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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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INSIGHTS

Meet the people developing the most progressive approaches to workplace culture,mental health and wellbeing

COLLABORATION

Share knowledge in real-time with our cross-sector, cross-function network of like-minded speakers, exhibitors and attendees.

ACTION

Tell your colleagues and book a group pass. Get practical insights to take back and adapt to your organisation.

Latest Make A Difference News

Make A Difference News

Neurodiversity and neurodivergence are increasingly central to discussions about workplace inclusion and employee support. However, amid the rush to understand neurodivergence, important details are being missed that will impact individuals, their mental health and their ability to engage in the workplace. 

In my work as a mental health professional and neurodiversity specialist, I see the intersectionality of neurodivergence and mental health issues on a daily basis. And it is a topic that is frequently underestimated and misunderstood. Whilst neurodiversites such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia and others are not mental health issues, they are significant risk factor for mental health issues, particularly burnout, anxiety disorders, depressive disorder and insomnia.

Mental health issues in neurodivergent employees often begin in the workplace itself, as these are really set up for neurotypical employees and have certain assumptions about working environments that often do not support employees with autism, ADHD or other neurodivergencies. Everything from the lighting, the sounds, office layout, management style, communication styles and even the interview process can detrimentally impact people with neurodivergence. In a nutshell, simply having to constantly adapt to the norms of a neurotypical workplace puts a massive mental load on neurodivergent staff that so frequently leads to health and wellbeing issues.

The higher instances of mental health issues faced by people with neurodivergence is stark reading – 50% of adults with ADHD and 47% of adults with autism will experience a co-occurring anxiety disorder whilst 70% of adults with ADHDand 40% of adults with autism will also have a co-diagnosis of depression.

To support neurodivergence in the workplace, there needs to be a two-pronged approach. Firstly, organisations must remove the obstacles in the workplace that adversely impact comfort, engagement and performance for neurodivergent employees.  Secondly, there needs to be support and advice to help individuals learn strategies to regulate and manage their own symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Workplace adjustment

Sensory Support

To support employees with autism it can be helpful to reduce sensory overload. Having designated quiet spaces for deep work, providing rooms with natural or lowered lighting and offering noise-cancelling headphones are all steps that can make the working environment more inclusive. Encouraging periods of the day that are teams or zoom-meeting free can also help reduce overload and boost output.

For employees with ADHD, helping with structure and restlessness reduces the stress that can worsen mental health issues. To aid focus it can be useful to break tasks down into smaller chunks and encourage the “pomodoro” working structure that combines concentrated bursts of work with regular small breaks to reduce lapses in concentration. Similarly, encouraging the use of fidget toys and listening to music can aid concentration and limit distraction.

Communication

Organisations also need to think about how they manage and communicate with neurodivergent colleagues. Autistic colleagues can miss implied messages or metaphors, so it is essential that written or verbal communication uses clear and concise language that avoids abstract concepts, euphemism or sarcasm. In managing neurodivergent staff, the needs of the individual should be heard and accommodated as  much as possible.

Similar adjustments in communication can support ADHD employees. Again, the requirement is clear and concise language that emphasises what the task is, what they should prioritise and what is the timeframe is for completion.  Projects need to be broken down into small chunks with tight deadlines, rather than large projects with long deadlines, for the ADHD employee to thrive. Again, understanding the individual needs and hearing what accommodations would help them to do their best work is a good approach.

Neurodivergent employees supporting their own mental health

There are many helpful strategies that neurodivergent employees can use to regulate their anxiety, depression, improve sleep and enhance overall mental wellbeing. Being able to access specialist neurodivergent counselling support is hugely helpful. I’ve provided below some good overall tips to get started:

Managing Unhelpful Thinking Patterns

As already discussed, neurodivergent individuals are highly likely to suffer from anxiety. Fuelling that anxiety are “unhelpful thinking patterns” that veer towards negative and highly self-critical interpretations of experience.

A simple but effective practice is reminding yourself “thoughts are not facts” when you feel anxious. This phrase interrupts the spiral of thoughts and puts them in a wider perspective. This technique shifts our relationship with the difficult thoughts, and reminds us they are just an interpretation, not fact.

Also grounding techniques can really help reduce the anxiety associated with unhelpful thinking patterns. If feeling overwhelmed, focusing your attention on something sensory, such as a sound, a textured object or something you can see can help reduce feelings of anxiety and draw attention away from the challenging thoughts.

Movement and Exercise

Recent research suggests that between one third and one-half of adults in the UK are not active enough for good mental health. For neurodivergent individuals who are more susceptible to mental health issues, it is essential that they incorporate movement and exercise into their routine. 

Everyday changes such as taking the stairs instead of the lift or getting off a stop earlier on your commute increase your movement. Also, ensure that you take regular screen breaks combined with stretching to reduce overwhelm and burnout.

Stepping up exercise makes good sense too. Taking 30 minutes a day to get outside and have a brisk walk will boost your mood, whilst resistance training has been shown to help reduce symptoms of anxiety, and these are changes that can easily be woven into the day.

Sleep

Underpinning all health, mental and physical, is good sleep. To enhance the chances of getting good quality sleep begin by reducing screen time. Turning off your screens an hour before bed increases your chances of getting to sleep as does engaging in soothing activities like gentle stretching or having a warm bath in the lead up to bed. Having a fixed bedtime can also help create a routine that improves sleep quality.  But the most important part of being a “good sleeper” is having a strong psychological connection between bed and sleep. This is something that poor sleepers can achieve with the support of a neurodivergent counsellor.

Lifestyle Changes

For anyone, the lifestyle we lead can help or hinder our mental health. For people with autism and ADHD, there are a few changes that can be made that can really help support their mental health. Ensuring that you drink plenty of water and ensure a varied diet with lots of fibre and fruits and vegetables. It is also advisable to avoid caffeine and especially alcohol as there is evidence of higher instances of addiction amongst people with neurodivergence.

