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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.

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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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A key challenge of becoming a diverse employer is catering for the varied wants and needs of your workforce. Something that can be truly difficult when you implement or review your employee benefits programme.

Not every employee requires the same support or prioritises the same type of perk, whether it be health, financial or family orientated. Therefore many companies fall into the trap of providing benefits that serve the majority and don’t address the specific issues of minority groups such as women or LGBTQ and underprivileged employees.

This may seem like a more financially safer approach – no business wants to provide benefits that will be underused or therefore a waste of investment – however doing so is actually detrimental to your talent acquisition, retention and overarching diversity & inclusion strategy. Even if you have a smaller percentage of minority employees, their needs must still be met.

One way to tackle this challenge is by creating a benefits programme that considers your entire workforce in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race, generation and culture. In doing so you will reap the benefits of a diverse workforce and be more likely to outperform those that are not.

Tackle gender inequality

Gender equality in the workplace has come a long way, however there is still room to better support female employees in and outside the office.

When it comes to childcare, women are still the primary carer in most households – even in families where both parents work full time. However on top of raising a family, women are also more likely to care for elderly parents or sick loved ones. This unpaid care work impacts 1 in 4 women aged 50-64 and results in twice as many between 45-54 having to reduce their working hours, or give up work compared to men.

This strikingly gendered issue has a clear detrimental impact on women’s employment at any age, affecting promotional opportunities, participation, income levels and their mental health.

Most employee benefits cater for both genders, however by providing a package that meets the evolving needs of professional women, you can take a leap towards better supporting opportunities for female employees to progress in your workplace. These may include flexible working hours, mental health support and assistive benefits that provide vetted caring and childcare support.

Attract more diverse talent

There’s no doubt about it, most industries and companies are tackling an ongoing global talent crisis. And with the increased cost of living to contend with, candidates are considering every aspect of a company’s offering more than before – including employee benefits.

With such high levels of competition, benefit packages are a surefire way to stand out and attract better talent. Particularly when they demonstrate that your workforce is inclusive, relevant and supportive.

76% of job seekers consider diversity to be an important factor when evaluating their next role – a percentage that increases to 79-80% for Black, Hispanic or LGBTQ employees. Whilst 60% state that a company’s benefits and perks are a strong consideration when accepting a job offer.

Employee benefits are just one area of creating an equal, inclusive company culture – however they are clearly an important one. Ensuring they embrace and support a diverse group of people will in turn make your company a more diverse, successful workforce.

Examples include floating holidays that allow employees to celebrate days that are of importance to them and their religion or culture, rather than traditional Christmas and Easter days off. Health benefits are another key area that should be visibly inclusive to attract and retain diverse talent. Ensure your programme is transgender-inclusive and consider providing benefits for women’s health issues including menstrual and menopause leave.

Family benefits should also be assessed. Many organisations provide adequate maternity leave but what about new dads or adoptive parents? Consider how you can support all employees on their path to parenthood in an equal manner, no matter their sexual orientation, relationship status or financial circumstances, including those going through IVF, surrogacy and egg/sperm freezing.

Provide fairer opportunities

Many employee benefits programmes support those on a conventional timeline inclusive of marriage, starting a family and retirement. However not all employees take this path or do so in a traditional sense.

A one-size-fits-all approach to benefits therefore doesn’t work and should instead account for those with varying financial statuses, working patterns, family setups and responsibilities outside of work.

For example, 8.4 million informal carers in the UK currently juggle work with 12 hours of care every week. A further 600 people give up work every day to look after a relative. A benefits programme that helps to elevate this strain through on-demand assistance, such as companiions, can have a dramatically positive impact on retention, productivity and the mental health of these employees. page2image21615104

One way to provide fairer opportunities to employees is with financial wellness and educational programmes that can aid personal development. Some organisations such as Google and LinkedIn have begun to help workers through tuition assistance and student loan repayments. This particularly helps women and communities of colour who are disproportionately impacted by heavy student loans. Other options include financial advice services that educate workers on investments, budget management and mortgages – allowing them to confidently prepare for their future – or professional development programmes that allow you to hire high-potential candidates with varied economic or educational backgrounds.

Benefits should be intrinsically accessible to all employees – so don’t forget to consider those who work remotely or in different locations to a company’s headquarters. Many employees miss out on social perks and localised benefits such as gym memberships and in-office events, whilst not all appeal to a multigenerational workforce who have different health and wellbeing needs. Break down the barriers of accessibility by personalising offerings to meet employees wherever they are or providing online programmes such as virtual appointments with medical advisors.

No matter the type or amount of employee benefits you’re able to offer, ensuring that they are inclusive of all your employees is the first step to becoming a more diverse workforce.

About the author

Eppie Shepherd is a freelance writer who creates engaging content for startups, small businesses and household names including companiions, the mobile app that connects employees to a trusted network of caring, compassionate local people, providing personalised on-demand support across the UK. During her career, Eppie has helped dozens of brands to spread their message, grow their organic traffic and convert their audiences, strengthened by her experience as an SEO Consultant.

