MAD World 2022 - Highlights

Watch Tomos Roberts' inspiring poem written exclusively for the 5th MAD World Summit

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The WatercoolerThis Is MeRetail TrustMindMental Health First Aid (MHFA) EnglandInvestors In PeopleBITCOne Million Lives

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


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


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


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

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Younger generations are struggling more than older ones, in terms of mental health, in this brave new world of wellbeing and hybrid working.

As Chris Tomkins, head of wellbeing at AXA Health, told us on publication of its new research on mind health, we have this idea that younger people coming through the ranks are dynamic, confident and “ready to take on the world”. However, the reality outlined in the research shows that, actually, they lack self-worth, are plagued by the uncertainty of the world and are actually less resilient to change.

Are your wellbeing strategies resonating?

This begs the question: are your wellbeing messages resonating with these younger employees, who really need to hear them the most?

We decided to ask them for this feature.

Our handful of millennials and Gen Z-ers didn’t hold back. Prepare to hear 7 truth bombs.

We’ve listed their feedback in order of importance, measured by how many mentioned (unprompted) the topic.

TRUTH BOMB #1: We love that conversations about mental health are opening up. But they must open more, and smash more taboos

While our interviewees celebrated the progress made on this front, they agreed that wellbeing leaders need to be braver, and push the conversation boundaries further.

Kitty Alice is a former high-performance coach for GB Paralympians and founder of Counterpoise Wellness. As well as being in the relevant age category, like all our quoted experts here, she also works with many young employees too. She says:

“There are more conversations around anxiety, depression, menopause and parenthood – all of which are BRILLIANT – but we still need more of this. Things like miscarriage, grief, divorce, financial stress, fatigue, eating disorders… are still being hidden under a blanket of mental health conversations. We tend not to talk about these things as openly, which can be really damaging. I’d love to see these spoken about more freely.”

Valentina Hynes is a mental health and wellbeing speaker and trainer. She set up Strong Vibrant Happy after her husband suffered a heart attack, triggered by worked related stress and anxiety. She says:

“Beyond periods, endometriosis and adenomyosis, I think financial wellbeing, domestic abuse, relationships, anxiety and depression, etc,  should all be on the topic board more.”

Zaynab Sohawon is a multi-award winning youth mental health lived experience practitioner, author and speaker. She is chief executive of Emotion Dysregulation in Autism, as well as a peer researcher, researching mental health inequalities, at the University of Birmingham.

“Severe and enduring mental illness is rarely talked about and still remains stigmatised.”

Marlien Ligtenberg is a trainer and coach who specialises in developing young employee talent and the multigenerational workforce. Her mission is to reduce stress and burn-out in the millennial generation.

“When the pressure is on, like a big deadline, it’s sometimes hard for a leader to also consider my wellbeing. I get that. I would love to see more open and transparent conversations about the challenge to balance business goals with wellbeing.”

Lizzie Benton is a company culture coach and founder of Liberty Mind UK says:

“I want to see more conversations addressing the fact that ‘how we work’ is making people unwell. The system of work itself is broken, but instead companies keep trying to compensate by providing silly perks that don’t actually make a difference.  We need to talk about the lack of autonomy, outdated mindsets, guilt about rest and crippling workplace bureaucracy.”

Suzanne Samaka is a youth mental health campaigner, as well as vice president, cash management specialist, at Barclays Corporate Banking. She says:

“When talking about female health [such as periods, fertility and menopause]  we also need to show that women are actually the epitome of productivity… the fact we are productive despite these challenges is amazing and should be celebrated.”

TRUTH BOMB #2: Stop banging on about your silly perks and change your systems and structures

Alice says:

“It can feel as though wellbeing agendas are a tick box exercise within companies, which feels so backwards.  Does free fruit on a Wednesday actually help employees with anxiety and lack of motivation? Probably not. Take time to look at your team, chat with you team, observe and then source appropriate support.”

Hynes says:

“Many organisations are talking the talk and not walking the walk. With the rising cost of living, what gets cut first? Wellbeing initiatives. Improving the wellbeing of staff should be embedded in every policy and process, and reviewed and updated every year.”

Samaka says:

“Wellbeing days/weeks just don’t work. Wellbeing should not be a tick box and therefore we need to move away from time specific language.”

Benton says:

“Stop chasing quick fixes. Address the real problems like poor pay. Stop pretending you care with useless initiatives.”

TRUTH BOMB #3: Stop irritating us with your poor word choice and self-help slop  

Hynes says:

“I like factual language. I do not like language that comes across as self-helpy or pandering to public opinion.”

Benton says:

“The language used by leaders and management often suggests that teams are struggling with their wellbeing because they’re not ‘resilient enough’… as if employees’ poor wellbeing is a fault in their character, rather than a symptom of toxic workplaces. Unfortunately, this attitude has only been reinforced from the awful term of the ‘snowflake’, used to describe the resilience of Gen Z.”