Community and Belonging

Finally, we return to an earlier theme – that of the difficulties faced by neurodivergent individuals trying to fit into a neurotypical world.  Something that can be amazingly supportive is to connect with other neurodivergent individuals. Charities, specialist organisations and forums are all great places to connect, share, learn and to get a sense of belonging that is fundamental to human wellbeing. The combination of an adapted workplace and the connection with these groups can help foster a sense of support and belonging that can aid engagement, productivity and mental wellbeing.

About the author

Lou Campbell is a fully qualified workplace counselling psychotherapist who specialises in supporting both neurodivergent and neurotypical employees. She is co-founder and director of Wellbeing Partners www.wellbeing.partners

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Neurodiversity and mental health

Ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day (8 March) a number of reports have been released. Here, I’ve picked out key insights from three, looking at the growth of women’s representation at the top of British business, actions needed to close the gender health gap in the UK and what businesses can do to provide personalised period care.

Continuing growth in women’s representation at the top of British business

We’ll start with the good news. At the end of year three of its five-year term, the FTSE Women Leaders Review – the independent business-led initiative, backed by the Government and sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group and KPMG – has reported steady progress in the number of women at the top of British business.

The initiative is focused on increasing women’s representation on the Boards and Leadership Teams of the FTSE 350 and the UK’s 50 biggest companies. Adopting a voluntary approach, it sets recommendations for Britain’s biggest companies to improve the representation of women on their boards and leadership teams.

Now, just over half of FTSE 350 companies (56%) have achieved or are well on their way to achieving gender balance, with women now holding 35% of all Leadership roles in FTSE 350 companies.

However, the appointment rate of women in leadership roles still leans in favour of men. To meet the Review’s target of 40% Women in Leadership as well as on Boards by the end of 2025 deadline, over the next two years, almost every other appointment will need to go to a woman. You can read the full report here.

UK loses 150 million working days due to lack of workplace support for women’s health

Meanwhile, the gender health gap in the UK is cavernous. Currently the UK has the largest female health gap among G20 countries and the 12th largest globally.

In a bid to break down the barriers that lead to poorer health outcomes for women in the workplace, private healthcare provider Benenden Health, in partnership with the Fawcett Society (the UK’s leading charity for gender equality and women’s rights) and Cherry Healey, have launched a new campaign.

Their research shows that four in ten women (42%) have heard derogatory comments about a female employee’s health in the workplace and 42% of women are uncomfortable discussing their health issues with their manager. Furthermore, 70% of female employees have found it challenging dealing with periods at work, 62% have struggled with pregnancy in the workplace and 64% have faced challenges when experiencing the menopause.

Interestingly, and reinforcing the need for more women in leadership positions, the percentage of women comfortable discussing health issues increases to 96% when the manager is also female.

Crucially, these findings highlight a need to improve manager knowledge and sensitivity towards women’s health issues, allowing for more open, honest and potentially difficult conversations to take place in the workplace.

Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive at the Fawcett Society, said: “We hope some of the clear solutions offered in this research will encourage employers and Government to step up to the challenge and build a system that works better for women, in order to begin closing the Gender Health Gap”. You can download the research here.

Why more than a million women still keep period sick days a secret

Reinforcing these insights, according to research revealed in the Bupa Wellbeing Index, more than a million women mask period sick days each year because they feel unable to tell their boss the true reason for their absence.

One in eight (13%) women have taken time off work in the last 12 months due to symptoms linked to periods, whilst a third (35%) gave a different reason when requesting the time away. Nearly half (45%) of women don’t feel a period is a valid enough reason to call in sick and around a third feel embarrassed (34%) or are concerned that their employer won’t understand (31%).

Even when women do take time off work due to their period related symptoms, many still find it difficult to have open conversations about it. This stigma seems to be partly due to a culture of silence continuing in workplaces.

Nicola Green, Commercial Director at Bupa Health Clinics explained: “Women need companies to foster a workplace culture where they feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly. Education, flexible working and access to healthcare services are three ways companies can help women in their workplace manage heavy painful periods, reducing sick days and retaining employees”.

The organisation has launched its Bupa Period Plan so that businesses can offer their employees personalised care for their periods.

Table 1 – Types of period support women are most keen to see in workplaces

RankPeriod support policy/measure% keen to see implemented
1Free sanitary products36%
2Managers being more understanding (of period health)34%
3Days off for period health30%
4Period health included in policies26%
5More open conversations in the workplace24%
6Provide access to services that support periods e.g. GP appointments19%
7Have a standalone policy for periods19%

With women currently making up 48% of the UK workforce, the emphasis that each of these reports puts on the importance of enabling women to thrive at work, sends an essential and positive message to all employers.

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We’re publishing this feature just ahead of Neurodiversity Celebration Week on Monday 18 March – Sunday 24 March. Some food for thought before it starts!

Here are 14 tips that we’ve collated from a range of experts, for inclusive employers who want to understand the key issues and strategies when it comes to supporting your neurodiverse workforce. If you’ve still got questions after reading this, don’t forget to tune in to our webinar “Unlocking neurodiversity in the workplace – debunking myths and embracing differences”.

1. Move to recognising neurodiversity is a spectrum much like mental health

Businesses are gradually realising that neurodiversity is a spectrum that we’re all on and there needs to be an evolution (similar to what’s happened in mental health) to increase understanding of this. 

We need to understand neurodivergent conditions – like autism, ADHD and dyslexia – generally better whilst also understanding the way these manifest in behaviour can be very different and each individual is, well, individual!

2. Younger generations are joining the workforce expecting you to be familiar with, and able to provide, the support they need

Quite apart from the legal requirements to provide reasonable adjustments for protected characteristics (of which neurodiversity is one; under the Equality Act 2010) at work, employers should be aware that younger generations joining the workforce now expect their neurodivergence to be accommodated. 

With so many more diagnoses now being made, greater numbers are coming to the workforce having had tools to help them through the education system which they expect to have from day 1 at work.

