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Are you ready for a new era of workplace mental health and wellbeing?

Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace are more critical than ever before. In just two years, we’ve experienced a decade of change in the world of work. Burnout is ubiquitous, uncertainty persists and now the cost-of-living crisis is biting.

Whilst adapting to meet fast-evolving employee needs and expectations undoubtedly presents challenges, it also opens opportunities for employers to scale-up workplace mental health and wellbeing support, embed wellbeing as a strategic priority and set a new benchmark for best practice.

At the 5th annual MAD World Summit, we’ll be helping employers to step-up by showcasing what’s working now and exploring what’s needed next to weave mental health and wellbeing into your organisation’s DNA, achieve maximum engagement with initiatives, optimise investment in workplace wellbeing and really Make A Difference.

Wherever you are on your workplace wellbeing journey, join us on 11th October for a day packed with insight, inspiration, networking and practical takeaways including:

  • Agenda-setting keynotes from business, thought and health leaders
  • Cross-sector case studies and panel discussions
  • Roundtables for real-time knowledge exchange and networking
  • Interactive workshops to dive deeper into topics that matter
  • 40 suppliers of work culture, mental health and wellbeing solutions under one roof

Mad World Summit

Key topics we’ll be addressing include:

  • What works in wellbeing: beyond rhetoric to practical, evidence-based measurement
  • Approaches to creating cultures of care and embedding mental health and wellbeing into organisational strategy
  • Stepping up mental health and wellbeing support – whatever your budget
  • How to support colleagues’ financial wellbeing through the cost-of-living crisis
  • Equipping leaders and managers with the skills to support their own and colleagues’ wellbeing in the new world of work
  • Finding the balance between an individual and an employer’s responsibility for mental health and wellbeing in the workplace
  • What next for the Chief Wellbeing Officer? Your career in workplace mental health and wellbeing
  • Navigating the intersection between culture, psychological safety and DEI
  • The power of community: making the most of peer-to-peer networks
  • Understanding and supporting menopause at work
  • The future of work and workplace mental health and wellbeing

And much more.  You can view the agenda here.

We'll Be Sharing

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.

Gold Sponsors

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Latest Make A Difference News

Make A Difference News

Headspace Health’s 2022 Workforce Attitudes to Health Survey indicates that whist 71% of respondents say their company increased focus on mental health because of the pandemic, crucially, only 25% say they’ve kept that focus up.

This leaves employees vulnerable as they deal with the cumulative and lasting impact of the past two years.

Building your business case

To maintain momentum, it’s essential to be able to make a sound business case which proves the return on investment in mental health support, but many are finding it hard to find the right way to approach this.

If you’re facing this challenge, join us on Wednesday 2nd November from 10.00am – 11.00am for our interactive Make A Difference webinar, sponsored by Headspace Health: “The value of investing in mental health and mindfulness”.

Tune in to gain answers to your questions with practical, transferrable tips including:

• How to determine the true measurement of success of mindfulness.
• Why, when it comes to investing in mental wellbeing, employers need to take a long-term perspective.
• Case study illustrating how mindfulness is making a tangible difference as part of a holistic approach to workplace mental health and wellbeing.

Featuring insights from experts including:

• Rachel Skews, Health Coach Manager, Headspace Health
• Robert Manson, Head of Health & Wellbeing, RWE Generation
• Sean Tolram, Mindfulness Programme Manager, HSBC

The content is designed for:

• C-Suite, HR, Wellbeing, Benefits & Rewards and Business Transformation Leaders
• Talent, Engagement and Communication Leaders
• Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Leaders
• Wellbeing Champions

In other words, anyone who is responsible for supporting the mental health and wellbeing of colleagues, and creating the working conditions under which every individual can thrive.

We look forward to seeing you there. If you can’t make the date/time, go ahead and register anyway and we’ll send you the recording a few days after the session.

You can find more details and reserve your place here.

New webinar: The value of investing in mental health and mindfulness

Hannah Pearsall, head of wellbeing at recruitment firm Hays, which has about 3000 employees in the UK, loves her job and the company, where she’s worked for 21 years.

One of the realisations she’s had in her wellbeing role, which she took on in February, is that “there’s a huge difference between the provision of wellbeing content and initiatives and the creation of a culture that enables people to make positive choices”.

While she believes that wellbeing initiatives and campaigns have their place, her priority is creating a culture of wellness and the initiatives they do run must fit into a holistic strategy that aligns with business objectives. She says she’s constantly telling her colleagues that “wellbeing is not about yoga and bananas!”

We caught up with Hannah to ask her more about what she is doing on the wellbeing front and why. You can catch her at MAD World, too, where she is Chairing a panel about wellbeing champions networks.

Can you tell me about your wellbeing focus at Hays at the moment?

What we’re finding with wellbeing is that initiatives that aren’t seen as ‘wellbeing initiatives’ have the greatest impact. So, for instance, we’ve found it’s much more impactful to focus on the fundamental features of the workplace and the way that individuals are treated on a day to day basis.

We are currently rolling out two workshops ‘Conscious Inclusion’ and ‘Managing Well’. The latter, in particular, looks at the ways that managers can influence wellbeing and recognises the way in which the role of the manager has changed over the last couple of years in particular with the advent of hybrid working.

