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The 6th annual MAD World Summit

After months of eager anticipation, the annual MAD World Summit came to life in person on October 12th in the heart of Central London. The event was a resounding success, with 970 attendees exploring inclusive workplace culture, mental health, and wellbeing content and solutions. With a diverse array of over 140 speakers, the summit proved to be a remarkable meeting of cross-sector employers in pursuit of insights and inspiration.

The MAD World Summit, renowned for its thought leadership in mental health and diversity, delivered a truly memorable experience this year. Attendees from various sectors came together to engage in conversations, share knowledge, and find solutions that promote a more inclusive and mentally healthy workplace.

One of the standout features of this year’s event was the inauguration of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Summit. This addition emphasised the growing significance of DE&I in today’s workplace landscape and provided a dedicated space for exploring the synergies between mental health, diversity, and workplace culture.

The MAD World Summit 2023 was a celebration of insights, inspiration, and collaboration, and it set the stage for positive change in the realm of employee mental health & wellbeing, diversity, and workplace culture. It’s an event that will leave a lasting impact on the way organisations approach these vital topics.

Download the report here

Key topics to be discussed:

  • What you need to know to invest wisely in workplace wellbeing
  • Wellbeing washing: – what it is, why it matters and how to overcome it
  • The future of work through the lens of workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing
  • Meeting the wellbeing needs of different working demographics in a hybrid world of work
  • Safeguarding the health of the nation – getting people back to work effectively
  • Creating a leadership playbook for a mentally-well organisation
  • Measurement of workplace wellbeing – using data to elevate your strategy

Next year, the MAD World Summit will take place on October 17th, 2024. If you are interested in participating.

Register your interest here

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Latest Make A Difference News

Make A Difference News

In the bustling heart of Manchester, Avison Young, a global commercial real estate company, commissioned a brand-new office space and tasked commercial plant designers, Benholm Group, to
help create a sustainable office which promotes wellbeing in the workplace.

The Brief:

The vision was clear: create a workspace that not only reflects Avison Young’s commitment to sustainability but also prioritises the well-being of its workforce. With BREEAM Excellent and SKA Gold certifications in mind, the task was to craft an environment that harmonised with nature while promoting collaboration and relaxation.

Chris Cheap, Managing Director, UK Regions, Avison Young explains: “Manchester has always been an important city for Avison Young, we’ve got deep roots here so when the opportunity to relocate came up we needed to think carefully about the environment we chose. We had to choose an environment where we created an experience for our people, gave us the platform to fulfil our potential and serve our clients”

The Solution:

The design seamlessly blends formal and informal working areas, providing a variety of spaces to cater to different work styles. From cosy breakout zones to spacious collaboration areas, every corner of the office encourages productivity and creativity. Over 160 real plants adorn the space, breathing life into the environment and reducing stress levels among employees.

Afton Montgomery, Associate Director of Building Consultancy at Avison Young, highlighted the intentional inclusion of greenery to support neurodivergent employees, acknowledging the positive impact it has on staff retention and attraction. The design aimed to create a hub where employees could relax, socialise, and work comfortably away from their desks, fostering a sense of community within the workplace.

He explained: “We included a lot of planting and greenery throughout the office because it’s shown to have a lot of benefits for staff wellbeing, it reduces stress and increases productivity by up to 15%. The ethos behind the design was to create a series of spaces where you can relax, it’s comfortable, you can socially interact with colleagues”.

The Results:

The efforts culminated in Avison Young’s offices being recognised as the best new build outside of central London. The company now boasts a workspace that is not only future-ready but also engaging and experiential. Fergus Lowry, Associate Director at Avison Young, praised the installation of an olive tree as a highlight of the project, emphasising the positive feedback received from employees since moving into the space.

About Benholm Group:

At Benholm Group, we understand the transformative power of biophilic design in corporate settings. With over 30 years of experience, we’ve helped numerous clients enhance their office spaces through the strategic incorporation of greenery. If you’re looking to create a workspace that inspires creativity, fosters well-being, and promotes sustainability, we’re here to help. Explore our portfolio of corporate projects or reach out to us to learn more about how we can transform your space into a vibrant oasis of productivity and positivity. Let’s bring the outdoors in and revolutionise your workplace experience today.

Visit Benholm Group at The Office event at The Watercooler on 23rd & 24th April at ExCel, London.

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Benholm enhance workplace wellbeing at Avison Young Manchester office

In October last year, Leesman, the organisation behind the Leesman Index – the world’s largest benchmark of employee workplace experience – published their seminal report: The Workplace Reset.

The report is a call to arms. A challenge to re-establish the ‘why’ of the workplace. What the office is ultimately there to achieve, and the essence of its supreme purpose.

It does not call for office attendance to be mandated or in any way contest the idea that greater autonomy for employees when it comes to their choice of work location is a good thing. As Leesman explain on their website: “We are merely fighting for recognition that workplaces must better understand the nature of the work that will be done there”.

Leesman’s latest research, “‘Power of Place’”, will be released in March. It answers two fundamental questions: why do organisations need an outstanding workplace and how do you create an outstanding experience for everyone?

Ahead of his appearance as a speaker at our sister event The Office in April, we spoke with Leesman’s founder and CEO, Tim Oldman, to get a taste of the thought-provoking tips he’ll be sharing for employers looking to create the best environment for their staff.

What trends have you noticed in the workplace recently?

What is absolutely clear is that there are very few people really using data and analytic information to drive better design outputs in the workplace. 


There are a number of reasons. 

The first one is that design, as a profession, is very intuitive. We pick a colour because we like it. 

Designers are pre-wired to innovate and change and almost every designer I’ve ever worked for wants to do design which benefits the user, but they’re actually very ignorant of the actual impact on these users.

The design industry is good at patting itself on the back for work they deem ‘outstanding’ but rarely does it speak to the user… the individual employee who is on £25K a year, working in a contact centre and saying ‘I don’t care what it looks like, it doesn’t work for me’. 