Global technology firm Texthelp, which creates software for inclusive learning and working, partners with many schools, colleges & universities in the education sector. According to Principal Marketing Specialist Donna Thomson, “while there is still great progress to be made, the education sector has seen improvements in supporting neurodiverse students in recent years. For example, there has been a growing recognition and understanding of neurodiversity among educators, students and parents. And, this awareness is helping to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with conditions such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD. This mindset shift is having a positive impact on students in education today as they are growing up with more confidence in their own abilities and the knowledge that it’s okay to think, learn and work differently from your peers. In fact, thinking differently is where innovation and out-of-the-box thinking happens.”

The problem is, there’s a “massive gap between the awareness and support that’s provided throughout the education system and the world of work, and this has to change”, says Thomson.

3. Ask everyone what work accommodations they want, not just neurodivergent people

The problem with singling out neurodivergent colleagues for ‘adjustments’, as Thomson says, is that’s still not inclusive:

“Say for example that a member of your team is confident enough to ask for additional support to do their job and they get the tools they need. In one sense, this can be effective as it removes barriers for this individual to work. However, the flipside is that this person is still working in isolation, working differently from their peers and therefore likely still faces barriers to collaborate at work. Getting help is still not normalised – it’s not mainstream.”

Consequently, it’s important, especially when graduates are taking their first job, to understand that they may not want to draw attention to themselves or, as Thomson says, “do anything that risks not getting the job, or getting promoted, or being stigmatised for being different”. A whopping 76% of people do not disclose at work. For that reason, inclusive onboarding where every new recruit is asked what they need to work at their optimum is paramount.

4. Support must be ongoing

But don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve ‘done’ neurodiversity if you are recruiting neurodivergent employees and providing them with adjustments, or tools, as part of the onboarding process.

“This is not just about putting a poster up and recruiting neurodiverse people. It’s about really continually listening and responding to every individual and making those adjustments to make sure they can thrive,” says Jon Salmon, mental health campaigner and Co-CEO of the Speakers Collective social enterprise.

Salmon, who is also an award-winning content producer through his co-founded firm Byte Entertainment, is speaking about ‘Why neurodiversity and wellbeing need to be considered together in the workplace’ at The Watercooler Event in London on 23-24 April.

“Enabling your entire workforce with inclusive technology is a great first step in becoming more neuro-
inclusive” says Thomson. “It can be easy to implement, work across multiple platforms and devices and offer discreet support without requiring employees to self-identify. But to truly drive workplace inclusion and make an impact, business leaders, DEI teams, ERG leads and champions must work together to create a safe workplace environment where everyone is comfortable bringing their authentic self to work and this won’t happen overnight.”

How are you driving inclusion in your workplace?

5. Ask yourself – could your company do more on adjustments?

The general consensus from Neurodiversity consultants is – yes. Companies could be doing a lot more.

As an example, Richard Peachey, Psychological Safety and Neurodiversity Advocate, cites walking meetings, and outdoor workspaces. He says the tech giants like Facebook and Microsoft are leading in innovative adjustments. Facebook, for example, even has a walking track around its premises to encourage outdoor walking meetings. These can be particuarly good for some neurodivergent people, as well as neurotypical people, and can be achieved with standing desks and treadmills too.

Optima Health also recommends these guides for inspiration on adjustments:

ADHD Reasonable Adjustments (adhduk.co.uk)

Employing autistic people (autism.org.uk)

Reasonable Adjustments in the workplace – British Dyslexia Association (bdadyslexia.org.uk)

6. Hot desking may not suit some of your neurodivergent colleagues

Hot desking can be a source of anxiety for neurodivergent people, such as those with autism, dyslexia or ADHD, especially if they have to sit in a noisy location. 

“People with concentration problems may really struggle with that,” says Karen Phillpotts, Head of Clinical Standards, Optima Health. “One of the easiest solutions is, if a person is coming into the office a few times a week, then they get allocated a certain desk.”

She adds noise cancelling headphones can also help. 

“Again, the biggest emphasis needs to be on the individual and what they need,” she says.

7. Embrace technology

Technology has helped in the destigmatisation and normalisation of adjustments, like listening rather than reading content. 

Keep on top of what tech might be on the horizon to help (AI is developing at an astonishing rate, for instance) and bear in mind that, while it might specifically help neurodivergent colleagues, it will probably help the workforce in general too.

8. Keep consulting your staff

Neurodiversity isn’t a tick box exercise. 

For one thing, attitudes towards it and variables like terminology are constantly evolving. Therefore it’s imperative that companies are “constantly getting the temperature and asking employees what they think,” says Salmon. 

He suggests regular surveys (auticon in this article talks about how revealing its anonymous surveys of neurodivergent colleagues tend to be) and engagement work.

9. Terminology

Knowing how to describe someone can be tricky as people often have very personal preferences. Best practice currently is to ask them and follow their lead.

“The bottom line is people will want to be labelled in the way they want to be labelled. I think that is one thing that will remain a constant in a landscape that is ever changing when it comes to language,” says texthelp’s Thomson.

10. Don’t use the superhero narrative (or at least be wary of it)

With the rise in awareness around neurodiversity has come the rise in a narrative where neurodivergent people are often described as having “super powers”. 

While some like this narrative, some hate it. And it’s worth bearing in mind that, while some may have exceptional strengths which can be harnessed for good in society, others may really struggle to find peace with their condition. 

Many neurodivergent people also struggle to find, or stay in, employment. So, talking about superpowers may seem at times insensitive, trite or lacking in understanding. 

Kirsty Cook, Global Director, at neurodiversity & inclusion consultancy auticon, agrees: “Neurodivergent people do have a lot of strengths. But they’re not superhuman. It does us a disservice to present that message.”

Salmon has a very personal take on this, too:

“For a few years, people have talked about neurodiversity being a superpower. And when I first heard it, I quite liked it. But was it a superpower when I was struggling to get my Maths GCSE? No. It certainly wasn’t. So yeah, language is really important.”