Pre-Covid you could say that the manager role was quite one dimensional because your team were right in front of you. Then, everyone was at home and now we are officially hybrid, which has had a big impact for us. So this workshop is about helping managers understand how they develop their management skills to be effective in this new world.

The Conscious Inclusion workshop is about creating an environment that’s open and fair for everybody, raising self awareness and fostering psychological safety, so people can make mistakes without fear of what’s going to happen as a result. It’s also to encourage people to recognise some of their shortcomings when it comes to things like unconscious bias and acknowledging that nobody’s perfect, we all have biases despite our best intentions.

It’s looking at really practical ways in which we can create a culture that’s much more open and fair where people can share vulnerability. In society vulnerability is associated with weakness but, actually, vulnerability is our best way of connecting with people; the more we can do to encourage people to be authentic and share, the better culture we create, which feeds into everything that we’re trying to achieve from a wellbeing, but also overall business, perspective.

Is there anything that really surprised you when you developed this new material?

I suppose it’s that point that it’s the little things that can have a big impact. I’m working in wellbeing day in, day out, so I guess I’m much more aware of how actions might impact and I think it’s been a real journey educating people on this front. What’s really become clear is that it’s not about throwing lots of wellbeing initiatives at people but, rather, creating an environment in a culture that fosters positive choices and behaviour when it comes to wellbeing.

Can you give me an example of how this training would then be taken on practically by a line manager?

Yes. One of the exercises at the end of the workshops is about creating a conscious inclusion charter within each team. That is where the team themselves come up with a list of practical ideas for how they can achieve a consciously inclusive environment.

The ideas coming out of this are, for example, holding a monthly meeting to talk about differences in a team and making sure all voices are heard. We have a number of different employee networks. We have Hays Black Network, Parents @Hays, Pride (our LGBTQ+ network) REACH (Recognising & Enabling All colleagues and Conditions at Hays, our network for colleagues living with long term ill health, disability or injury – visible or invisible). We’ve been talking about how to be a better ally and how everybody can play their part. How allyship is less about just calling yourself an ally and more about actually taking actions.

So, for example, have you got your pronouns on your email signature? And your LinkedIn profile? And a key part is getting people to recognise that it’s OK to challenge and call people out if we hear or see things that are being said or done in the office that we’re not comfortable with. We’re going to make mistakes and this, again, comes back to the importance of vulnerability, connection and empathy.

We talk a lot about the challenge of being vulnerable as a manager because there’s this perception that you’ve got to be totally in control and confident and never get anything wrong. And that’s actually complete rubbish!

What has the feedback from managers have been like?

It’s been a bit of an eye opener in the sense that we’ve never had any training like this before and these things – compassion, empathy and vulnerability, for example – are the kinds of things we don’t normally talk about.

Can you tell me more about how you help managers to create psychological safety in their teams?

Yes. We talk about the conditions that are important for compassionate conversations. What I mean by that is a compassionate conversation isn’t about fixing somebody’s problem, it’s about using good listening skills and responding in a non-judgmental and supportive way and creating a safe space for somebody to share.

Can you tell me why you decided to make the Conscious Inclusion course mandatory to all and the Managing Well required for managers?

Because until everyone understands the individual role they play in achieving conscious inclusion, we’re not going to achieve it. Up until this point I think the perception may have been that it was more our senior leadership teams that were responsible for creating the culture. Making the course mandatory makes really clear that it’s a collective responsibility. It offers people a safe space to discuss these topics because we are sometimes pushing them out of their comfort zone and recognising that some of these exercises might make you feel a bit uncomfortable and hard to talk about – but that’s the intention of the workshop because we’ve all got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable or we’re never going to be vulnerable and be able to truly show our authentic selves.

Have you done anything else to help employees adjust to this new hybrid culture?

 Yes – we’ve also issued a guide, which is, you could say, a ‘wellbeing etiquette’ guide containing hints and tips. A small but impactful example is that just because a colleague has got their green dot showing on Microsoft Teams doesn’t mean you can just call them unannounced. And if someone has the red dot symbol on, then don’t call them because that is really distracting as they’re obviously in the middle of something.

Another example is if someone has their out of office on, then think – do you really have to copy them in to that email you’re about to send? Could you avoid clogging up their inbox by just holding back? All these kind of actions, that people might not consider big, have the potential to really impact on wellbeing.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for somebody reading this article on getting line managers to understand wellbeing better and buy-in to it?

I think it’s got to be around collaboration because wellbeing as a standalone function is never going to achieve what we’ve talked about today. It has to be fully integrated with learning and development, HR, operations, EDI, reward and benefit, etc. In order for wellbeing to become a top priority day in, day out and to form the culture we’re trying to achieve, you’ve got to collaborate. It’s got to be woven through everything we do.

Hannah will be Chairing a panel at The MAD World Summit, which is taking place in Central London on 11th October. MAD stands for Make A Difference. Now in its 5th year, the Summit is the go-to solutions-focused conference and exhibition for  employers who want to embed mental health and wellbeing as a strategic priority. Find out more about the different ways to register and sign up here.