That’s why we wanted to really challenge how we design workplaces and ensure the ultimate user of the space tells us what they think of it, and whether it’s working for them in a number of different ways, including a wellbeing aspect and enabling them to feel more productive. It’s why as an organisation we are harnessing the value, insights and information we gather to create an index – based on over 1.3million employee responses – which creates a standard for measuring impact in a workplace, from poor to outstanding.

Can you give me any examples where a designer might deem a design outstanding, but when it doesn’t work for the end user?

It is easier to explain it the other way round, where clients are genuinely confused about why the employees think the workspaces are so good. 

On face value, they may look shabby or not quite fit for purpose, or like they should be refurbished. But the users working there are smashing it out of the park in terms of performance and productivity.

So what are the typical factors that might be helping them to ‘smash it’ in this situation? You mentioned a contact centre, for example?

Noise, for example. Noise is the biggest disruptor of employee productivity across all knowledge economy jobs; regardless of whether you’re a chief executive or starting out. 

Noise destroys productivity. And the modern office has forgotten that. So much so that I think that is one of the reasons for the tension between the home and office as a workspace now. 

The majority of people working from home now, after all, have a private space they use for work. And the one thing working from home gives almost everybody is amazing visual and amazing acoustic privacy. 

But the majority of modern offices only give amazing acoustic and visual privacy to the executive directors. So that’s a massive failure. 

What other new trends have you seen affect the modern office?

Work has become more complicated.

Many offices are talking about their refurbishments and how they are putting collaboration at the heart of them, with multiple open spaces for this. 

Are you saying you don’t think this is the right approach – putting collaboration at the heart of office design – based on your data?

I don’t think it’s the right thing for a lot of people. The modern workspace is a design challenge that has not yet been met. Yes, there is an intrinsic value in being together, and those spontaneous conversations where people can exchange ideas. But most people also need time and space for heads-down deep, concentrated work and, to an extent, they don’t want to be disturbed. So I think there’s this tension between knowledge transfer and knowledge sharing.

So how do we resolve that tension? Do you have any ideas?

What we tend to do in that respect is nudge people towards a sort of self discovery, because we are not consultants. But I suppose what we do is what you would call ‘active coaching’ where we want to encourage somebody towards a better outcome. 

One of the things that we might talk to a client about related to this issue is plan density. With an open plan design you can relax the density a bit so people are further apart. You can plan desks in clusters of four people, instead of six / eight / ten and that allows for more circulation space. 

Now, the CFO might not like that idea initially until you tell him/her that your people would be 20% more productive… especially if you put that in the context that your people are 80% more expensive than the floor space you are putting them on. A CFO that gets this said to a client recently “Please don’t try to save me any money, I can’t afford it” when they were planning their workplace design.

That probably sounds counterintuitive to many given the economy and the cost of living crisis. Most people and organisations are trying to cut costs. How do you get clients to do the opposite?

Every time a designer or engineer or project manager tries to save money, it costs the organisation somewhere.

What fundamentally needs to happen is the design industry, and the buyers of design services (ie. employers) need to get better at defining why they have a workplace. You wouldn’t believe how many clients do not know the answer. 

They might say ‘we want people to collaborate’. But what does collaboration look like for that company? 

This is where the design industry has been a bit narrow because the way a data engineer collaborates is not the way a lawyer collaborates or a web publisher collaborates. 

Also, saying you want a workplace for collaboration doesn’t define why you want a workplace adequately. If you were a hotelier, for example, a better answer would be ‘because I want to increase the amount of bed capacity in my portfolio’; then the client would look to build a workplace around solving that problem.

Other examples of workplace ‘missions’ could be to drive innovation and create value’ or to ‘give our employees a sense of oneness and wellbeing’. Then you want everyone working to this brief, from the facilities manager to the catering contractor.

Can you tell me more about a decision that ultimately saves an organisation by prioritising people over exploiting the floor space?

Yes. One bank might design its meeting room with less than 70 centimetres between the back of the chair and the wall, because that is compliant. You can just about squeeze a wheelchair through. That’s fine. But you’re sending your employees the message that you’re minimally compliant and doing the minimum possible for them. Another bank may give employees much more space, which makes them feel more valued.

The other quote that people are talking about now in relation to the workplace is ‘owning the commute’. So, rather than it being a drag that hinders their wellbeing, going to the office actually enhances it.

What we absolutely do see is that people are more tolerant of their commute, the better the quality of experience they get in the workplace. We’re also seeing people boost their social wellbeing by going to the workplace because they are tagging on social activity to their commute; they might meet a friend after work, or go to the theatre or have lunch with a colleague.

Tim Oldman will be speaking on Tuesday 23rd April at The Office Event. The packed free-to-attend education programme also includes input from a host of fantastic speakers from GSK, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and many more. You can find out more and register here.

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How workplaces can work better; a benchmark for better outcomes

Imagine being able to measure the wellbeing and productivity of your employees, by environment, so you could compare, say, the home and office environment…. That is exactly what ART Health solutions does.

We spoke to Ellie Caley, Senior Workplace and Wellbeing Consultant, who is an accredited business psychologist and who is presenting at The Office Event in April, to find out more….

What do you actually do at ART Health Solutions? 

ART delivers data insights to organisations to help them make better informed decisions relating to employee wellbeing and cognitive performance. Our experts utilise scientific tools to measure aspects of the workplace that significantly impact business performance and provide aggregated findings that highlight key risks and opportunities for change.

Using data processing technology, we magnify findings and recommend tangible actions. For example, we do a lot of research around the difference between people working from home and people working in the office and how that affects their wellbeing, happiness and cognitive performance. We work on projects that can measure, understand, and observe people’s behaviour over a period of time to address any pain points, or areas the organisation wants to improve, in terms of supporting their employees. 

What have you learnt about what workers want post pandemic? 

People want flexibility in the way they work and how they interact with colleagues. Industry research reveals a high percentage of workers are saying they wouldn’t now work for an employer if they didn’t offer this flexibility. 

What we do in terms of our research is help the employer understand the benefits and challenges that employees might be experiencing, looking specifically at productivity and performance. 

Recently for example, we have specifically explored the difference between face-to-face interactions versus virtual interactions at work, both the psychological impact and impact on cognitive performance to try and inform organisations where their employees work best. 

