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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

The cost-of-living crisis (defined as a fall in real disposable income) hit the UK in 2021 and created, in 2022, the biggest one-year fall in living standards since records began. Forecasters such as the Office of National Statistics (ONS) predict that living standards will continue to fall into 2024.

Cost of living crisis – the issue for employers and workers

As a consequence of the cost-of-living crisis, and constraints imposed by this (such as the ability to eat healthy food, engage in exercise, socialise), many people’s health has worsened, and it is estimated that around 50% in the UK are experiencing anxiety about paying their bills. This number is likely to be exacerbated by the pressures of Christmas spending.

The crisis has also created a significant cost for employers, who are being tested by not just the financial crisis, but labour market pressures such as skills gaps, loss of older workers and lowered EU immigration following Brexit. Although supporting workers through this crisis is essential, from both a moral viewpoint and a final one (aiming to reduce turnover and absenteeism and preserve engagement and productivity), with the pressures described, many organisations are finding that keeping up salaries with inflation, and supporting employees financially through pay incentives is proving untenable. 

Research project to understand how best employers can support workers through non-pay offers

Over the past year, we have conducted a large-scale research project through our research consortium following an evidence-based approach, aimed at understanding how employers can best support workers through non-pay offers. The research combined academic and practitioner literature reviews with focus group data from 54 workers and 35 stakeholders, survey data from 737 workers across 6 organisations,  and round table data from 10 cross-sector thought leaders. The findings from all groups were combined into a series of findings and recommendations.

Five top tips on how best to support workers with non-pay offers during the cost-of-living crisis

1. Based on our research findings, we have compiled five top tips for employers:

Although our research was about non-pay offers, we spoke to workers who were having to choose between heating and eating, even in some cases when receiving a living wage. In this context, or when pay is not meeting basic needs (such as rent, food, heating and commuting costs), non-pay offers will not only be ineffective as support incentives, but potentially be harmful for organisational goals.

2. Make decisions based on what workers actually want:

This sounds obvious, but our research found that for many workers, the support offered by employers (although well-intentioned) was not necessarily what they needed or wanted. Examples included providing vouchers for premium brands or money off days out when workers were struggling with the essential costs.  Involving workers in decisions and asking for feedback – particularly from those in lower paid positions and those with less of a voice in the organisation – is recommended to understand what is really going to be most helpful. This needs to be an on-going process too as workers needs and situations are constantly changing.

3. Build and offer a whole variety of non-pay support options

Worker needs, challenges, issues and experiences are incredibly diverse, none more so that at the moment. Therefore support offerings need to reflect this diversity. Our research found the most popular non-pay provision of support was increasing financial resources (like transport initiatives, discounts and vouchers), but we also found that workers also valued the following: job design initiatives (such as flexible working and development opportunities), measures to combat stigma and manage mental health (such as training), strategic measures (such as staff needs assessments), measures to improve equity and peer support (such as wellbeing champions and community days) and peer support initiatives.   

4. Make sure that workers can find, access and use your support offers

Despite organisations’ best efforts, we found that many workers were not aware of what employers already had in place to support them. To increase awareness and uptake, we recommend using multiple channels of communication, consider the equity of all your offers (for instance are they fair and open to all), improve navigability of internal resources such as intranet, consider literacy and language in your population, and ensure that all communications are free of judgement and stigma (recognising that for many, talking finances is difficult). Line managers are vital to identifying support needs, signposting support and increasing the likelihood that support will be utilised, and so ensuring that line managers are trained and have appropriate resources is key.  

5. Create a healthy culture, with appropriate levels of demands, where workers feel valued

Across all organisations we worked with, workers talked of the need to build a genuine culture of care where they felt valued, appreciated and ‘seen’ as individuals. With regards to the working environment, we also saw that increasing levels of workload and pressure were ubiquitous, and that this both negatively impacted on worker perceptions of appreciation, and also reduced the likelihood that both workers would access support, and that managers would signpost support. Consider reviewing the extent to which your policies, processes and practices are consistent with a culture of care to continue to support your workers.

Added pressures of the Festive Season

The cost-of-living crisis continues to cause stress and anxiety for many workers and employers and this is likely to come into sharper focus with the additional pressures of the Christmas season.  Whilst supporting with additional pay may be difficult for some employers, our research demonstrates that, if worker basic financial needs are met, there are a variety of low or no-cost ways that employers can help and ensure that they retain happy, productive and engaged workers.

You can read the full cost-of-living research report here:

About the author:

Dr Rachel Lewis is a multi-award-winning Occupational Psychologist who specialises in Health and Wellbeing at work. Rachel is a Managing Partner of Affinity Health at Work, a consultancy and research group who were recently recognised as the ‘Best Business Psychology Consultancy 2023’ by the Association for Business Psychology. Rachel is also a Reader in Occupational Psychology at Birkbeck University of London and is widely published in the field of health and wellbeing at work, contributing to national guidance, and evidence-based tools and interventions. In 2023, Rachel was ranked 3rd in the HR Most Influential Thinker Awards.