If you are an employer and you would like to find out more about companiions, sign up for the MAD World Summit and join their breakfast briefing session: The Great Balancing Act – how to support the wellbeing of employees balancing work with caregiving responsibilities

The Summit 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.

How inclusive employee benefits can better support equality and diversity

Autonomy is increasingly being recognised as fundamental to workplace wellbeing, with Business in the Community (BITC) undertaking research into its impact as part of its ‘Your job can be good for you’ campaign.

Teaming up with YouGov, the research surveyed over 4,000 UK employees from a wide range of industries looking at what ways of working could improve wellbeing. To sum up the main findings of the survey the BITC came up with an acronym – THRIVE – to encapsulate the actions employers could take on the back of the insights.

The ‘R’ underlines the importance of autonomy and stands for ‘recognise and balance business and employee needs by providing flexibility in how, where and when people work’. According to the BITC’s wellbeing director Louise Aston, lockdown really challenged the business world’s ideas about the level of autonomy it’s possible to give employees.

Lockdown challenged the business world’s ideas about autonomy

“Employers I spoke to were really worried that people, left to their own devices would abuse working from home,” she says. “But in many cases productivity has actually increased. I think autonomy is, wherever possible, a good thing because people can actually focus on outputs rather than being seen. They can do things in a way that best suits them and gives them a lot more freedom to obtain that work life balance that 65% of employees say they are seeking, according to our research.”

The key, she says, is finding that “sweet spot” between what supports the wellbeing of the individual and also what is good for the business. The report goes as far as to recommend that employees should be able to request the right to work flexibly from the day they join a new company, rather than have to wait six months before earning this right.

As Aston also says, autonomy is a factor employers now must have on their radar because post-pandemic “employees are becoming a lot more demanding and discerning about what they actually want from a so-called ‘good’ job”. Also, it’s not something that you can just wrap up in a neat one-size-fits-all policy because the whole point about co-creating job designs with employees means the result is tailored and intersectional:

Autonomy is not one-size-fits-all

“In the past many employers looked at wellbeing through a kind of ‘shopping list’ of silos. But looking at ways of working through multiple intersectional lenses means actually considering the needs of people through many different facets.”

She gives the example of a carer, from a black Afro-Caribbean background who is on the living wage and has long-term health issues. “Designing ways of working for that employee to enable them to thrive is going to be far more effective than having blanket policies,” she says.

But it’s not just mental wellbeing that a sense of autonomy at work can boost. It’s physical health too. Stephen Bevan, head of HR research development at the Institute for Employment Studies, points to clinical research that shows that if people have high levels of control and autonomy in their jobs, they have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Autonomy boosts mental and physical health

“There’s something deeply psychological about being in a job where you’re able to express yourself, be trusted to get on with your job and to have control over aspects of your job and so on,” says Bevan. “It’s a really important component of wellness. It’s not just a ‘nice to have’. And it’s not just about treating your employees with respect. This is not a ‘warm and fuzzy’ HR thing either; there’s mountains of data to support this.”

Bevan’s HR research on this topic finds that one of the principal factors that makes a difference to employee mental health and productivity is whether they’ve had managers that are prepared to give them “a bit more lee way, trust and autonomy”.

And, while there are some industries where it’s undoubtedly more challenging to offer autonomy than others, Bevans believes that, often, more can be done than employers think. For instance, it’s commonly assumed that autonomy cannot be given to employees working on production lines or a construction site.

More autonomy can be given than employers think

“But in this situation you can give autonomy by trusting your workers to use their discretion and knowledge in certain situations to take control,” says Bevan. “For instance, if an employee sees something that’s wrong, or could cause an accident or affect quality, you can give them the autonomy to say ‘hang on, we’ve got to stop now and make a correction’. Having discretion over what they do is a really important part of motivation.”

Bevan concedes that there are some “more constrained” businesses where you need uniformity, predictability and to ensure that the customer experience is consistent throughout, giving the example of the hospitality industry. Again, though, he argues there is much scope for employees to have a say about the way the job is done or more active involvement in aspects like quality improvement.

“Having a very regimented approach only gets you so far,” he says. “If you’re going to differentiate yourself as an employer – say your source of competitive advantage is quality of service rather than just price – then you’ve got to think about whether you’re weaving those principles into the way that you are managing people, because you don’t get differentiation by controlling people into compliance.”

You don’t differentiate by controlling into compliance

In those industries where it’s hard to offer autonomy, or only feasible with part of the workforce, then employers need to be mindful of the risk of creating a two tier culture. This is something head of wellbeing at Anglian Water Vicki Sloan is conscious of in her role, where office workers are able to work more autonomously whereas the scheduled workforce, working at the coal face of providing utilities to customers, can’t.