Toni Finnimore, is founder of The Social Society which goes by the strapline of ‘helping businesses unleash their workforce superheroes’. She says:

“People whatever age see through bullshit. Use clear factual non wishy-washy language that highlights exactly what it is you are trying to address/discuss without the jargon, lingo or ambiguity.”

TRUTH BOMB #4: Don’t treat us like one-size-fits-all; personalise our wellbeing

Samaka says:

“I want to see more discussion with each employee and how it works for them. For example, one individual it may be making sure they get out for a walk every day for 30 minutes.”

Finnimore says:

“What suits you varies hugely from what suits the next. Well-being initiatives should be bespoke to the individual and not lumped into another framework.”

(The idea of the need for personalisation was talked about in this webinar by Professor Amanda Kirby, specifically in relation to how companies should, in her opinion, not bring back fixed days when employees should work in the office)

TRUTH BOMB #5: Leaders must not be hypocrites, or leave it to HR

Ligtenberg says:

“When a leader is super open about his/her struggles and learnings, that really resonates with me. All the initiatives for wellbeing don’t really mean anything if the culture in the organisation is still not practicing what they preach.”

Benton says:

“Few HR leaders have the power to make any significant change to the way the business operates. Ultimately, wellbeing is the responsibility of leaders. Until you change the leaders at the top, nothing will change within the business, and that includes employee wellbeing.”

TRUTH BOMB #6: you have a responsibility to be a force for good in your community

Finnimore says:

“I would like to see organisations support communities through meaningful, long-term community giving initiatives. By responding to the needs of communities locally, you are in turn supporting employees who need to access services and improve their own health and well-being.”

(The idea of companies having more of a role in their communities was touched on in this webinar by Christian Gallagher, head of human resources, The Royal Ballet School)

TRUTH BOMB #7: Ensure we are heard; we love to campaign on wellbeing

Sohawon says:

The youth of today are super knowledgeable about mental health. We are profusely passionate about world events. Harness this campaigning culture and you will see better performance and productivity from us.”

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Younger employees tell us what they hate about your wellbeing strategies

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, the highly respected expert on workplace wellbeing, will be  talking about how we should be looking at managing stress and workplace wellbeing in the  post-Covid world at an online Masterclass being hosted by the International Stress  Management Association (ISMAUK) on Thursday 30th March.  

Professor Cooper, 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology & Health at the  Alliance Manchester Business School, will emphasize the need for action as levels of work related stress continue to increase – the current rate of self-reported work-related stress,  depression or anxiety is higher than the 2018/19 pre-coronavirus levels1.  

Although longer-term trends suggest that employee wellbeing is gradually rising up the  corporate agenda, with nearly one in ten respondents expecting their organisation’s health  and wellbeing budget to increase significantly over the next 12 months2, workplace stress  remains a silent and often-neglected factor that impacts adversely on employee health and  productivity. This state of affairs also reduces company performance and success rates.  

Amongst the issues Professor Cooper will discuss are – how we can build on progress made  to date and what our focus should be in 2023; the accountability of boards for implementing  measures to reduce stress (such as ensuring a non-executive director is responsible for  employee health and wellbeing, holding the organisation accountable for stress-related and  mental ill health); implementing bespoke strategies such as mental health first aid; and the  role trained professionals, such as HR managers, counsellors and coaches, should play in  getting organisations to develop effective interventions.  

Professor Cooper commented, “Workplace stress is preventable. If we really want to  prevent workplace stress and treat wellbeing as a desirable goal for organisations, there are  straightforward steps we can take that will make a measurable difference: organisations should understand the purpose of wellbeing and why it must be valued, seeing it as part of  the wider company culture; they should ensure there is a strategy to extend their approach  to wellbeing; and they should avoid being over-ambitious, proceeding carefully while taking  advantage of professional advice.” 

Carole Spiers, Chair of ISMAUK, added, “We are delighted to have Professor Cooper as our  speaker for this Masterclass devoted to plotting the future of stress management and  workplace wellbeing. These are key areas for ISMAUK as the lead professional body for  workplace and personal stress management, wellbeing and performance: Professor Cooper’s arguments align with our theme for 2023, Beyond Stress Management: From Stigma to Solutions. It is vital that employers adopt proactive measures aimed at tackling  stress and develop strategies geared to increasing workplace wellbeing. By going the extra  mile, we can create healthier, safer and more productive workplace environments.” 

See more information and book tickets for the masterclass here. Non ISMA members can use promotional code MC25OFF for a 25% discount.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper Looks at the Future of Workplace Wellbeing

Creating psychological safety in teams is a challenge in itself, but doing it on a global level brings a whole new layer of complexity to the issue – one which Daniel Chan, global workplace & wellbeing lead at creative network dentsu international, will speak about at The Watercooler Event in his panel session on the topic.

He brings a unique perspective to the debate, given he comes from a clinical nursing background and his focus is always on evidence based solutions (for more on this topic, see here). The fact that he’s worked in wellbeing roles in Asia and for different industries from transport to finance, too, also gives him a broad insight.  