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Not just about money: Supporting workers through the cost-of-living crisis

Navigating cultural nuances and differences is the biggest challenge when it comes to rolling out global wellbeing campaigns.

As Sir Ian Cheshire says in this article, while companies may be able to easily roll out strategies from other functions, mental health and wellbeing is not “a standard global conversation”, so it’s much trickier, and the stakes for getting it wrong, are much higher:

“Rather than trying to put in place a global, uniform programme, you have to ask yourself: “At the moment, in this country, what is the solution that will work?” The answer has to come from the people on the ground, who know what’s culturally possible and what isn’t, because the wrong message, delivered the wrong way, is pretty catastrophic.”

4 Top Tips

He has four main pieces of advice for wellbeing professionals rolling out a global programme:

  1. Build a multilevel network in a country
  2. Find local champions
  3. Work with them to identify the most important thing that will move the dial most
  4. Give the brief to local teams to develop, which will mean different executions

Dr Richard Peters, Chief Medical Officer, at Goldman Sachs, touched on the topic, too, in his MAD World panel on measurement, agreeing that it’s important to “have an overall strategy” and then “hone in to the particular country, local nuances and local requirements”.

Some topics are taboo

“In some places, like Asia, certain topics are taboo and you can’t speak about them, like mental health and suicide,” he said. “So it’s about asking: how can we deliver a programme in a different way, so not using those words? But talking about wellbeing and coaching, for example?”

He adds that it works best if a wellbeing strategy is “quite simple”. This was, in fact, the biggest learning that men’s charity Movember Founder JC had when taking this mental health campaign global:

“One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned from Movember scaling and growing across 21 countries across 27 different languages is that it’s actually not that complex,” he says. “Just strip back to the basics and common sense will prevail. And never underestimate the power of humour.”

Focus on simple, universal truths

Consequently, Movember focused its campaign around a universal, simple truth that is “the same the world over from Australia, Singapore, South Africa, UK, Europe to American”: as JC says, that men “need friendships to stay socially connected and to check in with their mates”.

It also kept its media strategy simple, collaborating with high profile sports which have a mainstream, predominantly male audience. For example, its ‘Breaking the Ice’ ice hockey collaboration in Canada, its ‘Heads Together’ tie up with New Zealand Rugby, its affiliation with annual motorbike event The Gentleman’s Ride which covers 102 countries and its partnership with Formula 1, also giving it access to a global audience of approximately 350 million.

Adapt your approach

Publishing company Pearson, which also takes a global approach to its wellbeing strategy, has found that, because the mental health conversation is at very different stages in different countries, it’s essential to adapt the approach.

“In the US and the UK we can be more explicit about our mental health provision but in other territories we have to be more subtle because the conversation is not as open around mental health and people don’t talk about their challenges,” says Kevin Lyons, Senior HR Manager, at Pearson. “Whether that will change with a new generation coming through, I don’t know.”

One thing that has helped start and open the global conversation around mental health has been the creation of mental health first aiders around the globe. To do this, Pearson worked with MHFA England which has a range of international partners through which it delivers tailored training relevant to the cultural nuances in each country. “This has been absolutely brilliant,” says Lyons.  “There have been very few issues with training up our employees for these roles.”

Global conversations

Pearson has also dipped its toes in global initiatives that bring together all the different territories and touch on wellbeing. It has created a platform for global conversations called “Around the World” which incorporates topics such as putting the spotlight on its EAP Programme to talking about how the employee engagement survey shows a need for wellbeing support.

By contrast Hays is in 33 countries but doesn’t have an overarching global strategy – it prefers to execute the strategy at regional level. According to Head of Wellbeing Hannah Pearsall, it has taken this decision because of the cultural differences between countries:

“The maturity of where different countries are on the scale of wellbeing discussions is vast. Some of the conversations we’re having in the UK, we’re absolutely not ready to be having in other countries.”

Bringing territories together around key dates

However, Pearsall hosts a global wellbeing forum where wellbeing representatives come together on a regular basis to discuss challenges together. And, last month the company ran its first multi-country initiative around World Mental Health Day. For this, representatives from a number of different countries hosted a call for employees.

“It was brilliant, and great we were able to do that,” says Pearsall. “But there are significant cultural differences which means it is still quite difficult to have a conversation about mental health in some countries compared to the UK. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to roll out a global strategy.”

A great deal of thought went into how to position the message around World Mental Health Day. Rather than talk about mental ill health, Hays decided to open the conversation by talking about the concept of mental health generally and the fact that all of us move up and down the mental health continuum, depending what is going on in our lives.