If you’re an EMPLOYER, you can sign up for 3 x 15 minute 1-2-1 meetings with exhibitors at the Summit. This will also entitle you to a FREE DELEGATE PASS WORTH £595.00 and access to all sessions. Terms and conditions apply, view here.

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Profile: Hannah Pearsall, head of wellbeing at Hays

Call centres are traditionally associated with large, noisy, open plan offices with workers packed in, with clear guidelines on things like start times, end times and when people can take breaks.

Given this kind of set up, it’s understandable why many managers argue it’s difficult to offer their staff much autonomy. But National Grid Metering, run by Maxine Long, has proven that employees can co-create a job design that works for them and working practices that support their mental health and wellbeing.

“During the pandemic, it could have been argued that the metering was critical infrastructure and had to keep running the business the way it always had been,” says Rachael Davidson, former general counsel for National Grid, now studying for an MSc in Neuroscience and Mental Health.

Embracing the challenge rather than the status quo

“But Maxine, a very energetic, forward-thinking leader, embraced the idea of employees working out the best option for them in her 200 strong business unit. She stepped into the mental health space knowing that, with such big cost and performance challenges, it would be much better to work with the people in her business on how they’d like to work.”

Metering had already been piloting more autonomous and less hierarchical ways of working for about a year when the pandemic struck. “We knew we were going into unprecedented times and our ability to listen to our people, learn quickly and adapt enabled us to not only improve performance but also to support wellbeing, It really did accelerate our plans,” says Long.

Long knows that having the choice about where, when, and how the work gets done to achieve clearly defined business outcomes is good for employee wellbeing. But, of course, this has to be done within the constraints that are determined by customer demand.

Know your business and your people

“It’s about really knowing your business, your people and really embracing hybrid working and accommodating preferences,” she says. “Something that hadn’t been done before in the business.”

As much as possible, Long also gave her colleagues flexibility around how they worked, breaking the workforce into small autonomous groups to decide how the workload and targets would get split and how the targets achieved. These groups also were given the opportunity to design their job description as well as define ‘what does good performance look like in our business function?’

“They also had more input on performance targets and became more group oriented rather than individual,” says Davidson. “And a small group like this is more autonomous and supportive of each other, so usually more aware of who is doing well and where the performance gaps are.”

Autonomy led to clear results

Creating this kind of culture means that the group is able to identify if one of their colleagues is struggling and support them more quickly, without it becoming a big intervention. “The group can agree that they’ll modify that person’s targets for a while, or encourage them to work more flexibly, to have more time to recuperate or rest,” says Davidson.

The impact of giving these employees more autonomy in designing their jobs has been significant. Teams exceeded their targets, leading to enhanced performance goals, and there’s been a continuous rise in employee engagement scores. “All this during the pandemic, too!” says Davidson.

“The results speak for themselves” says Long. “As an example, we have just achieved our highest customer satisfaction scores ever at 89%. In our most recent employee survey 86% of our team felt that we cared about them as individuals, which is double-digits ahead of the expected high-performing norm. We have demonstrated that our approach is working for our people, our customers and business.”

Davidson believes the ability to give employees autonomy is only going to increase as we emerge out of the pandemic and find a ‘new normal’ at work. “Autonomy and a sense of control is such a significant factor in terms of managing mental health,” she says. “We need leaders that are flexible and willing to try approaches that might take more time initially than the cookie cutter plan.”

This topic is one of the many that will be covered at The MAD World Summit, which is taking place in Central London on 11th October. MAD stands for Make A Difference. Now in its 5th year, the Summit is the go-to solutions-focused conference and exhibition for  employers who want to embed mental health and wellbeing as a strategic priority. Find out more about the different ways to register and sign up here.

If you’re an EMPLOYER, you can sign up for 3 x 15 minute 1-2-1 meetings with exhibitors at the Summit. This will also entitle you to a FREE DELEGATE PASS WORTH £595.00 and access to all sessions. Terms and conditions apply, view here.

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Studies have found that employees with flexible working arrangements take greater pride in and are more emotionally attached to their work. These flexible arrangements improve work–life balance, job satisfaction, engagement and productivity, while decreasing stress, turnover intentions and exhaustion. Efficiency also increases as people are able to choose optimal working conditions, save time and energy by reducing commuting time, and are compelled to communicate more effectively.

The impact of autonomy on workplace wellbeing

Studies investigating the impact of these new ways of working have found that it is autonomy that is key to unlocking the benefits. This means giving workers control over the when and where of work. At Hoxby they call this workstyle.

Hoxby is a community-based business and B-Corp that has no offices and no working hours. It has been the test environment for workstyle since 2015, during which time its highly diverse teams have come together to deliver impact-based projects for clients including Unilever, AIA, Merck and AWS. Other companies are following suit in the wake of the Covid pandemic and a realisation of what is now possible.

It isn’t surprising. For the last 4 years, Hoxby has also conducted research into the impact of autonomy on business performance. Their conclusion is that when people have autonomy to decide when and where they work (workstyle) they are more productive as a result of an increased state of wellbeing.