We caught up with him ahead of the event to find out more…

What do you think your background brings to this topic of creating a culture of psychological safety?

I really understand the importance of mental health and I bring a different dynamic to the business; I not only understand preventative health, but also acute and chronic healthcare and how these are all intertwined.

Why did you make the shift from practicing to doing this role?

I realised exactly how I could use my health knowledge to support and make a difference to a business. When I started out, it was predominantly health promotion and giving advice around chronic diseases and stress management, increasingly moving towards wellness, which is where my passion really lies.

What do you think your deepened understanding, and that clinical base, brings when you go into a corporate setting and you’re trying to cultivate psychological safety?

It brings a different perspective, in terms of the language I’m using and my approach.

Coming from a clinical background, I use a lot of evidence-based research and analyse what is, and what is not, working in the industry. We see stress and burnout in all industries, for example, but there are differences in how the industry deals with it from the financial to the creative sector.

Yes, and you’ve worked in both. What kind of differences do you see?

I’m generalising, but in the finance sector, for instance, many of the personalities are type A, so very driven, which is coupled with highly stressful environments, such as working on the trading floor.. So, again, it’s about adapting the language and approach you use.

You’ve also worked in Asia – how was that different from a wellbeing perspective?

Yes. Especially around the language you use because there is still a big stigma around mental health. When you say ‘mental health’ people do shy away from it, so it’s about looking at ways you can change your narrative around it. For instance, instead of calling a programme ‘stress management’ we called it ‘lifestyle management’, using softer language.

What have you learnt in the creative industry?

It’s about empowering the markets more than anything else. Obviously different markets have different cultural nuances, so we create a framework, but we encourage them to adapt it to support their own needs. It’s about trying to be more human around the things we are trying to do.

What about fostering psychological safety with regards to innovation and collaboration?

Like many companies, we’re using digital platforms more than ever which is great – because we can speak to our colleagues across the globe – and we’re focusing on how we can use tech to build communities and foster better collaboration. To do this people need to feel psychologically safe by being able to be open and really express their needs. We’re using a combination of virtual learning and upskilling our managers in terms of understanding what psychological safety actually is, but also how to build a psychologically safe team.

Do you think managers should have KPIs for creating psychological safety in teams?

We put a lot of pressure on managers, so we have to be careful not to overwhelm them.

For me, it’s not about going straight to putting KPIs on the manager – first, we need to ask does that manager have the capability and understanding around psychological safety that is needed? If you put KPIs in without adequate support and resources then the KPIs are never going to be met.

To meet Daniel in person, and contribute to the conversation come along to our sister event the Watercooler on April 25th and 26th, 2023. 

Daniel is taking part in a panel discussion, alongside Save the Children’s Lucy Vallis (who is profiled her), talking about creating a culture of psychological safety.

The Watercooler, named in recognition of those crucial moments of connection between employees, is a free to attend conference and exhibition which demonstrates that wellbeing IS the future of work. For themes that were ‘hot topics’ at last year’s event, like line manager wellbeing, see this article.

Taking place at Excel London, The Watercooler event is where you can gather to join ideas together, make connections, learn from peers’ experiences and find the right solutions for your organisation – whatever its size and shape.

For reasons why this is a must-attend event for anyone interested in workplace wellbeing, see this article here

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Psychological safety: the global challenge

NHS workers are among the highest in need of support, now more than ever. In a post-lockdown world, 92% of trusts are concerned about NHS staff wellbeing, stress, and burnout following the pandemic.

In 2021, Mind It Ltd and Optimus Teams Learning joined forces to support 500+ Adult Critical Care team members within Leeds Teaching Hospitals’ NHS trust in prioritising their wellbeing. 

Team exercises are core to resilience building and team bonding © Mind It Ltd and Optimus Teams Learning

Relax, Reset, Re-Energise NHS staff 

The Adult Critical Care team at Leeds Teaching Hospitals was, and still is, the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis. Throughout the series of Reset Days delivered for the team, we realised first hand that the pandemic left heavy emotional and psychological damage. Across 7 countries, 48% of ICU staff showed signs of mental health conditions such as depression, insomnia, anxiety, or PTSD from fighting COVID .

The aim of the Reset Days was to create an experience for our attendees to feel and understand that their leaders, colleagues, and the Trust acknowledged that they have gone the extra mile during the COVID-19 crisis and thank them for their hard work, and have the opportunity to reflect on the past and move forward. Put simply, we wanted all the attendees to feel valued, experience a treat, and have the opportunity to reset. 