Picking the right conversation starter

“The onus wasn’t on negative or poor experiences because we felt that that was the right step for us, knowing that we have such a spectrum of people in terms of the maturity of some of the countries and where they are regarding discussion of mental health,” says Pearsall.

Similarly, MAD award winners for best multinational wellbeing programme media company EssenceMediacom have found the framing of the conversation to work on a global basis is really important. 

“Although talking about mental health as a subject might be taboo in some countries, we are all broadly more comfortable talking about physical health, so this can be used as a gateway topic to considering the impact of our physical health on our personal mental wellbeing,” says Emily Howe, Global People Experience Manager at EssenceMediacom.

Think Global, act local

Howe says it’s been “imperative to consider cultural nuances” in the approach to wellbeing and its motto is “Think Global: Act Local”. 

“Practically, that looks like developing initiatives that can be tailored at a market level to accommodate for different demographics, headcounts and stigmas,” she says. She gives the example of the fact that the company has more than 200 Mental Health Allies trained in over 60 cities across the network but in Asia Pacific and some of the European Markets they are given the title “Wellbeing Allies”.

“This is due to the stigma surrounding the words ‘mental health’ and how they translate into different languages,” she says.

Breaking barriers

However, EssenceMediacom is striving to breakdown barriers and make the discussion and the community truly global and one way it’s doing this is via its ‘Global Ally Directory’. This allows colleagues to search for allies specifically in their city, or to search all biographies for specific words like ‘parent’ or ‘grief’ or ‘LGBT’. 

“The allay directory is a great place because it means you don’t have to speak to allies in your market, which is really important, because it helps give that bit of anonymity,” says Howe.

In future, too, the media firm plans to include the ability to filter allies by their spoken languages. As Howe says:

“This way colleagues can find an ally from anywhere in the world who has a specific demographic or lived experience that makes them feel more comfortable reaching out and opening up – geographic barriers cease to exist.”

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How to overcome the biggest challenge of global wellbeing campaigns: cultural differences

The report of key insights and takeaways from the third Make A Difference Leaders’ Club meeting has just been published.

It’s a useful summary for anyone who’s interested in how to prioritise effort and investment for an inclusive approach to wellbeing. Including insights into:

  • Why and how to shift from feedback-led to data-led decision making and prioritisation
  • Approaches to identifying and meeting the needs of hard-to-reach groups
  • Ways in which collaborative working can lead to inclusive wellbeing

The report also includes a page of useful links to additional resources from

You can download the Leaders’ Club #3 report here:

In case you missed them, you can also download the Leaders’ Club #1 and #2 reports here.

Advancing best practice in workplace wellbeing

The Make A Difference Leaders’ Club was set up by Make A Difference Media to advance best practice in workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing.

The Club does this by gathering members together, several times across the year, to share ideas and network in a closed-door, sales-free environment.

They are able to hold these meetings thanks to the support of sponsors Headspace and Qured.

The Club is only for senior decision makers from employers (ie. suppliers of workplace wellbeing products and services cannot join).

It is currently free to join as long as you meet the required membership criteria. These can be found on the Leaders’ Club website. A limited number of new applications to join the Leaders Club are currently being accepted.

If you have any feedback or further thoughts to share on this topic, or any burning issues that you’d like us to address in future, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at

New Leaders’ Club report: How to prioritise effort & investment for an inclusive approach to wellbeing

The festive season is upon us—Christmas parties booked, secret Santa names drawn—but amidst the joy, there’s an often unseen struggle that demands our attention: grief. 

This article brings attention to the exacerbating factors faced by individuals grappling with bereavement during this time of the year. It emphasises the crucial role that employers play in supporting grieving employees throughout the festive period.

The Overwhelming Reality

Grief is a universal experience, affecting an estimated 1 in 10 employees at any given time. However, during Christmas, a season traditionally associated with joy, the weight of loss becomes especially heavy for those who are grieving.

To gain a deeper understanding of the support needed during this time of year, our charity, Suicide&Co, initiated a survey and sought valuable insights from our community. The response was significant, with over 200 individuals who have experienced bereavement by suicide sharing their perspectives and experiences.

They conveyed that grief is frequently intensified in the workplace in the lead-up to Christmas due to various factors, including:

  • Increased volume of social events, from company parties to client entertaining
  • Burnout from meeting family and friends’ needs alongside work deadlines
  • Dark, cold weather restricts outdoor activities
  • The emphasis on happiness, which often amplifies feelings of sadness,
  • The constant query, “What are you doing for Christmas?” 

Identifying Helpful Strategies 

To address these challenges, our community identified helpful workplace strategies that they could communicate to their manager:

  • Communicate the need for flexibility with their manager in advance
  • Allocate themselves dedicated time for grief
  • Prioritising and planning their self-care in December
  • Asking for flexible hours to enjoy outdoor activities during daylight

Our Responsibility

For leaders, People/ HR  teams, and managers, creating a safe environment is paramount. 