How do you measure employee behaviour? 

Using wearable technology, surveys and our own purpose-built app called Omics, we are able to collect measurable data and demonstrate real, long-term impact within workplaces. We’re able to measure cognitive performance using scientific tests as proxy measurements of productivity, cognitive performance and brain health, which includes things like decision making, reaction time, attention and working memory. We combine all this data with where an employee is working from that day to paint a bigger picture of their working environment. 

So you can measure how the environment is impacting wellbeing and cognitive functioning? 

Yes. We can look at physical elements such as noise, temperature and lighting as well as things like mood using Likert scale measures, in particular stress, happiness and desirability of the workspace. 

At ART, our team brings together knowledge from the forefront of human performance research, underpinned by an academic foundation, which blends hands-on experience and professional qualifications in areas like physiology, psychology and nutrition.

In addition, our innovation team uses their expertise in data science, to investigate AI and predictive modelling for stress which enables us to be uniquely positioned to translate cutting-edge scientific discoveries into practical, actionable strategies tailored for the workplace. 

From all this work you’ve done with clients so far can you share any general learnings about the biggest impacts of our environment on our wellbeing? 

Absolutely. Part of what I’ll be speaking about at The Office event is one of our projects with GSK, where we created a workspace to test different elements of workplace design and innovation to see how they impacted wellbeing and cognitive performance. 

One of the biggest learnings we’ve discovered is how a simple solution such as circadian lighting dramatically improves people’s cognitive performance and decision making. We’re also able to discover the optimal working temperatures, the impact of ergonomics and sit-stand desks and even how curved screens differ to single flat monitors in how they impact productivity. 

How does a client take your insights and use them, then? 

The insights help inform their workplace design and create standards that can be applied throughout the whole organisation. They can be used as evidence to support the implementation of those standards, and large-scale business decisions. 

The insights also help employees as individuals make better decisions for their wellbeing. At least three quarters of people who’ve participated in our projects have said that their wellbeing has improved as a result.  

What have you learnt about the home office compared to going into the office? 

Looking specifically from an accessibility and inclusion perspective, we ran a project to see how people’s workplace adjustment requirements were facilitated. People found that their accessibility requirements were more easily and readily met when working in the office environment, compared to their home set-up. 

Research has also shown that a big difference between working from home versus the office is the commute. There’s a recognition now that the office has to “earn the commute” by creating a better experience that is worth travelling in for. 

By contrast, people working from home do typically work longer hours than they might in the office – you can wake up at 7am and log straight onto your laptop, you’ll probably take less breaks, and have less social, spontaneous interactions too. 

Have you had any other interesting findings on the office environment? 

We completed a research project on microbreaks and asked people to work for a period of time and then take either an active break for 10-15 minutes, or a mindful or meditation break. Then we asked them to complete a cognitive task. What we found was that both types of breaks showed significant improvements in productivity and that time away from a screen helps us to refocus. 

But, in a way, it’s harder to take breaks at home because you don’t have so many natural breaks, when people come to your desk, etc? 

Absolutely. But, also, I’ve just been analysing some research around the reasons why people don’t take breaks in the office and over 60% said it was because of workload and back-to-back meetings. There are still challenges associated with hybrid work that mean work overload and virtual meetings can sometimes be a barrier for people practising healthy behaviours and taking regular breaks. 

What can people do to improve our culture around meetings? 

We build recommendations into our reports to support organisations in making positive change, for example one company has now mandated that people only book meetings for 20 minutes, leaving 10 minutes at the start or end for people to take breaks.  

We try to practise what we preach at ART and, for example if I see someone has back-to-back meetings, I’ll put a meeting in for 20 minutes instead of 30 now. We’re all guilty of having periods of time when we don’t move from our desk, but the role of our data is to show organisations the results in changing healthy behaviours so they can support their employees to improve their health and wellbeing. 

You’re a business psychologist so I’m going to ask you the million-dollar question – how do we get the behaviour change that we want? 

One key thing is habit formation. You can’t ask people to change overnight, but data insights can help encourage change. 

For example, we’re working with GSK as they prepare to move their global headquarters from Brentford in West London to Central London. For people who live near the current office and drive in every day, the commute will be a key change. So, we’ve been doing some research around ‘active’ commutes, where people incorporate exercise into their journey, whether that’s walking, cycling or running. 

We’ve found that people who actively commute cognitively perform better and feel less stressed. Again, we’re using this data to support interventions to inspire people to adopt these healthy behaviours into their day.  

We’re also combining this with other research out there, such as the University of Edinburgh’s study recently that showed a 15% increase in happiness among those who actively commute. 

You talked about companies ‘earning the commute’ – tell me more about creating an environment worth the time travelling to… 

There are many ways to create a great workplace experience and provide people with the autonomy over what supports their working style. This could be a range of food and beverage facilities, or gym and fitness facilities. At GSK’s new headquarters for example, there’s a whole floor dedicated to wellness, plus relaxed seating and outdoor terraces – different work settings for people to choose from. 

The world of work has changed and flexible working is here to stay, but the data is suggesting you can’t get the same social interactions, collaboration and opportunities at home, so again it’s about ‘balance’.  

Also, I guess there’s the need to balance our energy as some days in the office will be more energy-taking than others at home? 

Yes. Just like an athlete needs to recover the day after running a marathon, an employee may have used a lot of mental energy after a day of workshops and may need that recovery period too, as well as a good night’s sleep. They may benefit from working at home and not needing to have as many social interactions the next day.  

We’re all about the balance of the two; high performance and recovery. 

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The art of measuring the health and performance of your people

Often in organisations, recruitment, wellbeing and learning & development are separate departments. This is inevitable for companies of a certain size. What is crucial is that these departments work in harmony as matching pieces of the puzzle that form the workforce’s experience, which in turn determines retention and productivity. 

When it comes to employee wellbeing and talent retention, recruitment sets the tone as the first point of entry to a candidate’s journey in an organisation. It is in the recruitment process, that the potential employee starts developing an impression of what it would be like to work at the organisation, from the nature of the interview process, questions asked, to the dynamics of interactions which hint at company culture and values.