Mindfulness, Wellbeing Workshops, Wellbeing Webinars, Wellbeing Consultancy, Wellbeing at Work, Leeds, Yorkshire, England

The team enjoyed their Reset Day at the Mansion, in Roundhay Park (Leeds) © Mind It Ltd and Optimus Teams Learning

Together with a team of Leeds-based experts delivering powerful experiences, we delivered this series of Reset Days which included wellbeing treatments and team building activities in an outstanding venue in Leeds: The Mansion, a Grade II listed building in Roundhay Park. The tailored wellbeing experience began with breakfast, ended with cream tea, and book-ended by Leadership opening and closing messages. 

The Reset Day offered hard-working staff a taste of indulgence and a sense of appreciation for all their sacrifice, contribution, and effort: 14% of attendees mentioned the setting and food were their favourite parts of the day! 

In this beautiful setting, participants were able to step back, relax, and prioritise their wellbeing. They were invited to participate in individual and collective reflections on COVID experiences, shared with colleagues in small groups. 

They also collaborated on an art project, working together to achieve a common goal and connect. We commissioned a local Leeds artist, Aimee Grundell, to create a display that was hosted for most of 2022 at Leeds City Museum and made the cover of the Yorkshire Post. This collaboration is a case study of the power of local partnerships too: Mind It Ltd and Optimus Teams Learning enabling the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to work alongside Leeds City Council to bring this exhibition to life for the citizens of Leeds. 

Our Results: NHS Staff were energised and empowered 

This stat says it all: 98% of respondents would recommend the experience of a Reset Day, and most importantly, we measured an increase in individual wellbeing: wellness scores increased an average of 31% on the day, and 70% have had some form of positive lasting effect 4 weeks after their Reset Day.

Respondents’ feedback included: 

  • “It has been a wonderful day I didn’t realise I needed this.” 
  • “For someone who’s always ‘wired’ it felt great to stop and take a breath.” 

The Reset Day took participants to viewpoints where they could see their worthiness of and need for self-care. To be the colleague, partner, parent they want to be, requires them to look after themselves rather than over-sacrificing their own time, health, and energy for others. 

Choosing to re-energise is an empowering yet alien place for many NHS staff to find, but we believe that this is where the wellbeing magic happens. 

About the author

Lucile Allen-Paisant is an entrepreneur, public speaker and mum of 2. She is the founder of Leeds Wellbeing Week and Director of Mind It Ltd. Former Marketing Director of a fast-growing business, with a wide range of responsibilities and passion for her job, Lucile almost experienced burn-out herself and is now a big advocate of burn-out prevention through wellbeing activities. She created Mind It Ltd, a training company to support employees to thrive at home and at work. Mind It Ltd’s aim is for wellbeing to be on everyone’s to-do lists, every day. 

Case Study: How ‘Reset Days’ improved the Wellbeing of the Critical Care team at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

With more than 260 nominations received for the 2023 Make A Difference Awards, we’ve been bowled over by the response. Entries flooded in from a wide range of employers and from a whole host of organisations, celebrating the progress they’re making prioritising workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing.

Our esteemed panel of Judges met last week to decide on a shortlist of nominees. All agreed that it’s fantastic to see so many organisations who are focusing on the wellbeing of their people. The Judges applaud everyone’s endeavours.

After careful deliberation, a shortlist for each category has been decided.

For 2023, the Judges were looking for entries that show real impact, with a sustainable and measurable commitment to proactive, preventative and inclusive support of workplace wellbeing. We also asked for entries to demonstrate cross-departmental cooperation that is embedding workplace wellbeing across the organisation as business as usual.

The winners will be announced at the end of Day 1 of the free-to-attend The Watercooler Event on 25th April at Excel in London.

But you can have your say too…

Vote for your winner

Between now and 17th April you can vote for your winner of Awards 1A, 1B, 1C and 2A, 2B, 2C. These are the awards focused on the employer and colleague that has made the most difference to workplace mental health and wellbeing over the past year.

We are also inviting the shortlisted nominees’ networks, to vote for their winner.

Our aim is to spread the word far and wide – remaining true to our mission to bring more and more employers to the workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing conversation.

The Awards that you will be able to vote on are:

Award 1: Employer that has made the most difference to workplace mental health and wellbeing over the past year: 

  • Category 1: Employer with > 500 employees
  • Category 2: Employers with < 500 employees
  • Category 3: Public sector / non-profit employer

Award 2: Colleague who has made the most difference to workplace mental health and wellbeing over the past year:

  • Category 1: True Leader
  • Category 2: Unsung Hero / Heroine
  • Category 3: Champions Network

You can view the shortlisted nominations for these categories and cast your vote here.

As we recognise that not all shortlisted nominees’ networks are equal, the Judges will also select their winner for each of the Awards 1A, 1B, 1C, 2A, 2B and 2C. So these awards will have a winner determined by votes received from our networks and a winner determined by our Judges.

Awards 3 to 10 will not be opened to our network to vote. The winners of those awards will be determined purely by our expert panel of Judges. It goes without saying that Judges are not involved in the Judging of categories that they are nominated for.

