working to spread the message of good mental health at work

Peter says that the CIPD is actively trying to support and promote better workplace wellbeing, and better mental health at work.

“At the CIPD, we are really trying to get the message out there” he says. “We’ve got guidance that we created in collaboration with the charity Mind, and we’re involved in the Thriving at Work Leadership Council. We are trying to be really connected to wherever these debates are happening, and channelling that back to our membership.”

Peter says he acknowledges that it isn’t easy. But he adds that the more HR practitioners get together and talk about stuff, and share their insights, the more businesses will be encouraged to make progress with promoting good wellbeing and good mental health at work.

About Peter Cheese

Peter is the CIPD’s Chief Executive. He writes and speaks widely on the development of HR, the future of work, and the key issues of leadership, culture and organisation, people and skills.

Peter joined the CIPD in 2012, prior to which he was Chairman of the Institute of Leadership and Management, and a member of the Council of City and Guilds.

You can follow Peter on Twitter @Cheese_Peter

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