Back to Basics

Ultimately the purpose of recruitment is for the employer and employee to see if they are a match. But this end goal can easily get lost in the process. It is very easy for both sides (candidate and employer) to slide into a particular ‘character’ to fulfil the perceived expectation of the other. This can be an unconscious act but it can have detrimental consequences with varying degrees of severity, of which turnover cost is the simplest form. 

It’s crucial to go beyond the conventional processes and recruitment steps. Designing circumstances during the interview process can reveal any blind spots in evaluation. Equally important is for organisations to portray an authentic embodiment of their values and culture throughout the process.

An effective recruitment process aims to attract candidates that not only have the desired technical skills and qualifications but who also align with an employer’s company cultural values. When potential employees feel empowered to be transparent about their personality and capabilities, and how they will fit in with their colleagues and organisation’s ethos, they are more likely to be engaged at work and thrive. 

There is rarely ever a perfect match but it is vital to have clarity around key indicators and future success determinants for any particular role in an organisation, and ensure that the recruitment process is designed on a foundation of transparency and effective communication.

Entry interviews > Exit Interviews

Exit interviews can be a very useful source of information that can guide future HR decision making and processes. But, at the point of the exit interview, the damage is already done. The employee has already decided the employer is no longer a workplace match.

If organisations are looking to shift to prevention, effectively reducing their attrition rate, and retain their key talents, they must embrace the importance of ‘entry interviews’ and make that a key part of their onboarding process.

Retaining talent hinges upon having a deep understanding of their priorities. So long as benefits, rewards and wellbeing initiatives are dictated and decided by management, they won’t ‘hit the spot’. Even if they are based upon employee surveys, they are at best, based on averaged opinions.

The key term here is ‘Personalisation’ and touching base with the employees as they go through different stages and life events that redirect their priorities and evolving needs. 

Effective Internal Communications

The level of a person’s wellbeing may be informed by objective data but it is predominantly a subjective account of the person’s state. In other words it boils down to ‘how we feel’. In a work context, this is shaped by a variety of parameters such as how fulfilling we find our jobs, how aligned it is with our values, the level of challenge, and our interactions with colleagues and customers.

The role of the manager and direct reporting line(s) cannot be understated. Equally important is how the ‘different arms’ of human resources management including recruitment, learning & development, diversity & inclusion, and wellbeing, are interconnected, communicating amongst themselves and with the corresponding managers and teams. 

If you find that your attrition rate is high, one of the crucial areas that should be examined is your recruitment approach. How candidates are selected and how you ensure selected candidates are a close match to the job description, allocated teams, work arrangement and organisational culture, are the critical factors. 

About the author:

Dr Beeta Balali-Mood is a scientist (PhD, medicinal chemist) and the founder & director of Forvard, a workforce optimisation consultancy with a transdisciplinary approach to workforce health & productivity. Forvard partners with organisations to address the most pressing human capital obstacles in the workforce life-cycle, from recruitment to presenteeism, absenteeism & burnout. Beeta founded Forvard to bring cutting-edge scientific thinking to workplace wellbeing, enabling businesses to address workforce problems at their root cause.

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The pivotal role of recruitment in workforce retention and wellbeing

Despite the increased organisational focus on wellbeing, research highlights that ‘Job quality is in decline for many’ CIPD (2023) and ‘employee engagement at an all-time low’ Gallup (2023). Whilst initially lauded as an answer, recent research conducted by the University of Oxford (2023) also concluded that some solutions designed to address employee health are having little impact. 

Why is the wellbeing of our employees not improving despite the increased focus of efforts and budget and what is the piece of the puzzle that we are missing?

How have we got here?

Many of us are still working in post-pandemic, hurried work environments, continuing along the hybrid path, or finding ourselves in roles solely working remotely with no office to call ‘home.’

In this period of change one thing is true, the last four years have seen a huge shift in how our organisations operate. We are all dealing with new levels of complexity that we did not have pre-2020.

The adaption to the changing operating environment has caused much employee tension. Tension influenced by the increased use of technology, lack of face-to-face contact with others, impact of working with reduced definition between work and home, alongside record musculoskeletal problems, in part due to computer working.

Whilst the discussions of the pandemic may have quietened, the legacy, and its impact upon our employee health and wellbeing still ripples on. 

Back to basics

When is the last time you reviewed a job description or had an honest conversation about headcount for a department? A conversation not prompted by a restructure, downsize or due to the reacting to the urgent need to replace a leaver. The suggestion here, and possible missing piece of the wellbeing puzzle, is to use job design as a proactive business improvement tool for reducing employee stress, improving retention rates, and enhancing engagement within the workplace. 

To give our employees the best chance of achieving success – of feeling valued and motivated – we need to go back to basics. We need to review what success looks like for the roles we have within our organisations by using Job Design. This is key before we start to look (and pay) elsewhere for wellbeing solutions. 

Job design for Health and Wellbeing

Job design has moved on from the days of the industrial focus of Taylorism and is now, not just focused on the efficiencies of a role – it is an analysis of a broader range of factors that include job quality and fulfilment. It is more than focusing on what tasks are completed, but also includes the why and how too. 

If we go back to basics of designing job roles and analysing what, why and how the job needs to be done, we also start to factor in additional information that includes resources, levels of support, key relationships, and success measures. Essential elements that can create an opportunity to reduce the areas of tension an employee may feel, encourage a positive emotional and physical state for them and build productive working relationships within our organisation.

Where to start

Effective job design starts with enquiry, asking questions that enable the role to be justified and designed based upon business need. Here are three suggested questions to consider when conducting your job analysis:

  1. What does our organisation need from the role? 

The first question is the opportunity to map out the purpose of the role within the structure of the organisation and the responsibilities that it needs to fulfil. Roles and responsibilities may change over time with shifts due to product/service changes or business focus. Conversations and research here may involve others with the aim to provide clarity on the current needs of the role, from an honest perspective and not influenced by what the job description currently highlights. Considering the day-to-day duties and its essential links in fulfilling the business needs.