11. Encourage them to bring their whole self to work

Again, people are divided on this one but, certainly, it’s acknowledged that many neurodivergent people end up putting a lot of energy into ‘masking’ their conditions to fit in and, therefore, have less energy to be productive in their jobs. 

A culture which embraces and encourages them, and everyone else, to be open about their challenges, as well as their strengths, is only going to help unlock more of their bandwidth.

12. Beware that stigma still exists

“There is a still a stigma [around neurodiversity],” says Phillpotts. “Especially with those who are uneducated around this area, but hopefully that will change as people are increasingly empowered to come forward.”

13. Make education a priority 

“There’s still a lack of understanding within the workplace around neurodiversity,” says Salmon. 

For instance, in the case of dyslexia (which he now has a diagnosis of), he says one in ten people in the UK have some degree of dyslexia. “Whereas only 17% of employers have a good understanding of the condition,” he says.

In his experience, this lack of understanding manifests from the minute an individual applies to work for an organisation in terms of how the recruitment process is structured.

14. Could a 4 Day Week work best for your company?

For auticon’s Cook, the 4 Day Week is a “no brainer” for neurodivergent colleagues.

“Given their challenges around regulations, a 4 Day Week could really help,” she says.

Neurodivergent talent could benefit from a 4 Day Week, for instance, because they take Wednesdays off which gives them a chance to “re-regulate” then go back to work refreshed and at their highest productivity level.

As with any neurodivergent accommodations, tailoring is key. For others, a Monday may be difficult
due to the impending small talk that they’re rather avoid that day altogether to reduce anxiety
and distraction from their work.

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We’re always on the lookout for great case studies that illustrate how workplace designs are supporting employee wellbeing, engagement and productivity. So, when we spotted these case studies from office interior design & build, fit-out, furniture & technology company Claremont, we thought we’d share them with our www.makeadifference.media readers.

The case studies showcase work on two completely different work spaces that Claremont has completed for AQA – the organisation that compiles specifications and holds examinations in various subjects at GCSE, AS and A Level in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Claremont has also completed projects for AQA in London and in Guildford.

Their work for AQA illustrates some of the ways in which work space can promote mental, physical, social and environmental wellbeing, as well as positive workplace culture.

The briefs

AQA’s first challenge to Claremont was to: design and build a dynamic hybrid environment, which maintains the chosen building’s spacious footprint and natural airiness; bringing two office locations into one centralised hub in Milton Keynes; and creating collaborative and lone-working zones to support all working styles.

This is the end result:

Ongoing partnership

Having also completed AQA’s projects in London and Guildford, Claremont were then asked to work on AQA’s Manchester head office. After 60 years of being untouched, this was in need of some attention.

Claremont’s brief was for a full strip back to a CAT-A fit out (including taking the building right back to its shell, replacing all main plants, services, electrical as well as all the external windows and infrastructure). The goal was to adapt the building to suit a more modern way of working, with an open plan setting for more collaboration and connection, complemented with more private spaces.

As Isabelle Perret, AQA’s Director of People, explains in the video (link below): “It was critical that we were able to bring people back together because we have seen that that’s how really effective collaboration takes place”. Nick Greenwood, Head of Workplace & Property at AQA adds: “Already people are making connections outside of their team and that’s been really powerful”.

You can find out more and watch the full videos of the partnership with AQA on Claremont’s website here.

AQA’s Nick Greenwood will also be joining us as a panel member at our sister event, The Office. He’ll be part of the panel running from 11.35am – 12.20pm on 23rd April entitled: Designing Inspiring Workplaces to Meet the Changing Needs of Organisations and Employees. The panel will be Chaired by Harsha Kotak, Founder, Women in Office Design. The other confirmed panel members for this session are Rachel Slade, Head of Change and Transformation, Baker McKenzie, Steve Wright, Global Director Workplace Design, GSK and Chair of Communities and Director, CoreNet UK Chapter and Dominic Brankin, Workplace Services Director, Government Property Agency.

You can sign up to join the fantastic, free-to-attend, education sessions at The Office here.

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AQA’s workspaces that promote collaboration, connection and suit all working styles

As part of the UK government’s drive to tackle in-work sickness and help grow the economy, the Department for Work and Pensions last week launched a taskforce to improve occupational health provision.

The taskforce will be led by the doyenne of employee health and wellbeing, Dame Carol Black. It aims to increase access and uptake of occupational health through:

  • Increasing information and visibility for employers on occupational health and the benefits of quality occupational health provision in retaining employees in the workplace.
  • Empowering employers to play an active role in improving employee health. 
  • Removing barriers by focusing on SMEs with restricted finances and by ensuring that the Framework is applicable across sectors. 
  • Complementing other existing health and disability workplace initiatives, including where occupational health is required in law. 

Following this, and the government’s previous consultation around the role of Occupational Health (OH) at work (see this feature here), those with a workplace wellbeing remit may be wondering how best to integrate OH with their existing approach to support employee health and wellbeing.

Currently, just 28% of employers in Britain provide some form of occupational health, with large employers nearly three times more likely than Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to do so. 

If you boil it down, OH’s purpose is to keep people well, physically and mentally, at work. This, incidentally, was one of the conclusions reached in this article we wrote on OH’s role in November 2022.

Watching out for “worklessness”

Also in this piece we quoted Anglian Water’s Head of Occupational Health Jonathan Hill arguing that the “most important message to get across” is the “important role of work in a person’s health” and the damaging effect of “worklessness”; and how this (being out of work) can quickly negatively impact a person’s mental and physical health, causing them to decline even quicker and, often, be lost to the workforce completely. 

That remains true, and a key message. Particularly when you consider we have a growing aging population and most industries are experiencing a talent shortage.