The research also concluded that for this to happen, there are two things that are required for the benefits of workstyle to be enjoyed:

1. Autonomy must be a voluntary choice of working style by the individual involved

While an employee may have the autonomy to work outside of the traditional 9-5 structure to improve their work–life balance they may also feel compelled to work all the time, even at the cost of work–life balance. Therefore, the culture of a workplace must encourage individuals to stick to their preferred style of working, so that they can enjoy true autonomy.

Hoxby understands that with autonomy must come accountability; this is achieved in a number of ways. The community operates as a meritocracy where members are judged on the quality of their work, rather than time spent, promoting a culture that eliminates the pressure to be ‘always on’.

One of their values is #respecttheworkstyle. This culture is self-policed by all Hoxbies. For example, when booking a video call or requesting information on a deadline, it’s not uncommon for an individual to end their Slack message by saying ‘please let me know a day or time that fits with your #workstyle’.

Hoxbies are also diligent about turning off their notifications when not working. In addition, they use post-project reviews to highlight any issues where #workstyle has been compromised due to client or project requirements, so that they can make adjustments in the future.

Lastly, for work where more traditional coverage is required, for example an Account Director who needs to support a client during their office hours, the work will often be delivered by multiple individuals who can cover the required hours together.

2. Autonomy must not be unwittingly restricted by the organisation

Autonomy won’t work if the workstyle is not representative of the person’s choice. For example, a full-time employee having to work remotely as a result of cost-cutting measures that has led to closure of an office location, or an independent worker working in a freelance capacity as a result of their inability to secure a permanent role.

At Hoxby they know that everyone is working in their preferred way as they have opted-in by joining Hoxby-and their application process sets very clear expectations of this.

Hoxby also provides a structure that counters many of the drawbacks reported by independent workers. Members of the business enjoy support from their peers, connection to a purpose, extensive mental health and community engagement initiatives, and improved (although not guaranteed) financial security through their profit-share scheme and access to a wider network of work opportunities, all of which focus on the wellbeing that is so important to both productivity and to their vision of creating a happier, more fulfilled society.

So, the research proves a link between autonomy and productivity that we have seen first hand but data isn’t enough to change behaviour.

Over the course of history, we have witnessed seismic human behaviour changes arising simply through the introduction of new words. You only have to appraise your post-pandemic understanding of what it means to be part of a bubble or on a zoom to see just how influential our language can be.

Workstyle can be the word we all use to bring about the inevitable, autonomous future of work that is better for our wellbeing, our productivity and also for society.

About the authors:

Lizzie and Alex are friends, entrepreneurs, inspiring speakers and changemakers. Together they came up with the concept of workstyle, to refresh the world of work and change it for the better. They have been leading the Workstyle Revolution for a decade, founding a social enterprise, Hoxby, to prove the concept.
They have helped thousands of workstylers around the world to set, project and respect their own workstyles, and are conducting pioneering research into the link between autonomy, productivity and wellbeing. Their business has delivered projects in a workstyle way for some of the biggest brands in the world.

You can read all about Hoxby’s approach in Hoxby co-founders Lizzie and Alex’s new book – Workstyle; A revolution for wellbeing, productivity and society. Available now to pre-order on Amazon.

Promoting Autonomy In The Workplace – The Proven Way To Improve Wellbeing and Productivity

With the cost of living crisis adversely affecting many people’s daily lives, it’s not surprising that financial wellbeing is a hot topic right now. However, one aspect of the topic that isn’t often touched on, is that of financial abuse.

Given the worrying statistic that almost one in five British adults have experienced financial abuse, it’s important to highlight this aspect as it has strong implications on the financial wellbeing of many people, and can happen to anyone, irrespective of gender or age.

Credit management company, Lowell has revealed the signs you should look out for if you suspect financial abuse as well as how you can get support.

Research shows that almost one in five (18%) of British adults have experienced financial abuse in a current or past relationship. Of this, one in five women (21%) and one in seven men (15%) have been a victim.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a type of domestic abuse where someone has power over you and your finances. There are several types of financial abuse, and sadly it can happen to anybody – regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.

Here are five signs you should look out for if you suspect financial abuse:

  • Being asked to prove where you’re spending money and what on 
  • Telling you how you can, and can’t, spend your money       
  • Adding their name to your account or taking control of your accounts
  • Leaving you to pay off debt after making you take out money, or getting loans in your name 
  • Preventing you from accessing your accounts

Lowell asked their Customer Panel about their experience with financial abuse, and found that 37% have been a victim of it directly, or know of someone who has.

When it comes to the different forms of financial abuse, over half (51%) of respondents mentioned someone spending money without telling you. Over two-fifths (41%) brought up someone deliberately withholding funds to stop you from seeing other family and friends, and finally, 38% said that their abuser kept track of every single thing they buy.

Lowell also conducted a separate survey asking Brits how confident they would be in being able to spot the signs of financial abuse. One in six (15%) admitted that they don’t know the signs to look out for.

What can you do if you suspect financial abuse?