Sometimes it can be a challenge to think of a role objectively, especially if there are relationship dynamics internally, so it can be useful to reflect upon the situation if the role did not exist, what gaps would be left and how this would impact business operations. Considering the essential nature and urgency of the role can help to have a fresh perspective on responsibilities. 

Answers to this question can provide a ‘line of sight’ on the purpose within the structure of the organisation, It is worth highlighting further how key establishing a clear and up to date job description is as it also contributes to a broader impact through the various stages of the employee lifecycle that includes recruitment, retention and succession planning. 

  1. What resources are needed to get the job done? 

Once there is clarity on the job purpose and key tasks the next step is to identify the tools that are needed to ensure value and success to the job holder. Resources here can be tangible and intangible with the essential and desirable qualities relating to knowledge and skills quite often shown on a person specification document. It is best practice to provide insight into the range of resources that need to be in place for an individual to have the best possible chance of success within their role. 

Tangible – The physical tools required to fulfil a role here should be established. A big help here is to ask the current job holder what is needed. An example here and a big area of employee tension can be IT. Post pandemic we are more reliant on technology. A lack of skill and unreliable IT can cause much stress so to consider how we can ensure our employees have the necessary and supportive equipment and knowledge to achieve their responsibilities. Do not forget the importance of desks and computer chairs. Ill health due to poor posture can be a preventable and avoidable cost to the organisation (it also has an impact beyond the organisation as a cost to the NHS) 

Intangible – Areas to consider here that impact upon an employee’s wellbeing include the reduction in ambiguity of their responsibilities and sphere of decision making, clarity of the job purpose across the organisation and how it aligns to the overall structure. What vehicles are created for employees to share experiences, offer improvements and continuously improve openly and respectfully. These opportunities add to their own sense of value and purpose. It is important here to also clarity of measures of success for the role and how this contributes to a line-of-sight purpose that contributes to feelings of wellbeing. 

Ensuring our employees have the tools to do their job gives them the best chance of success and reduces areas of tension and conflict. A job description outlining how the organisation will support them to do their job and guidance on key relationships and success measures adds more value than one with a list of outdated tasks. 

  1. Are the expectations of the role sustainable?

Workplaces are busy, with reduced headcounts, increasingly global competitive markets and customer expectations that are ever changing this can cause daily challenges for our organisations. Establishing whether the level of job tasks currently required and can they be sustained over a long amount of time is important. There are constant reports of burnout, and organisations have a duty of care to mitigate the impact we may have on our employees as well as keeping that watchful eye on the financial bottom line. 

Consider the realistic levels of what good looks like in performance, including some capacity for stretch and development and how you would measure this is important to. Reflecting upon the long-term expectations of the job, beyond the current set up, and if these are not realistic considering the impact they may contribute to ill health. Job creep happens, expectations that were short term or part of employee good will can have impact upon performance and wellbeing if not addressed.

In a recent conversation it became known that a long-standing employee has been expected to take on additional responsibilities due to a member of the team going on maternity and tasks needing to be covered. At the end of the maternity cover the employee did not return and the long-standing employee absorbed those roles and responsibilities without any discussion or compensation. After a period working to the new expectations, it caused stress to the employee, and they started to feel that they were set up to fail in the role. They resigned, with the loss of 15 years’ worth of tacit knowledge at a job they used to enjoy. The cost to the organisation of recruitment and onboarding could have been avoided by proactively reviewing the job role and acknowledging the impact upon the employee rather than the need to seek their replacement. 

Next steps

Without the luxury of time and budget to start from scratch a practical approach is to prioritise roles based upon need. Organisational data that relates to absence, turnover and performance is key in enabling you to identify trends and areas of focus. For example, are there regular or high absence for any departments or roles, what are the most common causes of absence or are there any roles that are failing to achieve their targets? Answers here can help you to prioritise your efforts. 

It is worth noting we may not like the answer we get from conducting job analysis! Who is brave enough to ask for increased recruitment budget during our economic challenges if you discover the need for increased headcount? It is worth highlighting that short term costs can help to minimise the greater longer-term impact to the organisation of poor productivity and long-term absence. It is also worth considering the alternatives to headcount changes, there may be opportunities for tasks to be divided another way across the organisation or there may be expectations to measure the impact of the improved job clarity in more effective recruitment and retention practices. 

Reviewing the foundations of job design is an important exercise, and often forgotten step to identify solutions to our employee wellbeing. Sometimes we are too quick to outsource our wellbeing needs when we may have piece of the piece of the wellbeing puzzle within our control. Asking ‘Have we designed the job right?’ enables organisations the best chance of creating a positive and lasting impact upon on their employee’s health and wellbeing.

About the author:

With a corporate background gained in a range of sectors and recent work experience implementing a wellbeing accreditation programme delivered through the West Midlands Combined Authority and designed in conjunction with Health Education England, Davina Jenkins has a particular area of interest in identifying the opportunities to improve the employee lifecycle through wellbeing and empowering individuals to bring their whole self to work. Alongside her role at Falmouth University as a tutor for Wellbeing and Professional Development she also champions UK and international business leaders and HR practitioners to develop professionally through the CIPD HR qualifications for Reed Learning.

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Using job design as a tool for reducing employee stress, improving retention rates, and enhancing engagement within the workplace

On Tuesday [13 February 2024], the UK arm of The Body Shop collapsed into administration putting 2,000 jobs at risk.

The Bristol-founded business has changed ownership several times over the past few years. It was bought by L’Oreal in 2006, before changing hands again in 2017 when the French cosmetics giant sold it to Brazilian cosmetics maker Natura&Co for €1bn. Then was sold again to private investor Aurelius Group.

The natural beauty and skin care company has “faced an extended period of financial challenges under past owners, coinciding with a difficult trading environment for the wider retail sector,” according to business advisory firm FRP. A steep fall in turnover in 2022, from £487mn to £408mn, and a slow Christmas trading period was the final nail in the coffin.

Dealing with the impact

Commenting on news of The Body Shop’s demise, Chris Brook-Carter, chief executive at the Retail Trust – the charity caring for and protecting the lives of people working in retail, said:

“We’re very sorry to hear the news about the Body Shop and the impact this could have on the thousands of people who currently work there. 