Leading by example, encouraging open dialogue, and facilitating the easy expression of needs during challenging times are essential components.

The Importance of Communication

“Communication was the main thing I needed—just a check-in to say ‘hope you’re doing okay, and a reminder to take your time’. People just avoided the discussion.” 

Survey Participant, Jessica, 35

What our community found most supportive from their employers in the lead-up to the holidays was:

  • Acknowledgement: “This time of year must be difficult for you”
  • Direct questions: “What can I do to support you at this time of year?”
  • Options: Offer opt-out or flexibility for company events in December.
  • Support: Offering additional support services and resources in the lead-up
  • Normalising; Acknowledge that this time of year might be difficult for some of us in company internal communications


Acknowledging grief during the holiday season is crucial for a compassionate workplace. Organisations can support employees by fostering open communication, providing participation options, and creating awareness mindfully. Strategically utilising events like Grief Awareness Week (Dec 2nd-8th) offers a structured space for providing supportive resources and talks to help employees navigate the holiday season.

If you’re keen on supporting your team during this time, consider sharing Suicide&Co’s free support webinars during Grief Week

Together, let’s keep talking and bring a bit more brightness to this holiday season, offering solace and understanding to those who need it most.

About the author:

Zoe Blake, is the Organisation Support Director at Suicide&Co, a charity founded in 2020 that provides crucial support to those who’ve lost someone to suicide. With nearly 6 years working in employee mental health benefits, Zoe’s mission is to provide comprehensive support options to all employees, fostering an environment where they can bring their full selves to work and thrive.

Beyond its core support services, including specialised counselling and a helpline, the charity extends its assistance to organisations navigating the challenges of supporting employees dealing with suicide-related bereavement or coping with the loss of an employee to suicide. 

Suicide&Co’s organisational support is comprehensive, offering guidance to HR teams, from educational company talks to bespoke incident response plans. 

For more information, we encourage you to reach out and get in touch with us.

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Navigating Christmas Amidst Grief: Acknowledging the Unseen Struggle

Social Wellbeing is increasingly being included in employers’ wellbeing strategies, as explored in this article. 

Khusboo Patel, Head of Engagement and Inclusion at Metro Bank speculates that the reason it’s “taking centre stage” is due to the Covid-19 effect:

“Perhaps the impact the pandemic had on social wellbeing – around the world, both at home and at work – has meant that we as a society value social wellbeing even more.”

But what about the flipside of social wellbeing, loneliness?

“Social wellbeing in the workplace is about connection and belonging,” says Petra Velzeboer, CEO and Founder, PVL. “So when considering this, it’s hugely important that we look at the loneliness statistics, too, which is essentially the absence of social wellbeing, belonging and connection.”

As many as 34% of respondents said they found working from home lonely, in research by ergonomics firm Posturite. The same survey revealed only 36% felt well connected to colleagues while working from home, 54% felt somewhat connected and 10% of people didn’t feel connected at all.

Velzeboer continues: “There are three main types of loneliness: emotional, social and existential. And I think a lot of people are going through one, or more of those three types without maybe realising it.”

Different types of loneliness

She describes ‘social’ as the tendency not to want to make the effort to socialise, ‘emotional’ as lack of depth of connection and ‘existential’ as feeling an emptiness in life which causes people to reevaluate. 

During the pandemic many people experienced “existential loneliness” and questioned their lifestyles, including choice of work, partly leading to the ‘Great Resignation’:

“People have made radical changes, like moving country, and I think that’s off the back of existential loneliness and asking themselves ‘why am I doing this?”

Physical isolation post-pandemic

Post pandemic, she’d add “physical isolation” into the mix, due to homeworking, as another cause of loneliness:

“You may be chatting to people all day in virtual meetings but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the serotonin boost from connection because the conversations may be very task oriented or transactional. In order to have good social wellbeing there are three core elements that you need: to feel seen, heard and valued.”

Jane Bradshaw Jones, HR Business Partner, AdviserPlus, agrees that the situation has changed post pandemic and there is much more risk of loneliness because of the lack of cameradie that existed then:

“Some employees thrived during the pandemic as there was a sense of ‘being in this together’ but now remote, hybrid working for some has become the norm, it may be a struggle for some colleagues to return to an engaged, social way of working.”

Good social connections are uplifting

For all these reasons, it’s more important than ever for employers to be mindful of their employees’ social wellbeing and watch out for signs of loneliness, not only because this is the right thing to do but because it will create a more productive workforce. 

According to AON Principal Wellbeing Consultant Letitia Rowlin:

“In the workplace, we tend to be more motivated, productive, and engaged when we have good social wellbeing and friendships within the workplace. Good social connections and relationships at work help to lift us when other aspects of the job may be demanding.”