Because Anglian Water strives for a culture of transparency and honesty, the company has been very upfront with employees about the fact that some roles cannot be autonomous because of the nature of the business. This has been communicated very clearly in Anglian Water’s communications about its commitments to the customer and to each other as colleagues.

Avoiding a two tier culture

“It’s important that all employees are aware of how different roles are within the company and the differences between home or office based work and scheduled work,” says Sloan. “It’s about creating a culture of care and respect, accepting we’re different and that we can’t offer the same level of autonomy across the board. That said, we’ve also articulated in our commitments that we want employees, in all roles, to explore new and better ways of doing things.”

Sometimes the wellbeing sector is criticised for treating the symptoms of workplace stress, with strategies that hinge around solutions like meditation apps or gym membership, rather than the causes. Placing focus on autonomy is tackling the problem at its core so, ultimately, will have a much bigger impact on workplace wellbeing. As Bevan says:

“If you’re trying to do things to improve employees’ wellbeing, like giving them spaces to meditate, but you’re sending them back into a toxic workplace, where they have no control of autonomy, then these offerings won’t make a difference. If you are an employer, whether you’ve got people working in an office or not, you have to think about what helps people thrive at work.”

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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Autonomy: tackling the core, not the symptoms, of the wellbeing challenge

Psychological safety is a term that has been commonly used in recent years, but what is it, why does it matter and what can leaders do to create a culture that fosters it?

What is psychological safety?

Imagine, if you will, the following situations: a nurse is concerned that a doctor has made a mistake with a patient’s care but is afraid to speak up in case she is speaking ‘above her pay grade’. A new apprentice has an idea which will vastly improve the way his team works together but he’s worried that he might offend someone or that his opinion will not be valued and will be rejected; A manager is concerned that her own manager does not pay adequate consideration to her disability, but she does not want to be a burden so keeps it to herself.

It would be reasonable to conclude that these staff do not feel a sense of psychological safety in their workplace. When psychological safety is present, staff are not afraid to share their opinions, they can speak their mind without fear of rejection or reprisals; they can admit mistakes, share ideas, raise concerns, take interpersonal risks, and even challenge the status quo. There is an inclusive element here, in that all employees should feel able to speak up, no matter their position in the organisation or their diversity characteristic.

Why is it important?

Evidence indicates that psychological safety is an important factor in developing high performance teams. In the words of Dr Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School – “When people believe they can speak up at work, the learning, innovation and performance of their organisations is greater. Teams and organisations in which people believe that their voices are welcome outperform their counterparts.” 

Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is a primary concern of mine and it makes sense that a psychologically safe environment reduces the stress of employees having to justify or prove themselves when wanting to speak up. It also makes sense that being able to truly be oneself at work, would result in employees feeling happier, more engaged and more likely to stay with their employer.

The pandemic and resulting increase in stress and anxiety has highlighted the need for workplaces to do more to increase psychological safety. So as a leader, what can you do?

Practical tips for Leaders

My top tips are:

Role-model the behaviours you wish to see (particularly vulnerability) – A leader who can project that they are not perfect, life is uncertain, and they do not have all the answers is a strong one in my opinion. This human side became apparent during the pandemic and associated lockdowns. We saw frazzled senior leaders ‘taking their corporate jacket off’ as they attempted to hold work meetings with children peering over their shoulders, waiting to be home-schooled. Although this may have been painful for senior leaders (I speak from personal experience!), this is likely to have had a positive impact on staff and increased their ability to share. In addition, being able to admit that you do not know all the answers, puts you in a position where you can bring staff alongside you to find out the answers together. This brings me to my next point….

Be proactive in canvassing the opinions of your staff– being curious and communicating that you want to hear the opinions of others will help produce solutions to meet challenges within your organisation, as well as send the message that you value employee voice. Being in a position of power can naturally supress a team member’s confidence to speak up, hence the need to work harder to draw out opinions and ideas. 

In my experience, often leaders could communicate more about how they are acting on views from employee surveys or using employee forums. If employees truly believe that their voice is being heard and that speaking up can have a positive impact on them, their team, and the organisation, they will be more likely to do so.

Value interpersonal relationships – showing compassion for your staff not just as employees but as individuals, goes a long way. Whether it’s a phone call to check how an employee is doing, or an email to the team acknowledging the challenges ahead and how you are thinking about their wellbeing during this difficult time. This can go a long way and make people feel connected to you and the organisation.

Invest in your line managers – now, more so than ever, there is an increased focus on the importance of the management relationship. There is a need for managers to be more proactive and create space for connections including wellbeing conversations. There is a need to check in with individuals and teams and to take active steps to include workers that are working remotely, or hybrid working, making sure they remain involved. Training and supporting your managers do this will be money well spent.

Whilst building a culture conducive to psychological safety is not an overnight process, the steps above will go a long way to increase trust in you as a leader and enable staff to be more willing to take interpersonal risks and speak up.


How can leaders create psychologically safe workplaces?

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:

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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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