Game changer

There will also be a special award recognising the game-changing initiative of the year which promises to really move the dial on workplace mental health and wellbeing. This accolade could be awarded to an organisation that entered the Awards but hasn’t been shortlisted for any of the categories 1 to 10.

You can find the full list of shortlisted nominees here.

Don’t forget that you have until 17th April to cast your vote for the winners of categories 1A, 1B, 1C, 2A, 2B and 2C.

And if you’d like to find out who the winners are, make sure you put 25th & 26th April in your diary and join us with your colleagues at The Watercooler at ExCel in London for free-to-attend insight and inspiration.

The Award winners will be announced at the end of Day 1, Tuesday 25th April, from 16.15pm – 17.00pm, followed by a by-invitation-only celebration cocktail reception from 17.00 to 18.30. Full details are here.

Shortlist announced for the Make A Difference Awards 2023

Employees are increasingly at risk of economic abuse as the cost of living crisis continues to take hold, and employers have a responsibility to look after their wellbeing on this front. The fact that only 5% have introduced a specific policy, or guideline on domestic violence, including economic, suggests that employers don’t know where to start with this sensitive issue.

So, in this feature, we’ve rounded up many practical examples of what employers can do to support their employees who are facing economic abuse, an often overlooked aspect of abuse. This is much more widespread, at all socioeconomic levels, than you might think; it’s experienced by 95% of domestic abuse sufferers, according to Surviving Economic Abuse, and Refuge estimates as many as 39% of UK adults have experienced it, or are currently, with rates rising.

Arggh but where do I start?

A great place to start when tackling this topic is reading the ‘Domestic Abuse for Employers’ toolkit produced by Business In The Community and Public Health England. It clearly outlines the scale of the problem, the business case for employers, the legal angle and taking action in terms of creating policies: the perfect document to refer to if any of your colleagues question whether it’s an employers place to get involved in this difficult situation (spoiler alert: it is).

For a toolkit where economic abuse is the sole focus, refer to Refuge’s 2020 report ‘Know Economic Abuse’. Again, this sets out the scale of the problem clearly and goes into detail about how this type of abuse adversely affects minority groups on account of gender, sexuality and ethnicity, clearly showing this is an issue for diversity & inclusivity agendas too. SEA’s resource specifically for employers here is also invaluable.

Once I’ve recognised my role as an employer here, what on earth do I do now?

Anxiety (and procrastination) around this issue for employers often comes from not knowing how to respond. One of the BITC toolkit’s most helpful practical guidance is the ‘4Rs approach’. This gives employers a clear response to dealing with domestic abuse which any line manager/employee can follow, and apply to economic abuse. These are 1) recognise 2) refer 3) respond 4) record.

OK, but how do I recognise if an employee is being economically abused?

The toolkits already mentioned contained lots of helpful information on this.

However, from a workplace point of view, you’ll likely notice a drop in productivity. There could be a change in an employee’s working hours, for instance, frequently arriving late or leaving early. There could also be an increase in the number of personal calls taken at work, or a strong reaction to personal calls. It’s also common for victims to use more sick leave and need unexpected absences more often.

Another way that you can spot economic abuse is if a victim asks for an advance on wages, or seems to not even know if they’ve received their wages, or says they have to give wages to their partner or pay them into another account.

There are key moments in careers, too, when employees are more vulnerable to economic abuse, such as starting a new job, applying for a promotion/career change, leaving a job or when on parental leave.

You may notice the employee’s partner visiting the workplace more frequently as this could be a sign of coercive control.

But will employees themselves even recognise they are being economically abused?

This is actually a really good point because awareness of economic abuse is so low. The majority of adults in the UK have not heard of the term economic abuse, according to Refuge, only a third (32%) had.

This means that there is a clear role for employers to play a positive role in raising awareness of this type of abuse and encouraging employees to seek help.

But how can employers raise awareness of economic abuse?

Start the conversation. It’s very unBritish to talk about money but we need to normalise these conversations and de-shame them. Money difficulties can happen to anybody, as can economic abuse.

Provide information and resources in public areas at work – Lloyds Banking Group found the toilets were the perfect place for posters, for example, as well as receipts.

Beyond signposting, what else can employers really do to open up the conversation?

According to Lloyds Group sustainable business director, Fiona Cannon OBE, one of the most effective, conversation-starting, stigma-smashing things the company did was to get senior women talking to employees about their historical experiences of domestic violence.

Lloyds is a trailblazer on the domestic/economic abuse front (there’s a case study included in the BITC toolkit and a case study feature here). Other pioneering steps the bank has taken include launching a domestic and financial abuse team to support victims, working with charities on training staff and launching guidance called ‘Supporting those impacted by domestic and financial abuse’.

You mentioned earlier that the abuser might even come to the workplace?

Yes. Sometimes abusers like to turn up at the victim’s place of work with the intention of causing trouble, actually hoping that this will  lead to their partner’s loss of employment. They could potentially do this through harassing work colleagues, or it’s even been known for abusers to make calls to employers accusing their partners of fraudulent behaviour, alcoholism, safeguarding concerns or exploiting employer’s resources, etc.