Shift from reactive to preventative

But, in the 15 months since that quote was published, the Employee Health & Wellbeing industry has increasingly agreed that there needs to be more of a shift from reactive to preventative care and that early intervention is paramount. This has been sharpened into focus as the NHS struggles to manage demand and waiting lists continue to overflow. The need for businesses to step in and take some of the burden, given they have a vested interest in keeping people working – hence the government’s consultations – is now more important than ever. 

The problem with things like government consultations, or anything that puts one discipline in the spotlight over another, is that it can detract from the shared purpose. The reality is, it doesn’t really matter what you call care provision, from OH to medical insurance to EAP, but what matters is that it’s the right care for your particular employees. 

Specialist skills in OH

OH have particular specialist skills that they can bring to bear to this problem.

As the Society of Occupational Medicine’s CEO Nick Pahl often says, OH professionals come from an evidence-based background, meaning they are concerned with effectiveness and whether there’s data to show an intervention has helped in the past. This has been a sore point for Wellbeing, as there’s historically been a lack of measurement and meaningful results, which is gradually changing (see this webinar on why measurement matters).

OH also comes from a clinical background where professionals have studied the human body and disease. That gives them a level of authority, and people are more trusting of their opinion on health matters. This is true whether OH is outsourced or not (see this article on that) but, clearly, if you have an inhouse Chief Medical Officer this lends even more gravitas to the function because it’s more visible.

OH professionals have clinical confidence

This medical background also gives OH professionals more confidence to tell workers they are not as ill as they think they might be (potentially, a hugely powerful message to receive which can improve wellbeing in itself). By contrast, wellbeing professionals are very conscious of not being seen to take wellbeing seriously enough, particularly with hot potato topics that are often in the media, such as mental health and neurodiversity. 

We spoke to a Chief Medical Officer (CMO), a highly experienced doctor, who has worked in the OH industry for over 30 years. With that amount of experience comes confidence in dealing with individuals who are suffering, as well as an ability to trust instinct. He says:

“Companies should be more aware of the fact that you can ‘repair’ people and keep them going. It’s amazing how many people you would think could not work, but actually can. And want to.”

Back pain can be “imminently fixable”

He takes the common example of someone with lower back pain which he describes as often “imminently fixable”:

“We take this person as quickly as we can get our hands on them and move them into a conditioning or reconditioning programme. We tell them we can fix this and reassure them that just because their back aches a little bit, does not mean that their spine is collapsing. We tell them that if you haven’t been stretching your ligaments, they do hurt a little bit if you do then stretch them but this should not stop you.”

As this CMO says, OH can be a huge force for good in “demystifying”, “demedicalising” and “simplifying” health conditions, especially if it’s able to intervene early. In addition to musculoskeletal health, the other workplace gamechanger on this front is mental health.

Mental health, neurodiversity & OH

He takes a similarly practical, no-nonsense approach to mental health: “We know from the data that the majority of mental health problems that afflict the working population aren’t psychosis or serious mental ill health (that’s only 7%). Most (93%) fall into the category of conditions you can ‘fix’.” 

Neurodiversity, too – currently getting much media attention – can also be massively simplified in the workplace, saving time and money for everyone concerned, the CMO says:

“I don’t think you need a label. If you came to see me about your neurodiversity, I would help you decide whether you should see a neuropsychiatrist, or whether you should just do an assessment and get some fairly easy kit. Instead what’s happened is we’ve suddenly turned it into this great big industry, costing thousands of pounds to get an assessment, when actually you could just sit down with somebody and say: what would you really like to help you?”

But, while OH might be experts in simplifying medical-speak for its patients, what it’s not been historically good at is communicating what it does clearly to people and companies outside its sector. Marketing and communications haven’t typically been a focus and, as a result, the sector needs to educate others about the breadth of what it does, and how it operates (this was also touched on in the article of 22 November 2022).

Whilst OH undoubtedly has a pivotal role to play, our conversations with employers suggest that it still has an image problem and is seen as “punitive” by some, perhaps a hangover from the days of when employees were primarily sent there as part of disciplinary action. 

‘Education piece’ to be done on OH

Certainly, the language of OH doesn’t help its cause and reflection of how much it has evolved, and is evolving. Think “absence management”, “health surveillance” and “risk assessments”, for starters. 

Julie Hernon of Spire Occupational Health says companies have already recognised the need to address these issues. “There is definitely an education piece to be done on the many strings to OH’s bow. Also how proactive rather than reactive we are, and how we can help companies on their wellbeing strategies, down to delivering seminars on key topics like menopause,” she says.

Stronger Together

Perhaps the answer to the government’s conundrum is for Wellbeing professionals and OH, and everyone else with a stake in helping people to stay healthy in employment, to work better together.

Why?

Because their skills are complementary and their objectives are largely shared.

Drop the ego

And perhaps the CMO we spoke to anonymously hits the nail on the head when he implies that what’s necessary more than anything is a shedding of ego on all sides (if you’d like to know more about doing this, see some of our most read articles, which are on ego – here, here and here).

As he says: “I think we [OH] are part of the solution. I don’t feel I have to say somebody is less important than me.” Indeed, he doesn’t even argue that it needs to be a medically trained person that carries out some of this work, which he believes could be so revolutionary for workplace wellbeing: 

“I don’t see what we do as being particularly complicated. You don’t need to be a nurse or a doctor to fix people. If you can’t fix them with the first two or three steps, then you can refer them on.”

In his experience, the most important characteristics are being open to learning, a desire to take early action, a belief in the value of the actions you’re taking and an interest in people. Oh, yes, and that vital dropping of ego in favour of the shared common goal, which he again hints at here:

“I think if we want to do health and wellbeing well, we should be trying to make sure that we do simple things really, really well. And do lots of them. Rather than the big glitzy stuff. Let’s get people moving. Let’s get people talking. Let’s get people fixed quickly.”