Aon’s Global Wellbeing Survey also shows that a sense of belonging is vital to being part of a high performing team and can lead to better employee engagement.

So how can employers build social wellbeing in the workplace that mitigate loneliness?

“We need to actively put in time and effort to build them. Strengthening our social connections requires development of a skillset which includes skills such as listening attentively, developing capacity for compassion, kindness, understanding diversity and inclusion and fostering collaboration (to name a few),” says Rowlin.

She adds that other factors which help are a “level of self-disclosure and vulnerability and inclusive leadership”. On the diversity and inclusion point, Marteka Swaby, Founder, Benevolent Health, adds that some employees will find it harder to feel they belong than others:

“For example, first generation women of colour, warranted or not, worry about how standing out will affect us. Throughout history, social connections and group membership have been critical for survival, so it is natural to question whether we fit into new environments.”

Career coaching is part of social wellbeing

And it’s not just “social” activities that can build social wellbeing. Career coaching and helping your employees meet their career potential is also included under this pillar of wellbeing. According to Expedia’s Laura Pearce, this is particularly important to the younger generation entering the workforce. 

“They are looking for what employers can give them and expect that an employer will bring benefits to them and their life. I think this is a shift from where we were a number of years ago when people were more thankful of anything offered and saw it as a bonus – now it is an expectation. In terms of career coaching, I’ve seen this alot.”

But before you hastily rollout a new coaching programme, organise a virtual pub quiz, or get everyone together for a traditional ‘team building’ exercise, and think you’ve ticked the ‘social wellbeing’ box,  make sure what you’re organising is something your employees actually want to do (it’s not just something you want to do!). 

No one size fits all

The best thing to do is ask them how they want to socialise and you’ll quickly realise that this varies from person to person, particularly if you’re considering employees that feel marginalised in any way, are neurodiverse, introverted or purely home-based. 

The goal should be to create enough options that your employees can find some social outlet that suits them without feeling pressure to take part in something they are not comfortable with. 

As well as this, it’s vital to remember that loneliness is caused by a lack of real connection, so ensure you are also creating opportunities to have meaningful, not just superficial, connections.

As Velzeboer says:

“It’s about going deeper than ‘let’s have a sports day’ or ‘let’s bring the ping pong table out’ or ‘let’s have a beer or game night’. These kind of tactics might fit some people but they are not going to be inclusive for everyone. Remember that connection and belonging really happen in your informal conversations throughout the day where people feel like they’re humans, and not just tasks and numbers. So social wellbeing must go beyond perks and benefits and move into real talk and depth of connection.”

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Social Wellbeing is “even more” valuable post-pandemic

“Social wellbeing” is the talk of the wellbeing town just now, adding another pillar to the well established mental, physical and financial framework.

But do you know what it means?

Boston University has this definition of social wellbeing:

“Social wellbeing is building and maintaining healthy relationships and having meaningful interactions with those around you. It is having a sense of belonging while valuing diversity. It involves open communication, boundary setting, and mutual respect regardless of our differences.”

In the context of an employer, social wellbeing is found in, for example:

 – an employee’s relationship with colleagues

– the extent to which they feel they fit in to the company culture and resonate with company values

– the extent to which they feel valued, socially included and that they belong

– the extent to which they feel the company is helping them reach their career potential 

– the working environment and whether this creates social connectedness (for both remote workers and in-office workers)

 Many companies will already be running social wellbeing initiatives – such as volunteering, team building days, charity work and even flexible working policies which allow more time for hobbies – but not packaging them cohesively under this banner. However, that is starting to change as more employers recognise the importance of social wellbeing.

Social wellbeing strategies more prevalent

For instance, AON’s 11th Benefits & Trends Survey which quizzed 332 HR, employee benefit and rewards specialists, found that the number of employers with a social wellbeing strategy rose by 2 percentage points in 2021, up from 28% in 2020.

Recruitment firm Hays has included social wellbeing as a fundamental pillar of its wellbeing strategy from the outset a year ago, when Head of Wellbeing Hannah Pearsall wrote it. 

She defines social wellbeing very similarly to Boston University as:

“The sense of belonging, social inclusion and stability generated through the ability to make and maintain meaningful positive relationships.”

Not just for employees

However, she adds that this definition applies to all relationships, which includes those outside of the workplace too. This is because relationships are central to human happiness and, as she says, if employees are happier outside of work, they are going to be happier and ultimately more productive and higher performing in work. Covid-19 has accelerated the blurring of life and work, too, which means “the two should no longer be looked at in silos”.

“We are beginning to think about social wellbeing from a perspective which also includes our clients and customers as well.”

Crossover with CSR

This means that Hays is looking for ways it can positively influence the wellbeing of the communities in which it operates. “Social wellbeing does crossover into a lot of work that we do from a social impact and corporate social responsibility perspective,” says Pearsall.