As integrative psychologist, Cathy Press, author of ‘A Young Person’s Guide to Escaping Harmful, Toxic and Hurtful Relationships’ says: “the overall aim in mind of the abuser is to make the victim financially dependent on the them and unable to access anything outside the four walls of their home.”

Am I basically looking out for male partners abusing females?

Good point. Situations where one person controls another financially usually happen in the context of a romantic relationship – however not exclusively. It can also be another family member, friend or even carer who is perpetuating the abuse, so it’s important employers stay open to possibilities.

Similarly, while most domestic abuse is by men against women, this is not always the case either and this can be a very difficult topic to quantify on the back of research and surveys. As Refuge’s report explains, when it comes to economic abuse, preliminary research has shown that men and women tend to view economic abuse differently, and this needs more investigation as it could be skewing the stats.

Say I’ve recognised an employee is being abused, who do I refer them to?

There are plenty of resources you can direct them to. For example, there’s domestic abuse advisers accessible via Refuge’s national domestic abuse helpline which is open 24/7, or there’s the already-mentioned specialist charity Surviving Economic Abuse.

Hestia also has a free ap called Bright Sky for anyone experiencing domestic abuse, or worried about someone who might be. Again, the toolkits list many resources.

Should I try and persuade them to leave if they’re in danger?

This is such a complex issue. There are many reasons that, even if a person is in a clearly toxic situation, they may not feel ready or able to leave it – yet. You putting pressure on them to leave – as they might perceive it – might not be helpful at all.

The most powerful thing you can do is listen, ask questions and create a safe psychological space for them. For some, work will be the safest place they visit in their day.

As Cannon says:

“We all have a part to play here. The most important thing employers can do is have the conversation, listening and believing: those two elements are crucial and the most powerful things you can do. Listen and believe.”

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Practical ways to deal with economic abuse for employers

Cancer is a significant health issue that affects people of all ages. Over 100,000 UK working-age adults are diagnosed with cancer every year, creating major disruption for employees and employers alike. Cancer can impact people’s work lives, including their relationship with their teams, workplace wellbeing and even their career prospects.

Avoiding Stigma

Unfortunately, there is still a significant amount of stigma attached to cancer in the workplace. This can range from colleagues feeling uncomfortable discussing the subject, to managers making assumptions about an employee’s ability to work based on their diagnosis. This stigma can lead to discrimination, isolation, and mental health issues for employees who are living with cancer. Luckily education and awareness can help break down any negative attitudes and create a more supportive environment.

Balancing cancer and a career

Cancer can have a significant impact on people of working age. Younger people who are diagnosed with cancer often have more years of life ahead of them, which means that they may face more challenges in the long-term, including the impact on their career and income. People with cancer may need to take time off work for medical appointments, treatments, or recovery. Cancer-related fatigue, pain, and other symptoms can also affect work performance and productivity. A study by Macmillan Cancer Support found that 38% of people with cancer in the UK experienced work-related issues, such as reduced hours, demotion, or job loss.

Increased risks for office workers

Recent research has shown that office workers may be at a higher risk of certain types of cancer than other workers. The sedentary nature of office work, combined with exposure to chemicals, indoor air pollution, and stress, can increase the risk of cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to indoor air pollution, including from chemicals in carpets, paints, and furniture, can increase the risk of lung
cancer. Furthermore, the lack of physical activity associated with office work can increase the risk of other types of cancer, such as breast, colon, and endometrial cancer.

How to support your team

Employers can implement several best practices to support employees with cancer. First and foremost, employers should provide flexible working arrangements, such as working from home or flexible hours, to accommodate medical appointments and treatments.

It’s also essential for employers to educate their workforce about cancer, including its impact and how to support colleagues with cancer. By creating an inclusive work environment and providing practical support, employers can help employees with cancer manage their diagnosis and treatment while maintaining their social connections and career prospects.

Early screening can save lives

Medical screening is also a critical tool employers can turn to when considering cancer risks. Early detection can result in more successful treatment outcomes, improving survivability, and minimising the impact on the lives and careers of those impacted. Beyond this, offering cancer screening can demonstrate a commitment to employee wellbeing, which can help with employee retention and recruitment.

Awareness is the first step

Being aware of the risk is the first step to getting your business better prepared to manage the impact of cancer. Sharing materials and creating opportunities for education and discussion are also vital to dispel misconceptions and reduce stigma. Beyond that, providing supportive policies and flexibility while considering preventive medical programmes will contribute to a healthier work environment equipped to navigate the challenges of cancer and other health issues.