  • Speak to someone you trust – Reaching out to family and friends gives you that extra support when you feel the most vulnerable. Once you openly talk about the abuse you are experiencing, it can often feel easier to deal with.
  • Get help from domestic abuse charities – These charities provide support and life-saving services for people who are suffering from abuse. Domestic abuse charities have teams of highly trained advisers that offer community-based aid.
  • Keep an emergency fund – If possible, try to save some of your own money as a safety net. You could ask a family member or close friend to look after it.
  • Contact the police – Dependant on the threat posed by the abuser, you can report the abuse to the police. They can intervene in the situation, arrest anyone committing offences and offer you the best support.

Natasha Saunders, an active campaigner and independent consultant for causes against domestic abuse, spoke to Lowell about her experiences:

“Financial abuse is a crippling pandemic that has been occurring since time began. Speaking out about financial abuse often brings ridicule and disbelief. Having your bank accounts monitored, keeping receipts to prove the cost of things, and having vital things such as sanitary products or food withheld is abuse. Those are all things I suffered with my ex-husband.”

John Pears, UK CEO at Lowell, adds:

“The results from our research around financial abuse are both shocking and deeply upsetting to read. The lasting impact of financial abuse can be devastating, but it’s important to know that if you, or someone you love, are at risk from suspected financial abuse, you are not alone. There are many specialist organisations who can help.

At Lowell, we put our customers’ wellbeing first, and we’ll always make sure customers can access the support they need by sharing where to find independent support and advice services. 

You can also find more information about the signs of domestic abuse and information on support and helplines available on the GOV website, or you can contact Refuge’s National Abuse Domestic Helpline directly on 0808 2000 247.”

For more information on Lowell’s financial abuse campaign visit: https://www.lowell.co.uk/about-us/lowells-blog/financial-health/how-many-brits-have-dealt-with-financial-abuse/

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Caroline Eglinton is head of inclusion at East West Railway Company and the government’s Disability and Access Ambassador for the rail industry.

Living with both Cystic Fibrosis and ADHD, she’s a passionate and inspiringly open advocate around all things disability, neurodiversity, mental health and non-visible conditions at work. Despite some people considering these topics to be uncomfortable, she pushes herself to talk about her lived, personal experiences because she believes that this is the way to shed the stigma.

Having herself only recently been diagnosed with ADHD, she has a unique perspective on what ‘good looks like’ when it comes to embracing neurodiversity at work.

We caught up with her to find out what it’s been like sharing her ADHD diagnosis with her employer…

So you identify as being neurodivergent, is that right?

Yes, I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 39, after strongly suspecting that I may have the condition for around a year.

What made you think you might have ADHD?

There are a lot of things about me that I would describe as ‘quirks’. Some of these I just see as part of who I am and don’t cause me much hassle – but some, like finding it really difficult to relax because my mind is always on the go, do impact on my life and during the pandemic seemed to be magnified.

ADHD symptoms in women can often be misunderstood, sometimes mistaken for stress or anxiety, and some of the common signs of ADHD were showing up in my life very often.  Once I started to realise that the things that I really did find difficult – for example keeping up with laundry at home, or delivering project work on time at work – were because of ADHD, I was able to feel a sense of relief, explanation and be able to release the intense shame that I really held with me my entire adult life.

I was very good at masking my struggles. I can bet you that no-one ever guessed that the reason that I wore so many new clothes was not because I was a fashion fanatic, but because I found it really hard to keep up with laundry, organise my clothing and think of what to wear to work! I would often on impulse buy clothes to wear to work without even trying them on.  It took me a long time to realise that my coping mechanisms weren’t helping me manage my life, but were making it worse.

My quirky and somewhat chaotic life was manageable until my daughter came along – she’s three-and-a-half – and then it became much harder. After her birth I felt overwhelmed a lot of the time, but couldn’t put my finger on WHAT exactly was overwhelming me or how I might start to work on improving that.

Since my early 20s I’d sought out help for what was diagnosed as depression back then, but now in hindsight was due to ADHD burnout and exhaustion. I started doing some online research about ADHD, as we had been developing an employer guide about neurodiversity at work and I noticed that some of the descriptions were hitting very close to home. I finally had the light-bulb moment when I did an online test for the ADHD and it came out as a very strong likelihood.

So you recognised yourself in the guide?

Absolutely – I have to be honest that before I realised I had ADHD I hadn’t really considered that my whole life was shaped by and through the experience of being neurodivergent.  I am very happy to be neurodivergent, it’s who I am – I wouldn’t change it!

What’s been your biggest learning since being diagnosed?

For me it’s around being able to let go of the shame. Before, I carried around this really heavy shame around the things I found difficult and used a lot of energy to mask – sometimes unconsciously. Finally having answers as to why I am this way, as well as access to the information and resources on how to make life easier on myself has been a brilliant learning curve.

How has your diagnosis helped? Has it helped?

Whilst I strongly suspected that I had ADHD for around a year, getting a formal diagnosis really did help me. Importantly, ADHD is highly treatable and medication can help to manage symptoms. However you can only be prescribed the medication if you have had an official diagnosis.  Whilst the medication doesn’t make ADHD “go away” it has really enabled me to improve lots of areas of my life, including focus and attention.

Did you go through a proper assessment?

I did. When I realised that there were limited routes to an NHS diagnosis in my area I opted for a private assessment. In total it cost me around £1,300 for the assessment and getting started on the medication, and now I’m in the very fortunate position of having my medication supplied via my GP.