“This kind of uncertainty only adds to the pressure many people in retail are already facing, which is being borne out by the numbers of workers and retailers reaching out to the Retail Trust for help right now.

“In the last year alone, we’ve received more than 11,000 calls to our wellbeing helpline, given out more than £600,000 in financial aid and worked with more than 200 retailers to help improve the wellbeing of their staff, as retail workers everywhere continue to be impacted by everything from job losses and the high cost-of-living to increased levels of abuse from members of the public.

“We know there will be many people out there with worries and concerns so we’d encourage anyone who thinks we can help to get in touch with the Retail Trust on 0808 801 0808.”

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The Body Shop administration: adds to pressure many in retail are facing

Reproductive health is a hot topic and with more than 500 people registering for our webinar on the topic, interest appears to be growing in how employers can support employees through fertility issues. 52% of attendees who took part in our webinar poll told us that more employees are starting to ask about fertility benefits at work. Furthermore, whilst 63% don’t currently have a fertility benefit in place, a whopping 92% said they were definitely, or maybe, going to invest in this in the next 12 to 24 months.

Here, Caroline Noublanche, CEO and Co-Founder of Apricity, who sponsored the webinar, elaborates on some of the far-ranging questions that were raised by the highly-engaged webinar audience. From what a fertility benefit is, to what causes infertility, to how to prepare managers to have conversations on this topic and how Apricity achieves its high success rates.

Q: Perhaps a very basic question….but when you talk about “fertility benefits” what does that mean/what would those benefits look like?

By fertility benefit, we mean financial support offered by an employer to support their employees through their fertility journey. Companies usually choose between going through their private medical insurance, using a flexible benefit system or opting for a cash allowance that they make available to employees, either every year or across their lifetime at the company. Companies can also opt to offer interest-free loans or cover costs themselves.

Employers may choose to pay for diagnostics only, or cover one or several treatments. 

Q: We currently offer 5 days fertility leave – is there anything else you feel would enhance this?

You can provide education and support for your employees on this matter. Ideally your company would also offer a fertility benefit that pays for the diagnosis and treatment of infertility issues, such as those offered by Apricity. Please visit our employee benefit page here to explore the options available.

Q: I think it’s important to talk about the barriers [to fertility] to get help such as weight, because that is one barrier that is causing issues for me in moving forward. Why is that?

For women, being overweight can cause problems at all stages of the fertility journey as it affects the ability to do ultrasound scans effectively, the embryology process, and ultimately the ability to get pregnant, due to hormone imbalances.

Obesity can also affect male fertility, also because of hormonal imbalance but also due to sexual dysfunction and diabetes. 

Being underweight (BMI under 18.5) can reduce a woman’s fertility by causing hormone imbalances that affect ovulation and the chance of getting pregnant.

Q: I would like to hear [more] about the main causes of infertility?

Around one in six people have difficulties conceiving, for many different reasons. The factors are age, macroenvironment factors and medical reasons. 

Male infertility issues (sperm count, motility, abnormality) contribute to one out of three couples who struggle with conception.

Women also face fertility challenges due to gynecological conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids, or PCOS, but also because of age or ovulation disorders. 

Then there can be multiple factors at play between the man and the woman, and then unknown reasons account for 15% of infertility problems. 

Companies can offer diagnostic testing for their employees, and can also cover the costs for some or all of the treatment their employees need to have a baby.

Q: Has any infertility cause been linked to working conditions/environment?

Jobs considered at risk, for instance in the chemical and manufacturing industries, military-related, hairdressing, driving, shift work, extreme heat, firefighting…may have implications for infertility.

While there are no direct links, stress at work can also contribute to higher blood pressure and rates of cortisol in the body, and can promote unhealthy habits such as eating unhealthily, drinking alcohol and smoking. Living a healthy lifestyle is proven to increase fertility for those without a medical condition that prevents them from conceiving naturally.

Apricity’s virtual fertility clinic model lowers stress and absenteeism by reducing the time off a person needs, compared to traditional clinics. They typically only need two in-person appointments compared to around ten. 

Q: [With virtual clinics] how would you complete scans?  

Ultrasound scans are conducted either by mobile sonographers that come to your home or office (London and M25), or you can visit one of the ultrasound facilities from our nation-wide network, or go to one of our partner clinics, whichever is most convenient.

Q: What are the success rates vs in person clinics?

Our success rates are 56% vs the 31% UK average. 

Q: Where are the eggs / sperm frozen?

They are frozen in the same facility that you have your procedure in.

Q: How has the Apricity approach delivered the 25% uplift in success over and above the average NHS rates?

Success rates are much better at Apricity thanks to medical adherence (mobile app), using data from 55,000 fertility cycles to personalise medical plans, less stress from the at-home experience, the choice of our partner clinics for the quality of their lab and the implementation of AI.

Q: Was the company you mentioned called Gaia?

Yes, we have a common offer Apricity x Gaia for corporates. This offer is an insurance offer, in which the employer pays for a coverage fee (tbd but in the range of £3k) and the employee pays the rest in installments only if successful: 

When the employee has a child, they will pay back their cycle costs with a flexible repayment plan, payable in affordable monthly installments. If they don’t have a child after 3 cycles, they don’t pay back anything. And if they decide to stop trying early, Gaia will discount their cycle costs. 

Q: I work in a male dominated business, and I cannot imagine how I can speak to my manager about fertility?

To download Fertility Matters at Work guides, including Preparing to talk to your workplace about fertility treatment, click here, scroll down the page until you see the form, sign up for free and you will get access to their whole resource library.

Q: As I understand it there’s no legal employment protection for employees going through fertility treatment (in the same way there is for pregnancy, for example). How can we encourage employees to feel safe disclosing that they’re considering or going through treatment in order to better support them?

You are protected under pregnancy legislation at the point of embryo transfer and also two weeks after a negative test, but there is no protection before that stage. FM@W are trying to change this and currently have a private members bill in parliament.

Q: A colleague who has recently gone through the fertility process commented that an embryo that doesn’t ‘take’ is essentially a miscarriage – and the loss is very real. How would you suggest approaching this and supporting the colleagues?