About the author:

Lyz Swanton is a tech startup founder and the COO of Qured. Lyz is passionate about health and wellbeing, and building technology companies that can improve people’s lives. She’s previously founded and sold a workplace food benefits platform, worked in top tier management consulting and in international public health management, and holds an MBA from London Business School

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Kate Goodger, Head of Human Innovation and Performance, Laing O’Rourke, is sick of hearing companies talk about their pursuit of ‘high performing teams’ and ‘organisational purpose’. She wants to call time (and bullshit!) on these terms. She is well placed to do so, given she has extensive experience studying athletes and what leads to their success, including with working with Team GB athletes and medallists at seven Olympic Games; a background she now applies to the corporate world.

Kate Goodger

As Goodger explains in this interview, which she gave us ahead of her appearance at The Watercooler Event, purpose and performance are both personal to each employee; there is no ‘one size fits all’ or a tick box exercise companies can do to arrive at a destination labelled ‘high performance’.

To hear more of her no-nonsense, scientifically-backed views, come along and hear her session on ‘How to Harness Purpose to Drive Wellbeing and Performance’. For now, here’s a taster of her unique perspective…

You started out as a PE teacher before working with athletes – can you tell me a bit more about that?

Yes, being a PE teacher showed me that my real interest was in driving and helping individuals perform. I was always curious about how you unlock capability and potential talent, and was really fortunate to be able to do a PHD, at Loughborough University, which I did on burnout and unlocking potential.

So I progressed to working with athletes while doing my PHD. If an athlete has a really clear, strong sense of purpose, this makes them very hard to beat because purpose is so galvanising. It sits at our very core because we want to know that ‘what I do matters’.

And you believe purpose is biological, not just psychological – is that right?

Yes. Meaningfulness, belonging and purpose are biological needs, as well psychological. If you want to make it hard for someone to perform make sure they don’t feel any value in what they’re doing, cause them to feel isolated from others and give them no sense of purpose.

You might assume, for example, that an athlete’s purpose is purely to win an Olympic medal. Is that real purpose, or does purpose go deeper than that?

It’s much more about  “what does the medal mean to me?”.

If the athlete says “it will demonstrate all the sacrifices I’ve made were worthwhile”, then you know they’re in trouble. If the athlete says “because I don’t want to be anywhere else in the world, this is what I’m here to do and I want to see how good I am”. Then that’s brilliant, because it’s all about their sense of purpose and self mastery versus comparison to others.

The purpose is usually deeper than the medal. It’s about what it symbolises and represents in their life. For many athletes, it’s about being a role model and giving back to the sport. For others, it is that innate drive to self mastery and competitive pursuit of what is possible.

Purpose also gives us perspective, and that’s like a secret weapon. If a business has a strong sense of purpose, it guides that business to make decisions and be consistent when in times of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Purpose is a buzzword in business right now. Any bugbears about this?

People think purpose is often something that’s put on the wall. But it’s not. It’s something deeply ingrained within each of us that energises us.

It really irritates the living daylights out of me when people say “yeah, we’re going to create high performance culture”.

I don’t even know what that means!

High performance is the outcome, it is a standard but it does not clearly define a culture. It is also an assumption that successful teams are always high functioning, but I’ve worked with successful athletes and teams that are hugely dysfunctional they’ve still delivered despite this.

We have this idea that if we do ‘these things’ then we are high performing.. There’s no ‘one size fits all’. And it is much more about the ‘experience’ people encounter everyday and how that makes you feel. How people feel is a massive determinant of how they will perform.

You see the words ‘high performing teams’ everywhere just now. What would be a better thing to say?

I think Microsoft is on to some really interesting stuff around ‘thriving’ and its definitions around this.

Companies like Microsoft and Unilever are trying to create environments where people can live out their purpose and recognise they want to contribute something that’s greater than themselves.

So, I think it’s about creating environments where individuals can be at their best because they are working on things that matter to them.

Also, they feel valued. Without feeling valued our mind spends its time distracted by whether we feel safe, whether we’re heard, if we can put a hand up with a different idea or to ask for help. A business with an embedded purpose and values set that drives their daily culture cannot only achieve high performance, but also sustainable high performance.

Consistency in results is key.

Businesses worry that ‘if we get people thinking about their purpose, they might conclude they can’t find it here’. Which might be a valid worry, when you open up the discussion?

I would position it more about encouraging personal purpose, and asking an individual what is meaningful to them. So if it is, for example, selling shampoo, they might answer that this job enables me to have the right environment for my kids, so it’s actually nothing to do with the job.

We often don’t appreciate that an absence of purpose within us causes stress and impacts wellbeing. It doesn’t have to be a massive purpose statement directed at changing the world; sometimes individuals deeply connect to an organisations purpose, but many don’t.

For these individuals, their sense of purpose may come from being purposeful in ‘how’ they do their work and show up for others. Or, again, it may be something outside work that gives their job meaning such as providing for a family, being a carer, volunteering, etc.

Purpose is a bedrock, which we can build our life around, and choose the type of work we want to do. It’s not about everybody conforming to an organisational purpose. That doesn’t work.

How do you think the Covid pandemic has affected people’s attitudes to purpose at work?