And how do you support your wellbeing yourself, too, because neurodivergent people are often more likely to develop mental health problems?

For me, it’s been liberating to talk about it. I am very open and talk about ADHD as a very ordinary thing about myself, just like how you might mention in passing that you are a parent. I think it’s important to make this a very ordinary subject to talk about – it helps to remove the stigma.

I recall telling some friends who happen to be school teachers who said ‘gosh Caroline, we’d never have known that you’ve got ADHD because you’re nothing like the four-year old boy in our class’, so it’s important for me to keep talking about how ADHD looks different in women.

What do you think employers can do better?

I think the key thing that employers can do is to enable conversations on the subject, to make it an easy everyday subject to be able to talk about. Create safe places for the discussions to happen and allow people to share their common experiences.

How did it go being open about your ADHD diagnosis in your new job?

It’s actually worked out really well because somebody else I spoke to on the first day told me that they had ADHD. I couldn’t believe it when they told me because I’ve never had anyone come out and just tell me straight away like that. Which is silly really when you consider that one in seven people may be neurodiverse.

What about catering for specific needs at work?

Flexibility and workplaces adjustments are key!

The other thing I did was seek support through the Governments ‘Access to Work’ scheme. They paid for me to have access to an ADHD coach which was really useful for me.

What’s your biggest concern about how neurodivergent people are treated at work?

It’s great that there is much more awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace now and that people are more open to talking about it. However, there is still room for far more education on the topic and building more understanding of the breadth of neurodiversity. I would like to see more resources provided to non-neurodivergent colleagues, and managers in particular so they understand how to recognise neurodiversity in the workplace and how best to work with people so that everyone can thrive. Ultimately this will lead to organisations and businesses being more productive and happier employees all around.

How do you think employers could improve the recruitment and onboarding process for neurodivergent people?

We need to breakdown the barriers to recruitment so that neurodivergent people (and others) can get in the door in the first place, rather than having a specialist programme for them. That means thinking differently about how employers interview and assess people. It also means that candidates can be open about their neurodiversity, or not.

You also have the genetic condition Cystic Fibrosis. Have you noticed any differences in how people view ADHD in comparison to Cystic Fibrosis?

The main difference is that when you tell someone, even an employer, that you have CF there is a tendency for them to feel sorry for you, an element of concern or worry.  I haven’t noticed that happening with ADHD. Because I have CF, I’ve always had access to reasonable adjustments at work which have helped me in relation to my ADHD too.

Any final words that you think it’s important employers and wellbeing professionals read about neurodiversity at work?

There is a misconception that being neurodivergent is really wildly different from everyone else and that it is going to take a lot of resources to employ neurodivegent people. To that I say, “why worry? You’re already employing neurodiverse people!” I think the conversation should be around how to best support people and help people to thrive. It comes back to normalising what neurodiversity is and the benefits it can bring.

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Profile: we need to normalise neurodiversity

A new paper by Aon highlights the power of data as an enabler of better decisions for the health and wellbeing of employees.

The paper, entitled Unlocking the Value of Employee Data, recognises that strategic decision making processes are aided by having robust, insightful employee data. For example, this data can be used to inform prevention measures, prompt early interventions and spot trends or identify issues an employer is facing that are relevant to their employees’ wellbeing and mental health.

However, according to Aon, 78% of executives have challenges making data-driven decisions.

The paper makes the case for good health and wellbeing data and also provides guidance on how to overcome the challenges associated with accessing and analysing this data including:

  • A case study outlining how investment management company Invesco has discovered the advantages of a centralised hub for employee health data
  • 5 steps for understanding the insights employers need and the information they don’t – to streamline the process

You can find out more and download the paper here.

Aon paper highlights how data can enable better employee health and wellbeing decisions

Jack Dyrhague has plenty of experiences of poor treatment at work, on account of being autistic.

It’s these experiences that inspired him to set up Neuropool, which connects neurodiverse talent with employers and raises awareness of how to help neurodivergent talent thrive. It also educates employers about the commercial and environmental benefits of hiring people with neurodiverse conditions like autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD.

In one role he was once asked to be “less autistic”. In another situation, he disclosed he was autistic in the interview and was asked if he needed any adjustments or adaptations to be made to do his job.

‘Be less autistic!’

“I said ‘no’,” he says. “But then in my first two weeks with the company my manager left an A4 piece of paper on my desk with the font in size 42 with instructions in capitals. I know she was trying to be nice but that’s an example of someone making an adjustment herself, assuming that’s going to be helpful.”

Dyrhague felt singled out and uncomfortable and wondered “why didn’t she do that to everyone? And why didn’t she talk to me first? Or at least email?”. He ended up leaving the company after that.

As he says, the big learning here for employers is not to make assumptions and to treat everyone as an individual:

“There is no one-size-fits-all for neurodiversity but it is true that neurodivergent people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, so it’s important to ensure they feel supported and understood, while not been seen to be ‘getting a hand out’ by their peers who might resent them if they feel they have it easier.”

