Mental health and wellbeing grow in stature

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester and President of the CIPD


Mental health and wellbeing is growing in stature as more and more organisations see it as a bottom line issue, in terms of sickness absence, presenteeism and solving the productivity puzzle.  There are many mindfulness programmes, resilience training approaches, mental health first aiders, etc, as organisations grapple with the how to deal with it. Yet, as this BiTC survey finds, 60% of employees report a mental health issue due to work, and whereas 84% of managers are now owning up to being responsible for mental wellbeing at work, only 24% have received any training in this area.  What is even worse, 15% of people who have reported their mental health issue to their line manager were either demoted, dismissed or disciplined—1% would be 1% too many!!

While arming individuals to deal with the excessive pressures of work (eg mindfulness, resilience training) are useful tools in the armoury, it is more important to tackle the heart of the problem, workplace cultures.  If we can create healthier workplaces by making sure we have socially and interpersonally trained line managers, where people who need and can work flexibly are allowed to, where the unsustainable long hours culture is eliminated, where technology is harnessed for the good and not overloading people and damaging their family life (eg emails), where people are managed by praise and reward and not fault-finding, and basically where people are made to feel valued and trusted—then we can prevent many of these problems. But if we persist at tackling the symptoms rather that the causes of lack of mental wellbeing, we will not achieve retaining employees, or enhancing their performance, or providing them with a quality of working life that will meet their needs and the productivity and survival of the organisation. 

As the social reformer John Ruskin wrote in 1851: In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it”.