Health & Wellbeing at Work Conference 2017

This month I attended the 11th Health & Wellbeing at Work conference in Birmingham NEC. This annual conference is a two day event packed full of speakers, practical workshops, wellbeing activities and exhibition stands.

There were a range of diverse talks to choose from on; National Policy (Health & Wellbeing), Employment Law, Mental Health, Coaching & Coaching Psychology, Trauma & Counselling, Long Term Conditions, Managing MSDs & Back Pain, Health Promotion Fitness & Surveillance, Human Factors Safety & Risk, Worker Health Protection, Returning to Work, Employee Engagement & Performance, Management & Leadership, Sickness Absence Management, Emotional Wellbeing, Resilience & Stress Management.

The exhibition Hall had a huge selection of stallholders covering all aspects of health; alcohol & drugs, nutrition, managing physical health issues, improving physical fitness, universities offering relevant courses, sleep optimisation, relaxation techniques, mindfulness, calming effects of pets, employment support, legal support, various health related charities, beauty therapy… so something for everyone! The Hall also featured 3 practical ‘theatres’ with themes Healthy Workplace, Training & Coaching and Body & Fitness with a variety of activities to get involved with:

after get involved with 1

I attended the brief mindfulness session, the mental wheel of fortune and the anti stigma exercise & wellbeing scenarios. All of which were really interesting, inactive and thought provoking.

mental health wheel of fortunewheel of fortune

I tried to spend most of my time attending as many talks and employer case studies as possible. Here are notes from several talks I attended…

Embedding and Evaluating Health & Wellbeing at Work

Professor Dame Carol Black opened the Conference and had written a welcome in the brochure:

dame black

In her talk on embedding and evaluating Health & Wellbeing in the workplace, Professor Dame Carol Black listed the three most effective interventions that work for employers as:

  • Early Intervention – addressing the issue immediately
  • Finding the right communication for the individual – whether that’s through a mediator, over email, the phone or face to face…whatever works for the individual
  • Providing quick access to health support services; support with visiting Doctors, EAPs, talking therapies

A statistic from a recent research project carried out in Spain was interventions and support that take place within 2.5 days of an individual going off work sick have the most positive result in getting a person back to work and keeping them in work.

Through recent analysis of the Fit for Work data, it can be seen that employees are using the ‘Fit for Work’ support service more than Employers and GPs. So the issue is how can we get the Professionals to invest in training, invest in their staff and engage with employee wellbeing in the workplace? Professor Dame Carol Black called for Employers to look into their Leadership styles and their Line Management engagement. Don’t make mental health or employee wellbeing just an ‘add-on’ in the workplace, it needs to be properly embedded and thought about in all practices by everyone as it can  affect anyone at any time.

Professor Dame Carol Black urges employers to focus on specific health issues, play close attention to the content of information available, think about the context of each intervention and evaluate – she couldn’t emphasis enough the importance of collecting data in a consistent way, building useful evidence to then be able to offer consistent and effective interventions over time.

How to Review Employee Support for Mental Health –

A Practical Guide for HR Leaders and Managers

This session was an Employer Case study from Transport for London and the digital agency Bamboo; they had been working with to survey their staff.

Transport for London have signed the Time to Change pledge, rolled out mental health training for staff and embedded good practice towards mental health and employee wellbeing into their workplace policies however, people were still not performing due to mental health.

So Transport for London decided to survey all staff to try and find solutions. The surveys were private, 1-1 sessions carried out by an external agency with the staff member remaining anonymous. They found using an external agency helped staff to open up more and avoid the feeling of ‘us and them’. Bamboo interviewed staff members who were currently unwell; they also interviewed HR and ran focus groups. Transport for London recommend carrying out staff surveys and feel asking your staff directly is the best way to improve the workplace. In particular they wanted to focus on getting to know the employee experience and improve conversations for everyone so they focused on; what happens on that first day of being unwell? Who can the staff member talk to? What is that conversation like?

The survey found that Transport for London has excellent resources but needed to reach more people.  Once prompted, staff ‘remembered’ what support was available to them, but unprompted they just weren’t accessing it… so more reinforcement on Employee Assistant Programmes, where to find useful documents and supportive information was needed. The survey also found that more visible leadership was called for, with an emphasis on the capability of managers.

Transport for London wanted really emphasise to all employers in the room that it’s really important you don’t take any of the survey results or feedback personally. Use it as a learning experience and focus on the changes you can realistically make over time.

So what does a ‘great’ employer do?

  • Has well trained managers
  • A clear and helpful HR and OH
  • Tested policies and procedures
  • Individuals have developed resilience
  • Communication is continual
  • Leads a support agenda

This employer found that by following the above points can help to create a culture of wellbeing in the workplace. Transport for London found that by following this list and surveying staff their customer service teams improved, staff knowledge and education around mental health and wellbeing improved and so did their digital skills and development opportunities.

Transport for London recommends setting up staff focus groups to really drill down on the reasons why staff don’t feel comfortable speaking to managers. They advise employers to look at what good practice is to your staff and to work closely with HR to develop clear and simple communication. Talking about mental health and listening may be difficult but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

transport for london

Mental Health: From Business Case to Skills Development

The next Employer case study (sticking with the industry) was from Christina Butterworth at Crossrail. Christina asked how employers can go beyond raising awareness on mental health in the workplace to improving employee skills and effecting change.

Christina is an Occupational Health Therapist for Crossrail and wants all employees to not only be able to do their job, but to enjoy life too! When Christina first mentioned Mental Health to Line Managers she found there was a high level of stigma and decided they needed to improve the way mental health was perceived at Cross Rail.