We’ll be honing in on this topic at The Watercooler Event during the panel session on 24th April: “Embedding occupational health into your wellbeing programme – the missing link”. This includes input from Rachel Suff, Senior Policy Adviser, CIPD, Nick Pahl, Chief Executive, SOM and occupational health disruptor Abeyna Bubbers-Jones. You can find out more and register to attend here.

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Do you know how to get the best out of OH? Or is it the missing link in your Wellbeing programme?

Human beings, and as an extension the organisations they manage, are by nature short-termist.1 Even more so during the past few years; a rapid conveyor belt of disruption and change where reactivity has been essential and our capacity to look forward reduced by collective trauma.2 Yet as the rate of change continues to increase, so does the need to plan for a fast-approaching future.

We entered 2023 already in permacrisis, under the spectre of recession, in the midst of the Ukraine war. The stark events that have unfolded since – global shocks, economic turbulence, terrorist attacks and war in the Middle East – have only further exacerbated employee burnout and mental health decline.

CEOs increasingly looking towards CHROs for solutions

It is a critical time for the HR function to play a central and strategic role in organisations by focusing on employee wellbeing; as both a moral imperative and in order to reap the productivity, efficiency and innovation benefits that will follow. As CEOs increasingly look towards CHROs for solutions, forward-thinking responses can strengthen HR’s visibility and viability.3 Some have predicted the CHRO will take on the role of ‘futurist’; looking to tomorrow and confronting change and disruption with innovation and insight.4

From AI transforming mental health tech to the digitally-native Gen Alpha entering the workforce, the changes we will see over the next six years will not only bring about a brave new world of workplace wellbeing but will also redefine success for HR professionals and catalyse a seismic shift in the role of the CHRO. Through this, employees globally will benefit in a multitude of ways.

The time to act is now. Those who get ahead of the coming wave of change and make tangible, science-backed plans starting in 2024 are the ones who will advance in the years to come.

One-, three- and six-year HR transformation plans

That’s why, this year, rather than forecasting trends for the upcoming 12 months, we’ve looked ahead to the next decade as we ask: What will define workplace wellbeing in 2030? And, consequently, how will the function of HR evolve?

Unmind’s new report, HR 2030, outlines the workplace wellbeing trends illuminated by our latest investigation, including HR’s role in shaping the future of enterprises through emerging technologies, the needs of new talent and changing business models. Our experts have also provided high-level recommendations to drive the impact of HR and its role in organisational success.

To create the report, we conducted a quantitative online survey of 3,625 HR leaders in large organisations across the US, UK and AU about the future of workplace mental health. We also spoke with academics, practitioners and industry experts to gain tangible steps you can take to get ahead from now to 2030.

Download the report to gain a unique insight into:

  • The three trends that will define HR’s success or failure.
  • How to become a strategic business partner to the C-suite.
  • One-, three- and six-year HR transformation plans to apply in your organisation.

About the author

Dr Nick Taylor is the CEO and Co-founder of Unmind, the workplace mental health platform that partners with some of the world’s greatest organisations including Uber, Major League Baseball, Standard Chartered Bank and British Airways. When Nick isn’t working closely with CHROs on their wellbeing strategies, he’s chatting to media about mental health, organizational culture and performance. Before founding Unmind, Nick was a practicing clinical psychologist and a visiting university lecturer.

References

1. MIT Technology Review. Humanity is stuck in short-term thinking. Here’s how we escape. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/10/21/1009443/short-term-vs-long-term-thinking/. Published 2020.

2. Ratcliffe M, Ruddell M, Smith B. What is a “sense of foreshortened future?” A phenomenological study of trauma, trust, and time. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014;17(5):1026. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01026 

3. Spencer Stuart. CHRO 25: How leaders are preparing for change. https://www.spencerstuart.com/research-and-insight/chro-2025. Updated 2020.

4. Mercer. Voice of the CHRO: Evolving the CHRO role in a rapidly changing world of work. https://www.mercer.com/en-us/insights/people-strategy/future-of-work/evolving-the-chro-role-in-a-rapidly-changing-world-of-work/. Published 2023.

Why HR needs to look to the future

In the realm of corporate promises, the efficacy of health and wellbeing initiatives sometimes seems to falter. Despite the best intentions, certain pervasive issues contribute to their inability to bring about lasting change. In this article, I explore some of the common pitfalls that hinder the success of these initiatives, shedding light on the need for comprehensive and sustained efforts.

The ‘Tick Box’ Exercise:

A prevalent issue arises when companies participate in what can be characterised as a perfunctory “tick box exercise.” An individual within the organisation thinks it’s a good idea to conduct a stress survey, and it might well be. The surveys are thoughtfully crafted and disseminated, prompting employees to invest time and effort in expressing their opinions. Unfortunately, in numerous instances, there is a lack of
feedback. This results in elevated expectations being met with disappointment simultaneously. Consequently, when the next survey is requested, employees may dismiss it, contributing to a cycle of disillusionment and disengagement.

Whimsical Wellbeing Investments:

Sometimes, companies allocate funds for stress management or mental health training as an occasional, one-time initiative. While beneficial for participants in the short term, these investments rarely stand the test of time. Such sporadic expenditures may stem from financial considerations, with companies looking to spend leftover budget at the end of the fiscal year to secure similar allocations in the future.

Unfortunately, without ongoing commitment, these efforts prove fleeting and fail to create lasting change.

Top-Down Endorsement:

One crucial factor contributing to the success of health and wellbeing initiatives is top-down endorsement. For these initiatives to take root and flourish, the C-suite leadership must not only vocally support them but actively participate as well. Acting as role models, they should openly express their commitment to stress reduction and the improvement of overall health and wellbeing. Such endorsement communicates a genuine value for each individual within the company, fostering a culture that prioritises employee welfare.

Unrealistic Expectations of Management:

A considerable burden often falls on management to implement and sustain health and wellbeing initiatives successfully. However, we frequently overlook the fact that managing people is a complex task that demands a unique set of skills. Many managers are expected to learn essential Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skills on the job, but the question arises: at whose expense? Adequate training and support are necessary to equip managers with the tools they need to navigate the complexities of people management within the workplace.