It shone a light on how purpose can be misaligned to how people are living their lives. Covid enabled us to say things like “actually, I want to spend time with my kids”. It has put the focus more on our social communities.

What would you like to see happen with purpose in the future?

There are two strands to this. The first is creating those work spaces where people can work out what is meaningful to them. And that looks like a line manager saying: what’s important to you? What kind of work is meaningful to you? Where do you want to make a difference? What excites and energises you? Those types of conversations.

Then the second strand is around societal accountability and responsibility and to not – as I call it – ‘purpose bullshit’ and operate superficially.

Purpose metrics help, because they demonstrate a business’s progress against its purpose. But there are still too many businesses out there which declare a purpose but it’s utterly superficial. However, both the employee and the consumer is spotting that more now and recognising it’s not real.

To meet Kate in person, and contribute to the conversation about one of the buzziest topics in the industry – purpose and performance – come along to our sister event the Watercooler on April 25th and 26th, 2023. 

Kate is talking about “How to Harness Purpose to Drive Wellbeing and Performance“.

The Watercooler, named in recognition of those crucial moments of connection between employees, is a free to attend conference and exhibition which demonstrates that wellbeing IS the future of work. For themes that were ‘hot topics’ at last year’s event, like line manager wellbeing, see this article.

Taking place at Excel London, The Watercooler event is where you can gather to join ideas together, make connections, learn from peers’ experiences and find the right solutions for your organisation – whatever its size and shape.

For reasons why this is a must-attend event for anyone interested in workplace wellbeing, see this article here

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Economic abuse is a serious issue but not enough employers are taking it seriously (see this article for more) apart from a handful of trailblazers – like Lloyds Banking Group.

Its group sustainable business director, Fiona Cannon OBE, is leading the charge on raising awareness of domestic abuse and, increasingly, economic abuse. To her, it’s an absolute no-brainer that employers need to act to protect employees’ (and customers’) wellbeing on this front.

65,000 employees likely to be experiencing this abuse

As she says, at any one time, several of its 30 million customers and 65,000 employees are likely to be experiencing domestic abuse, and 95% of victims report that economic abuse is part their experience. Research also shows that victims of economic abuse are more likely to tell their bank than a domestic abuse service.

“Domestic abuse and economic abuse sit at the heart of our wellbeing strategy, which centres on healthy bodies, minds and finances,” says Cannon. “The role that employers play is really important – the workplace may be the safest place for victims to be. Often it’s government and charities that debate this issue but employers also have a strong role to play in this conversation. Think about how many people employers can access and impact and, potentially, save lives.”

A taboo subject which takes time to raise

The understanding of the complex issue of abuse has not happened overnight, or been integrated into Lloyd’s wellbeing strategy overnight; the bank has worked hard to raise awareness over a number of years. Initially the focus was on domestic abuse, raising awareness of alarming statistics such as the fact that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experience domestic abuse, defining exactly what this type of abuse means and looks like, and how it can be potentially spotted.

“It’s a very taboo subject. But, actually, the minute you start talking about it, you start to reduce the stigma and some myths are addressed; like domestic abuse only happens to certain people and not others. It can happen to any of us at any time in our lives,” she adds.

The power of telling stories of employee abuse

A key component of this awareness-raising was that Lloyds supported a number of very senior women executives, who had experienced domestic abuse, to talk about their experiences internally. That then gave others a license to open up about it. This led then to webinars and raising employee confidence about knowing what it is and how to spot it and call it out.

It’s only after Lloyds embedded a better understanding of domestic abuse that its attention has been turned to economic abuse specifically. Recognising that economic abuse is an emerging area of research and learning, Lloyds has leant heavily on specialist charities for support. Cannon says:

“Lloyds is obviously not an expert on domestic or economic abuse, and we would never proport to be, and we recognise that we need to step very carefully. That’s why we’ve partnered charities like Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA).”

Starting the conversation

SEA has delivered seminars to get the conversation going internally. As often happens with economic abuse, people often don’t realise it is happening to them, or others, but can recognise it when the tell-tale signs are pointed out.

“We find that when they attend our economic abuse awareness training, employers soon realise that they are in an important position to recognise the signs and offer ways of enhancing their employee’s economic safety,” says a spokeswoman for SEA. “They are well placed to respond to the short and long-term impacts of economic abuse, such as employability, criminal record disclosures, wages, rights and entitlements, maternity leave.”

Practical steps employers can take

Some practical steps that Lloyds has taken so far to address economic abuse include:

  • Working with other charities in addition to SEA, such as Safe Lives and Tender, as well as the Employer’s Initiative against Domestic Abuse
  • Launching an Emergency Assistance Programme covering the cost of emergency hotel accommodation and one to one support for an employee and their children
  • Seconding a specialist from SEA to help evolve how the bank supports employees and customers

For more practical inspiration and tips from Lloyds and other employers, watch this space for a forthcoming feature about what to do to address economic abuse.

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How Lloyds Banking Group is tackling economic abuse