Fertility treatment can be an extremely stressful process. In fact, 50% of people find IVF as or more stressful than the bereavement of a close loved one. 

For this reason, we offer counseling sessions with BICA-accredited fertility counselors. Unlimited sessions are included in Apricity treatment packages during and up to three months following cycle completion.

Q: How do we implement support for colleagues who are frontline and don’t always have access to webinars?

A very effective way to inform staff about their fertility benefit is to advertise it in your job adverts, tell employees about it when they first join the company, and put it in their contracts. At Apricity, we offer to come to your place of work to offer diagnostic testing and/or free consultations with their fertility advisors.  

Q: I’ve encountered occasions of absence due to personal stress, down to couples not being able to find a surrogate. Can you please offer any advice or support with that?

Yes! We partner with My Surrogacy Journey to find the perfect egg donor, perform medical screening and accompany the egg donor through an egg donation cycle.

We then perform the steps necessary for embryology, from receiving and washing a sperm sample to culturing the eggs and sperm into embryos, ready for transfer to the surrogate.

Q: Fertility treatment is not the only solution to create a family – do you embrace adoption as a choice?

While adoption is not a service that we offer at Apricity, there are many other ways to become a parent and create a family.

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One of the key trends predicted for workplace wellbeing in 2024, when we interviewed a raft of experts at the end of 2023, was the rise of Occupational Health (OH).

Sir Ian Cheshire, for example, said this:

“There was a definite shift in 2023 in the corporate world to understanding that occupational health provision generally, and mental health specifically, was ever more important, as the NHS struggled to tackle waiting lists. The realisation that happened in 2023 will be followed in 2024 by a sharp expansion in provision of services from businesses and employee portals to full treatment options, as well as suppliers stepping into this area.”

Big problem for the government (and businesses)

Dame Carol Black, too, when we spoke with her, identified that the “all time high” sickness absence rates would prove a “big problem for both government and employers” and would need solutions to be found.

The government has certainly recognised this “big problem”, and worrying trends accompanying it; the fact that we’re increasingly an aging population with rising rates of ill health; that the NHS is struggling more than ever with huge waitlists; and that there’s a shortage of talent in the workplace, to name but a few.

Part of its “solution” to getting people back into work appears to be Occupational Health. The first step towards this solution was a two part consultation on ways to increase the uptake of OH provision 1) Occupational Health: Working Better – driven by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) 2) Tax Incentives For Occupational Health, driven by HM Revenue & Customers (HMRC) and HM Treasury (HMT).

Consultations over, explorations ongoing

The consultations ended on 12th October, 2023, and the government’s response was published in November, from the DWP/DHSC at least. It outlined plans to “imminently” set up an expert “task and finish” group to support the development of a “voluntary minimum framework for quality OH provision which employers could adopt to help improve employee health at work”.

The response specifically talked about options for: 

  • new voluntary national workplace health and disability standards
  • a potential new SME group purchasing framework supported by a digital marketplace
  • using the learning, including from the Government’s existing Workforce Expansion scheme, to develop a long-term strategic OH workforce approach to build a multidisciplinary work and health workforce for businesses and providers to improve support for their employees

The government is still exploring the case for providing further support for employers through the tax system.

Need for evidence-based choices

Unsurprisingly, Nick Pahl, CEO of the Society for Occupational Medicine, which has been lobbying hard for OH’s leading role, welcomes the focus on the discipline, as well as the government’s plans to set up an expert group and start a pilot for company incentives for providing OH services.

Pahl has talked to us before about the need for “effective evidence-based choices” in wellbeing, he’s expressed concerns previously that, while OH is delivered by “competent and accountable professionals” who are evidence led, “wellbeing is less so”.

2 landmark resources of 2023

For Pahl, two landmark resources launched in 2023 which moved the dial towards evidence and rigour:

1) ACAS’s guidance on reasonable adjustments for staff with mental health difficulties to remain in/return to work 

2) SOM’s own report, written in conjunction with the CIPD, on ‘The Value of Occupational Health and Human Resources in supporting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace”

Of the second, he says: “It highlights how, by working together, HR and occupational health can better support employees’ mental health and wellbeing.”

Priorities for 2024?

Looking ahead into 2024 and a general election, Pahl hopes that a new government will prioritise ‘good’ work that supports people’s health and wellbeing. With regard to mental health in particular he says:

“Mental health at work is a key part of ESG objectives that should be reported. The UK is in a fortunate position, with specially trained occupational health professionals, but more investment is needed to expand this workforce. SOM is calling for universal access to occupational health to be in manifestos.”

Not all are thrilled with OH focus

Not everyone is so thrilled, however, with the elevation and leading position that Occupational Health appears to have been given by the government. Katharine Moxham, the spokesperson for Group Risk Development (GRiD), the industry body for group risk protection, is one:

“I can’t think why the government is so focused on OH. Especially when you consider the Fit for Work pilot and the Fit or Work Service, both of which failed, were both heavily focused on OH. I think the government understands it needs to do something, particularly to encourage smaller employers to do more than they are doing, and they’ve for some reason latched onto OH.”

Oranges not the only fruit

For these reasons, GRiD has been keen to get the message out to employers that “oranges are not the only fruit”, as Moxham says:

“There are some other things that employers might want to do, because not every situation is the same; employers have much more in their kitbag than just occupational health. No one’s absence is the same so to focus so narrowly on one particular aspect seems crazy to me.”

So what are these complementary options / alternatives to Occupational Health?

Moxham gives a number of examples: an Employee Assistance Programme, insured long-term sick pay (known as Group Income Protection), Private Medical Insurance, vocational rehabilitation and early interventions such as fast tracked access to counselling and physiotherapy.

GRiD’s concerns with any government legislation or guidance, especially with any tax incentive to use OH, is that employers will be “tempted to go down this route” when it may not be the best one for them. 

The organisation has already noted its concerns during the consultation process and Moxham says the DWP’s response is “encouraging” because it has acknowledged other options, particularly Group Income Protection, which has evolved over the years to include a raft of support services. These include, for example, an EAP, vocational rehabilitation, case management and early interventions paid by the insurer.