In Conclusion:

When confronting the challenges associated with health and well-being initiatives, it becomes apparent that a comprehensive and enduring approach is paramount. Merely engaging in superficial gestures and short-term investments proves inadequate. Instead, companies must prioritise the integration of supportive measures that become intrinsic to the organisational fabric.

Achieving success in fostering a culture of health and well-being necessitates not only top-down endorsement but also a realistic comprehension of the challenges faced by management. By embracing this approach, businesses can cultivate an environment where health and well-being initiatives not only function but thrive in the long run, contributing to the sustained welfare of their workforce.

About the author:

Carole Spiers FISMA, FPSA, MIHPE is Chair of the International Stress Management Association UK, founded International Stress Awareness Week, and is a sought-after motivational speaker, frequently addressing global audiences on stress reduction, mental health and wellbeing.

Carole’s credibility is rooted in 25 years success as CEO of a leading UK Stress Management Consultancy, Carole Spiers Group, working with equal success both in the UK and the Gulf. She is a well-respected authority on building resilience and communication skills, a BBC Guest-Broadcaster and author of ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’

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Why do some health and wellbeing initiatives not work…?

In 2024 employers’ understanding is growing of both the value of flexibility for colleagues and the importance of face-to-face time. Employers are also realising that work environments are an essential part of the workplace wellbeing mix. They now need to provide better and healthier office experiences, both in physical terms and in terms of support available.

The Office Event offers a stellar programme of free-to-attend education sessions and partner-led workshops. Plus an exhibition for leaders who understand the need to adapt their work spaces to meet the diverse and changing needs of employees and want to compare best-in-class suppliers.

Co-located with The Watercooler Event, on 23rd & 24th April at ExCel, London, we’re looking forward to two days of top-notch insight, inspiration and networking: where workplace culture, employee health & wellbeing, workspace innovation and workplace experience connect.

Here are five reasons why The Office is a not-to-be-missed event for HR leaders, key buyers and purchasing influencers from the UK’s top employers, commercial real estate professionals and managers.

1) Quality, free-to-attend, compelling main stage content

The content for the inaugural The Office Event is second-to-none. Our conference producer has done a spectacular job pulling together a brilliant lineup of speakers. With input confirmed from a raft of employers that are leading by example in their approach to workplace design and experience including: AQA, Arup, Baker McKenzie, Barclays, Convex, GSK, GWI, Legal & General, Roche and WeTransfer.

ART Health are Content Partners for the event. Ellie Caley, their Senior Workplace and Wellbeing Consultant, along with GSK’s Senior Programme Director, Christopher Higgins, will be answering the question: How do you create one of the healthiest workplaces in the world? You can get a taste of this session in this profile interview with Ellie.

Plus, luminaries such as Tim Oldman, Founder & CEO, Leesman, Ben Channon and Dr Nigel Oseland, speakers from International WELL Building Institute, Journal of Biophilic Design, The Human-Centric Workplace, HOK, Motionspot, Targeting Zero LLP, Women in Office Design and many more.

Across the two days, a mixture of keynotes, case studies and panel sessions on The Office main stage will keep you up to date with the latest trends, thinking and best practice in workplace and workspace solutions for employee wellbeing, engagement and productivity.

And it’s all free to attend. You can find the full programme of conference sessions here.

2) Hands-on learning at the partner-led workshops

Complementing the main-stage agenda will be interactive, partner-led workshops. Already confirmed workshops include: “Sustainable Spaces, Happy Faces”. This will be presented by office design and fit-out B-Corp Interaction. The workshop will explore how employers can create a workspace experience that is flexible, people-centric and rooted in authenticity, inclusivity and sustainability.

Meanwhile, MyCoocoon will present: “Colour in Action. Enhancing wellbeing and fostering togetherness in the workplace”. They’ll be honing in on the science of colour, colour and technology and the benefits of feeling colour in the workplace. Drawing on real-life examples from their work with L’Oreal Luxury.

3) An immersive multi-sensory experience

After their workshop, MyCoocoon will be inviting everyone to have a sensory reset on their stand.

The Workplace Geeks podcast will be joining us at the event too, conducting 10-minute interviews with speakers, sponsors and attendees. These will then be knitted together to create a “Highlights of The Office Event” episode of the podcast.

The Mute’s Jetson Pod which Workplace Geeks will use for the podcast is provided by OBO Life. As the Founding Event Supporter OBO Life will also be supplying ergonomic chairs for the conference theatre.

Plus, experience first-hand the power of plants. As the event’s Official Workplace Planting Partner, Benholm Group will be dressing The Office main stage as well as parts of The Watercooler Event, including the VIP networking lounge.

4) Give-aways, launches and competitions to add value to your visit

As well as opportunities for real-time networking and knowledge sharing, don’t miss The Office’s launches, give-aways and competitions including:

  • The opportunity to win an Apple iPad on Cardinus’ stand.
  • Branded giveaways and workout essentials on Peloton’s stand.
  • Access to Oktra’s freshly launched new guide: 8 Design Tips for a High-Performance Workplace.
  • Exclusive access to ART Health’s workshop packages at discounted rates on their stand.
  • Interaction will have a variety of giveaways on their stand, determined by a Spin The Wheel – everything from top-quality hoodies to notebooks made of recycled elephant poo.
  • Nespresso will have their Nespresso corporate coffee makers in The Office VIP lounge

5) Fast-track your supplier and partner search

The exhibition of leading suppliers also features a dedicated space for pre-arranged 1-2-1 meetings. The 1-2-1 meetings connect senior decision makers who are serious about investing in their workspace with suppliers. Both parties have to opt in to a meeting to ensure the best possible outcomes for all involved. If you would like to arrange 1-2-1 meetings with suppliers at the event, please drop us a note at info@makeadifference.events.