For example, Hays has two community projects going on at the moment. One is called ‘100 Talks’ where it worked with two mental health campaigners to deliver 100 talks in secondary schools throughout the UK. The other is a partnership with a charity called Band of Builders (see accompanying photo) which runs a support line for those working in construction, an industry which has one of the highest rates of suicide.

ESG report

This year Hays published its first standalone ESG report. Pearsall says “I am delighted to see DE&I, including wellbeing, feature so heavily as part of our sustainability framework. This really validates the importance of wellbeing as part of our Social Stakeholder Partnerships and emphasises the need for social wellbeing to impact both in and outside of work.” 

One of the reasons that Hays, and Pearsall in particular, are so committed to social wellbeing is the recognition of the importance of relationships to wellbeing. 

“Satisfaction with relationships is the number one predictor of wellbeing,” says Pearsall. “And I firmly believe that work should be a determinant of positive wellbeing, which is why this pillar is so important and why it feels outdated to separate work and personal life in our social wellbeing strategy.”

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Social Wellbeing & how recruitment firm Hays is tackling it

Cleansing ‘toxic masculinity’ from the workplace is essential to reducing the number of men at risk of cancer, mental health issues and suicide.

International Men’s Day is on Sunday 19th November. As the theme, ‘Zero Male Suicide’, highlights, one of the biggest challenges faced by employers when it comes to men’s health is the unwillingness of men to speak out.

Toxic masculinity is a significant factor, putting pressure on men to appear strong and internalise concerns. As a result, twelve men will die by suicide today and over 140 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Yet despite the prevalence of these issues, few men are willing to discuss their mental health or urinary symptoms linked to prostate cancer for fear of ridicule. Fortunately, employers can create a culture where men feel safe asking for support in these ways.

Make sure wellbeing isn’t biased towards women

Although employers are doing more than ever to be equitable in their wellbeing programmes, our research shows twice as many women are referred into occupational health as men, with 16% of men saying work provides little or no wellbeing support, compared to 8% of women.

In most cases employers are doing just as much for men, but this isn’t coming across because toxic masculinity means men are more likely than women to put on their ‘I’m fine’ mask when asked how they are by their manager.

Critical to ensuring men are being equally supported is training managers how to use courageous conversations to help men to open up about any underlying issues, not least by asking them ‘How are you really’ instead of taking their first response at face value.

Destigmatise men’s health symptoms

Successive wellbeing campaigns mean women now feel much more comfortable discussing menopause symptoms, ranging from hot flushes to brain fog and fatigue, so they can be given help to cope with this at work.

Unfortunately, men who speak out about struggling with insomnia, loss of energy and becoming physically weaker due to the male menopause are more likely to be ridiculed than supported. Even fewer men are prepared to chat about how they were up half the night due to needing to urinate repeatedly (when this could be a sign of prostate cancer).

Prostate cancer symptoms can include:

  • needing to pee more frequently, often during the night
  • needing to rush to the toilet
  • difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)
  • straining or taking a long time while peeing
  • weak flow
  • feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully
  • blood in urine or blood in semen

Signs that cancer may have spread include bone and back pain, loss of appetite, pain in the testicles and unintentional weight loss. Source: NHS

Critical to destigmatising men’s health issues is talking about the symptoms associated with them all year round, and not just during Movember, so this becomes normalised and something everyone is aware of and comfortable speaking about. The more leaders and people in positions of authority can discuss their experiences the better.

Recognise the impact of toxic masculinity on mental health

When it comes to supporting mental health, managers are often told to look out for the signs that someone is taking less physical care of themselves or becoming more forgetful or emotional and prone to crying. Although these are important signs to watch for, it’s also important to bear in mind that toxic masculinity means men can often suppress these feelings, which can lead to them becoming more aggressive and grumpier instead.

This means mental health issues in men can often present themselves as an increased tendency to complain about others and even raise grievances. Men can also be perceived to have behavioural problems when this is often due to not coping with stress or anxiety instead.

At the other end of the spectrum, toxic masculinity means some men might feel more inclined to take their own life than admit they need help for feelings of depression. Since they can’t always be depended on to come forward for support, managers should be mindful of those most at risk, including younger men living alone, men aged 45-49 and those going through a big life event, such as a relationship breakdown, bereavement or redundancy.

Address the underlying reasons for poor wellbeing

The stigma surrounding mental health, especially for employees whose first language isn’t English, and for whom the topic remains ‘taboo’, is not to be underestimated. Men themselves might suppress feelings to the extent that this manifests in other ways.

We often see men calling our physiotherapy helpline because they’re carrying a lot of tension in their shoulders and necks, when what’s really wrong is the financial or workload worries causing that tension. If you only address the physical problem, they won’t be getting the support they need.