Treat people as individuals, not labels

Kirsty Cook, global director of D&I services at neurodiversity consultancy auticon wholeheartedly agrees with the need to treat each person as an individual, over and above any labels of neurodivergent conditions:

“Whether someone is on the spectrum or has ADHD, how these traits present themselves or how mental health is affected will be different. The type of support that works best that enables someone to thrive will vary from one person to the next, even if they have the exact same condition.”

That’s why auticon spends a lot of time with every new autistic technology consultant during their on-boarding to really understand them, their condition, traits that present as challenges and traits that are unique strengths. Investing time at the crucial beginning of the process will help them to flourish later.

A culture that supports neurodiverse talent will support all talent

“By taking a person-centred and individually tailored approach, you can also better support someone that may not even realise they’re neurodivergent or aren’t ready to share that information with their employer,” she says.

As all the experts who we consulted for this feature said, many of the recommendations that they make to organisations on helping neurodivergent colleagues thrive are actually just best practice principles of a good working environment. Therefore all employees will benefit, it’s just, as Cook says, that “the pay off” for neurodivergents is “far greater”.

Dyrhague adds that, because the benefits are largely universal, there’s no need to label accommodations or adjustments as specifically for neurodiverse employees. “Offer them to everyone,” he says, “Or you risk creating a stigma or favouritism around that particular condition.”

Stigma and stereotypes around neurodiversity

Indeed, there is still a stigma and lingering stereotypes which impact negatively on wellbeing, believes entrepreneur Richard Peachey, around neurodiverse conditions, especially ADHD (think ‘troublesome kid who wouldn’t do as he was told’, he says) and autism (‘that loud kid that goes off and does silly things’).

Because of stigma, Peachey himself hasn’t disclosed his condition until very recently, after starting a company called Lemonade, which supports organisations to enable employees to be their whole selves at work. Like Dyrhague, he says he’s left “nearly every job” because of his neurodiversity. He also agrees that adjustments and accommodations that particularly suit neurodivergent people ideally shouldn’t be labelled as such:

“Why don’t we just have a conversation about supporting high performers to be high performers, rather than labelling everybody who’s gone and got a clinical diagnostic for thousands of pounds? Do you need to label them? Or can you say ‘Jonny needs ABC to be really good at what Jonny does’.”

The power of storytelling

That doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea for line managers to be given some knowledge of neurodiverse conditions. Many companies are telling the stories of their neurodiverse colleagues (see this KPMG case study here) and starting a conversation about neurodiversity.

“Yes, it might be helpful for line managers, but this knowledge should always come with the caveat that a person might not sit in front of you and present perfectly like the description you’ve read said,” says Peachey.

Caroline Eglinton, head of inclusion, East West Railway Company, who has recently been diagnosed with ADHD, applauds companies which are getting the conversation going. However she hates the trend for neurodiverse strengths to be described as “super powers”. To her, this isn’t normalising neurodiversity; it’s positioning it as extra-ordinary and, therefore, not ‘normal’:

‘I hate when people say neurodiversity is a superpower!’

“I hate when people say that neurodiversity is a ‘superpower’. It’s useful to see the benefits that thinking differently brings and the fact it will help organisations to deliver more, be more productive and make more money…. But when you put someone neurodiverse on a pedestal like that, it means it’s harder to talk about the things you’re not doing as well, or as strong in, because you’ve been held up as this ‘brilliant disabled person’ with these ‘superpowers’. It’s nice, but it’s putting a lot of pressure on that person.”

Eglinton and Peachey both advocate stripping the emotion from the conversation taking a more balanced view, with the latter recommending Caitlin Walker’s guidance on ‘clean communications’.

Dyrhague believes that the conversations will inevitably be normalised in the coming years because, with more money being put behind medical research, “there are other potential conditions that could come out that we could recognise”. He believes the next neurodiversity conversation to take hold in companies will be around ‘cognitive diversity’; people with different thinking styles and perspectives because of their backgrounds.

“It’s about time that society changed and recognised that we all think differently, we’re all on a spectrum. You can even develop neurodiversity after a car crash. It’s a mad world. All of us are unique.”

If you’re interested in how personalisation can underpin successful wellbeing strategies, including approaches to appreciating neurodiversity and our uniqueness in thought and learning, you can join the workshop which Virgin Pulse is running at this year’s MAD World Summit on 11 October in Central London. Full details about the event are here.

If you’re an EMPLOYER, you can sign up for 3 x 15 minute 1-2-1 meetings with exhibitors at the Summit. This will also entitle you to a FREE DELEGATE PASS WORTH £595.00 and access to all sessions. Terms and conditions apply, view here.

You might also like:

KPMG Case study: helping neurodivergent colleagues thrive

Rethinking Your Job Descriptions – A Way to Promote Inclusivity in the Workplace

 

Managing neurodiversity: look beyond the label to the individual

Elizabeth Hampson is a partner for the international professional services firm Deloitte, where her focus is health innovation strategy and on projects that improve health and wellbeing outcomes for the UK population. She is also a speaker at the 5th annual MAD World Summit on 11th October.

MAD stands for Make A Difference. The MAD World Summit is the global go-to solutions-focused event for employers dedicated to accelerating the shift from stigma to solutions, turning talk into action and embedding workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing as a strategic priority.