The Office Event is the perfect opportunity to ensure your workplace is fit for the future. We look forward to seeing you there.

You can find full details and register FREE here.

5 Reasons why The Office is a must-attend event for all employers

Ahead of The Office, our inaugural sister exhibition with free-to-attend education programme – taking place alongside The Watercooler on 23rd & 24th April at ExCel in London – we asked leading suppliers to tell us why now is the perfect time for this forward-thinking event and what they’re looking forward to.

This is what they told us:

ART Health GroupContent Partner

In today’s fast-changing business world, we often find ourselves with more questions than answers:

  • How can we create a hybrid work strategy that balances productivity and employee satisfaction?
  • How can we design our spaces to attract and keep talented employees?
  • What’s the best way to return to the office confidently?

These are just a few of the many challenges we face. But the biggest question is: How do we succeed when everything around us is constantly changing? We know employers want to do more than just keep up. They want to lead from the front by creating a positive and impactful environment.

We’re looking forward to sharing how we’ve assisted global organisations in securing their future investments in the workplace, enhancing their teams’ skills and fostering a happier, healthier and more production work environment.

Anabas

With the rise of hybrid working models being adopted by businesses, the timing couldn’t be better. As specialists in corporate office Facilities Management (FM), we are equipped to assist clients in navigating their hybrid working models and elevating the overall workplace experience. We are keen to connect with prospective clients who are committed to enhancing their workplace environment, aiming to attract and retain top talent

Audiem

With so many workplace teams wrestling with a number of challenges it’s crucial that they have data at their disposal that doesn’t just show them what is happening in their workplaces but also WHY. We’ll be at the show looking to talk to organisations about how they measure workplace experience.

Current approaches to employee feedback can only get you so far. So, we’ll be showcasing our cutting edge, AI powered, free-text analysis software which allows data to be categorised against our peer-reviewed Workplace Mix framework, assessed for sentiment, mined for key topics and sorted for suggestions from the workforce.

Benholm Group – Official Workplace Planting Partner

Benholm Group are thrilled to be a part of The Office event during The Watercooler, reaffirming our commitment to supporting vibrant and healthy workplaces. As both a supplier and exhibitor, we look forward to showcasing our creative planting solutions as part of biophilic design.

Our aim is to help businesses understand that fostering workplace wellbeing is not just a trend – its an investment in the success and happiness of your team. A positive and nurturing work environment, filled with greenery, directly correlates with increased job satisfaction, higher productivity, and lower stress levels.

We’re excited about the chance to showcase the power of plants in creating inviting and distinctive work spaces – we can’t wait to see you all there!” 

Cardinus

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), in 2023, 44% of UK workers currently work in some form of remote capacity. 16% were full-time remote workers and 28% were hybrid workers who split their time between office and home-based work.

The Office event provides a timely opportunity for us to speak with organisations about the home, office and working practices and we look forward to explaining how we can help them to minimise their Display, Screen, Equipment (DSE) compliance risk and maintain a health workforce.

InteractionWorkshop Partner

Employee expectations have drastically changed and organisations need to move quickly to keep up. 

When thoughtfully designed, an office can aid recruitment, harness innovation, create a community and bulletproof an organisation’s culture. People won’t settle for anything less than a great employee experience, even if they’re only in the office a couple of days a week – the days of the uninspiring office are numbered. 

Yet many companies are still struggling to figure out the role their workplace plays for them, and how to maximise its impact on both their people and culture in a hybrid world. Through our “Sustainable spaces, happy faces” workshop and stand, we’ll be helping organisations to figure out how to make their workplace become the beating heart of their business. 

MyCoocoon – Workshop Partner

In a world where mental health and wellbeing are paramount and the prioritisation of the human experience is key, people are looking for transformative experiences. By incorporating colour as an emotional and psychological tool, organisations can enhance the effectiveness and interpretability of MI metrics: from improving employee wellbeing to making data-driven decisions more intuitive and impactful.

We are looking forward to showcasing in our workshop how “Colour in Action” can enhance wellbeing and foster togetherness. We’ll also be inviting everyone to have a sensory reset on our stand.

OBO Live – Founding Event Supporter

As the world of work continues to be in the spotlight, The Office Event will provide a perfect forum for the exchange of data-driven information and inspirational thinking.

Oktra

While initially a key focus following the pandemic, the return to office is now seen as a standard expectation rather than as a strategic catalyst, with the focus now shifting to the creation of environments that drive business objectives above all else—whether that be revenue, brand elevation or talent attraction.

The right workplace design can significantly move the needle on those objectives, but it’s essential to understand that it’s part of a larger ecosystem. This ecosystem includes a balanced investment in the workforce, the adoption of suitable technologies and the creation of spaces that encourage productivity and wellbeing.

A high-performance workplace is characterised by its ability to adapt to the evolving needs of the business and its employees, supporting them in achieving the company’s strategic goals. Work environments now need to not only meet the functional requirements of work but also elevate the human experience, driving towards a future where the office is not just places of work, but a catalyst for growth and innovation.

We are looking forward to meeting buyers who see the value in a thoughtfully-designed workplace that nurtures the productivity and wellbeing of staff; helping them to elevate their employees’ workplace experience.

Peldon Rose

Over the last few years, we’ve continued to redefine the role that ‘The Office’ plays in our working lives and wider society. As we head into 2024, there are still so many interesting conversations taking place.

As workplace strategists and office design experts, we’re excited to be leading the conversation and look forward to connecting with businesses who want to harness the power of the workplace to deliver exceptional experiences for their people, while unlocking business performance.

Peloton

This is the first time ever that Peloton is launching Corporate Wellbeing benefits at a trade show and we are very excited to meet clients from all industries. Whether you’re looking to create attractive office spaces for your employees or you’re adding unique wellbeing benefits into your employee offerings through the game-changing Peloton products and experience!

You can find out more and register to attend The Office Event here.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Leading voices tell us why now is the perfect time for The Office Event