Similarly, older men who become depressed after losing physical conditioning might actually be going through the ‘manopause’. Although emotional support is helpful, they also need help to build up their physical strength more gradually, so they can take part in activities they used to love doing again, without injuring themselves.

Encourage blood testing and screening

Men have a significantly reduced life expectancy compared to women, in no small part because they’re less likely to engage with primary healthcare professionals, such as their GP. With waiting lists for cancer and heart treatment at an all-time high, the sooner men can be helped to detect things like prostate cancer or heart disease, the better.

By the time prostate cancer reaches stage 4, there is only a 50% survival rate, compared to a near 100% survival rate if caught during stage 1-2. (Source: NHS). Similarly, someone who is told they have dangerously high cholesterol will have a greater opportunity to reduce their risk of cardiac arrest or stroke, than someone who doesn’t know they’re at increased risk.

This means it can be helpful to offer blood testing or screening as part of your workplace benefits or wellbeing schemes. Alternatively, make sure you encourage men to take up the free health screening and blood testing offered by GPs, especially when they enter a new risk category by age.

About the author:

Kathy Cox is health and wellbeing consultant for PAM OH

Kathy Cox is a health and wellbeing consultant for PAM OH, which proactively helps employers to reduce sickness absence and boost wellbeing. As a former transformation coach, Kathy also coaches managers on how to create the behaviour and culture change needed to reduce the risk of employees becoming too sick to work in the first place.

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Ryan Hopkins, former Future of Wellbeing Leader at Deloitte and author, ’52 Weeks of Wellbeing’, didn’t mince his words this at MAD World this year when he urged professionals to “level up” when it comes to data and measurement:

“Surveys are good for data capture but we have to level up and treat Wellbeing like a discipline, like any other function in the business. You wouldn’t go to the sales department and say ‘Lee, how are you getting on in sales?’ and for him to say ‘Ah, I’m not really sure, we’re not measuring’. That would just not fly.”

More sophisticated with data

In an ideal world, he said, the Wellbeing function would clearly understand data points like attrition rate, long term absenteeism and the rate of engagement, and be able to link these to the survey data, anecdotal data and supplementary data like annual leave taken, to create hypotheses.

“We have to treat measurement and data seriously. You could then work out how much this is costing and it would put it on the C-suite’s agenda,” he said.

More than surveys

His argument that the industry needs to be doing much more than simply using surveys as the main data point was echoed throughout the conference. However, as this is the primary way many in the industry currently measure wellbeing he added: 

“It will mean that a lot of us doing this work will come up short, so it’s going to be a difficult moment but we need to make that shift to create work that is better for all of us.”

His words are backed up by Aon’s 11th Benefits & Trends Survey which shows that only 9% of employers are actively measuring the return on investment from their wellbeing programmes. And, of those which are measuring, most of them (55%) are basing their calculations on employee engagement surveys.

Those employers not “falling short” making the biggest shifts with regard to data, and taking data points way past staff surveys, are those working with data experts, either as consultants or those with data analytics departments in house. 

Working with data experts

The challenge of working with data specialists was covered in one of the most popular sessions at MAD World on the measurement of workplace wellbeing. This was led by Jordan Pettman, Former Head of Organisation Analytics and Insights at the London Stock Exchange Group. He introduced himself as the “data analytics guy” who sees his role as to create relatable “stories” from the data.

When at the London Stock Exchange his Wellbeing brief was to create business cases that “get funding to do wellbeing initiatives or report back to the executive committee on whether that wellbeing initiative paid dividends to employees, but also back to the business”. 

Proving the efficacy of interventions

He gave several examples of how data experts working with wellbeing professionals can lead to that Holy Grail of being able to prove the efficacy of interventions taken. For example, when working at Nestle, he was able to measure the ROI of the wellness interventions taken in some of its factories and able to prove that there was a tenfold financial return to the business in terms of cost avoidance, through employees accessing the EAP. 

“We demonstrated the rate that employees took stress leave had decreased by 300% compared to the year prior because of accessing the EAP for stress. This led to reduced absence and we were able to show that the cost of the EAP was ten times less than the cost of the previous absence rate,” he said. “So, not only did this show doing great things for the employees, but it was actually really smart for the business too.”

Building a partnership with data experts

Novartis also has an inhouse people analytics team and panellist Sharon O’Connor, Global Lead Employee Wellbeing at the pharmaceutical firm, shared that it has taken time for the wellbeing team and the data team to find the best way to work together. This is because, typically, departments tend to have quite a “transactional” relationship with the data team. But O’Connor has gone out of her way to create a more collaborative approach.

“My preference when working with them is that we make it more about hypotheses building together, rather than transactional,” she said. “My mantra is partnership, partnership, partnership!” 

This is very different to how the data analytics team generally works with most departments, which is more the case of they’re given a question, which they then go away and answer and come back with a report.