Ahead of her presentation at the Summit, we quizzed Elizabeth on the most important findings in Deloitte’s report on mental health and employers: “The case for investment – pandemic and beyond”, emerging trends and points employers need to keep in mind as they drive this agenda forwards.

For employers, what do you think are the highlights of your report “The case for investment – pandemic and beyond”, particularly in terms of practical takeaways? 

The key takeaway for me was how important wellbeing and mental health now are to retain your employees. That’s the real standout from this report.

Historically, organisations have underestimated the labour turnover due to poor mental health and wellbeing and there was little data to confirm or challenge this view.  The reality is, after the pandemic, our survey results show that this is a big contribution to employee turnover and. People are voting with their feet and leaving jobs when their wellbeing is impacted.

Employees are choosing employers that they feel can positively support their wellbeing and their mental health. They are making a decision that ‘this employer doesn’t support my wellbeing and my mental health and I want to go and find one that does’.

So, employers that are not looking at employee wellbeing as core to retention and attraction of the best talent need to seriously rethink.

Your report also shows that this tendency to make this conscious decision to leave is particularly prevalent amongst younger employees?

Yes. It’s most prevalent in the under 40s, and also in key workers and those with caring responsibilities.

What do you think that means?

If you want to attract the best young talent, you’ve got to think about how you support them because they appear to have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. They’re more likely to talk about their mental health and more likely to be suffering with anxiety and depression than some of the older employees that have learned how to maintain their wellbeing through different life experiences. And sometimes that means less resilience.

Your report shows, too, that most employees don’t feel supported by their employers. Is that right?

Yes. Around 50% of people didn’t feel supported by their employer through the pandemic.

Were you surprised by that and, if not, what did surprise you in your findings?

I was disappointed by this, but not surprised. What surprised me more was the quick change in attitudes around online support and mental health tools. That shift was bigger than I expected. Before the pandemic versus afterwards, people are a lot more open to it.

Another thing I was surprised about was that people expect more from their employers themselves and in terms of family and friends – the people they live with.

There’s this expectation, now, that in some way employers should think about these people, connected to the employee, when they’re planning their employee assistance programme (EAP), or similar initiative.

Certainly, it makes sense that if you do bring your ‘whole self’ to work and you’re worried about a member of your family, then you’re obviously not going to be able to work at your best. This interested me because it showed how people’s attitudes have shifted in terms of how they see the role, and responsibility, of an employer today.

Where do you think this trend is going and what does that mean for employers?

Employers have to think about the impact of work – not only on the employees themselves – but on their family and their relationships too.

I also think the role and responsibilities of employers will continue to widen and they need to increasingly think about their role in society and what they are doing to positively impact the society, and the community, that they’re working within.

Your report states that for every pound invested in employee wellbeing, an employer gets a £5.30 return. Apart from this, what is the most compelling thing you can say to persuade employers that investing in employee wellbeing is fundamental to business success today?

As well as the clear moral and social case for investment in terms of looking after your employees and the impact that you have as a business, there’s a clear business case. Employers get a lot more out of their teams if they’re investing in them and supporting them to be at their best.

One of the key findings from our report shows the need to think about supporting people throughout their careers, not just at the point that they are struggling.

Employers can help their teams to prevent some of those problems by spotting the signs early and developing the right wellbeing behaviours.

You’re an expert in health innovation. What do you think is the key to success for employers who want to successfully innovate in employee wellbeing?

My view is that it comes down to taking a data-led and tailored approach to understanding what the challenges are within your organisation and understanding what individuals need. The question is: how can you provide enough of a variety that those who have different preferences can find a way that suits them to engage with and manage their wellbeing?

Any advice on making the most of (often large amounts of) data?

Using data to understand what groups of employees you have is really important. Then looking at these groups and really understanding their specific life and work challenges deeply so you can support them more meaningfully. Our report, for example, found that certain groups – like key workers and those with caring responsibilities – were all more likely to leave a job because of poor mental health and wellbeing. So, understanding what the needs of those groups are will help those groups while also helping employers maintain an edge with retention.

If you had to leave employers with one parting message, what would it be?

Don’t forget about mental health now that the pandemic is considered, by some, to be over. There’s been a lot of talk about mental health during the pandemic – keep the openness that you might have grown within your organisation going after this time and use this as a catalyst for positive change.

It’s very clear that financial wellbeing is going to continue to be a really serious issue in the current inflationary environment with many households struggling. Think about what support you have for employees that are struggling, if it is sufficient, or if you can do something additional that may make a difference.

Continue to think about what the implications are for your employees and make sure that people at the top are being really open and accessible in terms of talking about some of their mental health challenges.

The MAD World Summit is taking place in Central London on 11th October. MAD stands for Make A Difference. Now in it’s 5th year, the Summit is the go-to solutions-focused conference and exhibition for  employers who want to embed mental health and wellbeing as a strategic priority. Find out more and register here.

If you’re an EMPLOYER, you can sign up for 3 x 15 minute 1-2-1 meetings with exhibitors at the Summit. This will also entitle you to a FREE DELEGATE PASS WORTH £595.00 and access to all sessions. Terms and conditions apply, view here.

 

Profile: Elizabeth Hampson, Health Innovation Strategy, Partner, Deloitte