Definition of OH needs to be broadened

HRMC/HMT haven’t responded yet but Moxham is concerned that they “will want to see the rules really tightly defined” which is why GRID is campaigning for the definition of OH to be “broadened”.

“It’s not that I’m advocating necessarily one ‘thing’ over another but that everything has its place. After all, our members will often work with OH professionals and bring them in to help provide services.”

Regardless of what happens with the government’s consultation, the key takeaway for companies according to Moxham is to “really understand the provision they are buying”, whatever option they go for:

“They need to understand the breadth and what’s included and what they can use it for. That’s not a small piece of work and it sometimes gets buried. Often different people will have been involved in purchasing different provision and it may take time to step back and look at what provision you have in its entirety.”

Look for overlaps and gaps in provision

In particular, she says look out for “overlap” and “gaps” in provision, as well as services that you are not getting the “best value out of”.

Just like Pahl understandably advocates for OH, Moxham argues that the best people to sit down with you and go through this process are your adviser and your Group Income Protection provider, if you have one. Why?

“Because the provider will not charge for this apart from the insurance premium, they’ve been involved in your purchase of provision and, if they bring another specialist in to help, like a vocational rehabilitation advisor, they won’t charge for this either.”

It’s worth keeping in mind however that this is not necessarily a universal option for workers as not all employers are able to offer Group Income Protection – with all the associated health and wellbeing benefits.

Move to measurement

Another good thing so far to come out of the government’s consultation, and the conversations that it’s sparked, is that it signals a general move towards evidence-based solutions and measurement – something the wellbeing industry is already trying to move towards (see this article, and this webinar). It also supports the shift in thinking away from “initiatives” and to “integration” of good wellbeing practice, like good job design (as discussed in this feature).

As Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategist Amy McKeown puts it “the fluff will fade” from the wellbeing industry. She believes that the health provision sector is one “ripe for innovation” and we must move away from “the old commoditised packaged insurance products”:

“On the macrolevel there’s always been this interplay between the state and the employer when it comes to health, but that relationship is going to be fundamentally transformed over the next couple of decades. I think we’ll see a lot of innovation in this space, with creative new products and new entrants, but we’re not there yet in terms of providers stepping up to provide what needs to be provided. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better and we come out the other side.”

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2.2 million people reported suffering Long COVID in the UK, with prevalence greatest in people of working age (ONS, 2023). A recent study found that 80% of workers with Long Covid in paid employment reported that long COVID influenced their work ability. Supporting people with long COVID needs to a be key priority in today’s workplace if organisations are to retain skilled workers, improve long-term productivity and prevent many thousands of valuable workers transitioning into joblessness. 

New research to understand how employers can support long COVID 

Research by the University of Sheffield and Affinity Health at Work sheds light on how employers can support workers with long COVID. The team combined in depth interviews with 12 workers with long COVID about their experience, and round table with discussions with 43 managers, Human Resources, and occupational health professionals. 

The recovery journey was described as a rollercoaster, characterised by multiple periods of long-term sickness absence as their health continued to fluctuate. Several factors were found to help people stay in work and manage their condition. These included the worker’s Individual resources, support from their work Group, their Line manager, their Organisational and factors Outside the organisation.

Six top tips on how best to support long COVID workers 

1. Take a shared approach to support workers with long COVID return to and stay in work. Everyone has a role to play – the Individuals with Long COVID, people in their work Group, their Line manger, professionals in their Organisation and those Outside work.  

2. Encourage employees with long COVID workers to prioritise recovery and be open about their work adjustment needs

People with a strong work identity can find it hard to accept their changed capacity, often wanting pushing through and ignore warning signals. Long COVID workers need to listen to their body and align their expectations. Being open about their needs can help employers to make timely and suitable work adjustments. 

3. Remind colleagues of long COVID workers to keep in touch

Long COVID workers often felt isolated when on sick leave and guilty about not making a full contribution to the workplace on their return. Colleagues can support long COVID workers by recognising their need for belongingness in the workplace, including them in the community and keeping in touch with them when they are on sick leave. Supporting with work tasks, for example, by discussing important decisions with them, is also helpful.

4. Ensure line managers of long COVID workers work with the employee to identify work adjustments

Line managers play a crucial role in making work adjustments for long COVID workers. As long COVID symptoms vary and fluctuate over time, adjustments are likely to require ongoing monitoring and flexibility. Identifying and agreeing adjustments together is key as what works for one person might not work for another. 

5. Review organisational policies and practices to ensure they accommodate the fluctuating nature of Long COVID

We are learning about Long COVID and its impact all the time – but what we do know is that the journey to recovery is a rollercoaster. Long COVID absence should be viewed separately from other sickness absence to avoid workers falling into performance management traps. Raising awareness of the Long Covid, its fluctuating nature and upskilling managers on how to put work adjustments is vital. 

6. Contribute to discussion on Long COVID

There has been a debate about whether or not long COVID is real. This is unhelpful for those whose lives have been immeasurably changed. Sharing what you are doing as an organisation to support your workers with long COVID can help to reduce stigma and encourage others to take action. 

To read more about the latest research see

To read the CIPD guidance on Working with Long Covid see,they%20need%20to%20work%20effectively 

About the authors:

Professor Karina Nielsen is Professor of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield and adjunct professor at Griffiths University, Australia. She specialises in creating healthy workplaces where workers can thrive. Professor Nielsen has published more than 150 papers in high impact peer-reviewed papers and won multiple awards for her research. She has a particular passion for developing, implementing, and evaluating evidence-based methods to promote worker health and wellbeing.  

Professor Jo Yarker is a Professor of Occupational Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London and Managing Partner of Affinity, a research and consultancy organisation specialising in health at work. Jo’s award-winning work is focused on understanding what we can do to foster fulfilling, healthy and productive work, particularly under times of challenge. Jo has developed a range of evidence-based solutions to equip employees, employers and policy makers with the insights, knowledge and skills to improve working lives.

How employers can support workers to manage the “rollercoaster” of Long COVID