Creating hypotheses together 

The way she’s nurtured this partnership is through trying to make them feel part of the wellbeing team and be invested in it because, after all, they are employees too that benefit from any initiatives. She’s made it clear that she is really interested in their experiences as employees and to bring those to the table.

“This empowers them more with the data and they have started bringing ideas to the fore, and forming hypotheses themselves,” she said. “This means they have more of an investment in what we’re doing as well.”

The biggest surprise, and lesson she’s learnt, is that it takes quite a bit of time to evolve into this kind of partnership relationship. “It takes patience to nurture that strong business collaboration, which we’ve found so beneficial. A lot of time, and a lot of querying,” she said.

Tips on working with data experts

But, now, the two teams have the kind of relationship where they form hypotheses together and they even do “deeper dive sessions” together, really drilling into the data. For example, they’ve worked on topics including purpose, the engagement survey and work-life balance rates. In these more focused sessions, the teams together look at other options to cut data and brainstorm around potential “stretch objectives”.

Another “lesson” O’Connor said she’d learnt is that collaborating continually in this way – rather than giving them a brief to go away and work on on their own – means “you don’t have a surprise expectation gap a few quarters into execution” of an intervention. 

Instead, she’s fostered a culture of continuous reporting where “we don’t wait to be asked for a report and we don’t only report on impact when we’ve had a new campaign; we’ve established a cadence of reporting which includes a year end report, but not just that report.”

Get data expertise early

This is all music to Pettman’s ears.

“Getting the analytics team involved early means you don’t get to the point of needing to tell people about your intervention and then saying there is no data to analyse,” he said. “If you get us [data experts] involved early, we can suggest which questions to add, to create the right data.”

As well as creating a more sophisticated working relationship between data and wellbeing, the other development that Pettman identifies as significant, and a sign of the future, is the fact that employees are also increasingly realising the benefits of giving their employers data. As he said:

The next evolution

“It’s an interesting evolution that employees understand a bit more that ‘if I give my company some information about me, they can use that to adjust their strategies and they’ll tell me about what they’ve done with my data’.”

This cultural change will lead to that “levelled up” situation, which Hopkins spoke of at the beginning of this feature, where wellbeing moves away from basing its results purely on survey data and has a much deeper understanding of employee behaviour, as well as how effective its interventions truly are.

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Three quarters (75%) of companies do not offer specific employee benefits to different demographics of staff, according to research from Towergate Health & Protection. This is despite 61% of companies stating they receive requests from staff for demographic wellbeing support, such as by gender or age.

By not targeting health and wellbeing support by their staff demographic, employers are in danger of their employee benefits not being relevant, and therefore being undervalued and underutilised. In turn, the benefits will then not assist the company in terms of support for recruitment, retention, productivity, and absence.

Employers fear it’s too complicated

A significant reason for employers not targeting employee benefits according to employee demographics is that this is seen as too complicated to achieve, stated by nearly half (48%) of employers. Although they did also state that the company would like to be able to offer benefits in this way.   

Life stages

Looking at the demographics of the workforce, and offering health and wellbeing support accordingly, allows employers to ensure the benefits they offer are focussed and most likely to be of most value.

Offering health and wellbeing support by employee demographic does not have to be overly complex. For instance, considering risk and need – such as by age and gender – can help direct which benefits would be most relevant, such as support for fitness, fertility, menopause, or heart health.

Debra Clark, head of wellbeing at Towergate Health & Protection, says: 

“While everyone is different, there are definite patterns surrounding demographic profiles, which can help employers to offer the right benefits at the right time. Age and gender demographics are a starting point. There is then a sliding scale of more in-depth analysis of the likely requirements of each individual.”

Beyond demographics

The research shows that only a quarter (25%) of employers target benefits to specific groups based on age, lifestyle, and risk factors. Offering health and wellbeing support by risk factor involves considering the risk of an individual developing certain health conditions, such as diabetes. This can play a significant role in deciding on the most relevant preventative and supportive measures to introduce.

This approach requires a questionnaire or medical to assess who is at greater risk of certain conditions. The employer may then choose to offer appropriate lifestyle advice and support or, to take an additional step and offer screening to certain employees, or indeed access to support and treatment. 

Towergate’s research found that the most likely option for risk profiling is for employees to complete a questionnaire on their risk of serious illness, offered by over a third (36%) of companies. Questionnaires on weight and fitness are carried out by 27% of companies. The more in-depth option of a medical assessment of risk of serious illness is offered by 26% of companies.  

Debra Clark, says: 

“The more targeted health and wellbeing support is, the more it will benefit the individual and, therefore, the company with a greater return on investment. Making support more specific to the individual makes employee benefits more highly valued, utilised and cost effective, as the money is spent where it will have the most impact.”

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