Crossrail did their homework on the mental health statistics, the rising cost to business, thought about how they were going to challenge stigma around mental health and began building a business case of their won.

Christina felt the best way to challenge and breakdown stigma was to make it visible. Crossrail used the ACAS model:

  • Get people talking
  • Train the people (both managers and employees) so the information is sustainable
  • Listen to the staff (survey)

Crossrail tackled stigma by focussing on the practical things and developing their listening skills. Here are their 6 steps to employee wellbeing:

  • A shared view and vocabulary: creating a strategy, defining what mental health and employee wellbeing means to Crossrail and its staff
  • Building awareness and visibility: site evaluations, in house publications, link to national media campaigns, research how to tackle stigma, research mental health conditions, monthly toolbox talks, monthly health bulletins, wellbeing boards, senior management (with lived experience) blog
  • Creating local support: Champion network, Mental Health First Aiders, providing resources, training and support
  • Education & Upskilling staff: workshops on personal resilience, line managers leading on team resilience and stress management, Mind mental health training and Mental Health First Aid training
  • Creating Governance & Accountability: Incorporating wellbeing in occupational health standards and performance management criteria
  • Provide Access to Resources and Opportunities: collaboration on staff site, the right resource for the right need and creating new resources. Staff wellbeing survey, personal resilience reports and site action plans.

Christina wanted to remind everyone that positive mental health and wellbeing is life work, it never finishes, it is something that can take time to achieve but then needs to be sustained.

Using the Right Language in Engaging Men in Mental Health

mens health 1Chris Stein opened his talk on Men’s Health with the current crisis that 76% of all suicides are currently carried out by men, yet men only make up 36% of IAPT referrals… so why is there a disconnect?

Chris Stein works for the Men’s Health forum and has been conducting research with males of all ages to investigate the current state of men’s mental health.


From talking to men with diagnosable mental health conditions; 52% were concerned about what their employer would think and 48% felt embarrassed of their condition.
mens health 2

So how can we make mental health work for men? The Men’s Health Forum recently teamed up with Leeds Beckett University to investigate. How language is used when engaging with men on health is incredibly important, for example; “What do you think?” got a much better response than “How does that make you feel?”… Also it is advisable to avoid using any scientific, medical or counselling jargon. Speaking plainly helped men to express their thoughts on mental health.

mens health 3

 The study also found that incorporating peer support and in particular action oriented settings got a very positive response. Men are more likely to talk about their mental health when engaging in an activity with others and not just ‘being told what to do’. So talk to action works for Men.

mens health 4

Creating Winning Workplaces – The Business Case for and Impacts of Active Employees

The next talk was from Civil Servants who worked for the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, they were discussing why there wasn’t more physical activity in the workplace and the links between physical and mental health.

They were working with the government and Sport England on a “Workplace Challenge” project to improve lives by growing grassroots sport and physical activity in communities and the workplace. There’s currently 63,000 employees participating in 8,000 organisations across the UK and 1000 workplace champions have been trained.

Through their own research, understandably ‘Time’ is listed as the biggest barrier to exercise and so Workplace Challenge are asking employers to take a flexible approach and bringing incentive schemes, access to local gyms and travel rewards (cycling) into the workplace package. Workplace Challenge say bitesize exercise is the way forward, 10 minutes is all you need to “revolutionise your lunch break”. They also encourage workplaces to team up with county sports groups, working in partnership and encouraging volunteering.

workplace challenge

Engaging for a Healthy Workforce

Sarah Brown from the NHS spoke on how to engage with staff on mental health and strongly felt that staff experience is just as important as patient experience as “a better workforce = better care for everyone”.

nhs potive eg staf

Sarah works at Birmingham hospital, they have been making a big effort to tackle poor behaviour as conflict is so damaging to a workforce.

Sarah has created ‘Intent2listen” drop-in workshops which are a platform for staff to tell them what is making life difficult and what is making life great.

Birmingham Women’s & Children’s Hospital also deliver an annual wellbeing event for all staff.

Sarah wanted to emphasise it is important not to forgot Leadership and Management Teams in wellbeing packages as they need support just as much as their employees.

welbeing approach NHS

Sarah feels investing in training for all leaders and managers is the best thing an employer can do.

Birmingham Hospital have also been looking into “what does it mean to work in a team” through staff surveys brought up ‘teamwork’ as one of the biggest issues.

From this response Sarah has begun developing staff communication and resilience training.


She also wanted employers to not be afraid to use humour in campaigns and training. They have been using an Alice in Wonderland theme, to get people to think about the “Queen of Hearts”…staff not feeling able to raise concerns else they may ‘lose their head’.

Promoting Self-Care in the Workplace and Beyond – The Contribution of Coaching

Professor Sarah Corrie is a Charter Psychologist, Coaching Pathologist and Consultant Clinical Psychologist.

Professor Corrie feels not many people have had the opportunity to learn self-care even as adult learners yet it is vital to both our professional and personal lives. So who needs to own the self-care agenda? The answer is not just the individual; it’s a collective responsibility to enable people to take better care of themselves as it might be uncomfortable for us to acknowledge our own wellbeing is depleted or compromised.

So what is self-care? The definition in psychology and coaching is “providing adequate attention to physical, psychological and spiritual wellness”.

Professor Corrie believes self-care is now an ethical imperative, it’s no longer just ‘nice to have’ but it needs to be there in everyone from the beginning as the consequences of inadequate self-care are what lead to ‘burn out’ or ‘over extending of self’ and can also cause reduced confidence and impaired performance.

Signs that self-care needs address:

  • Problem with multi-tasking
  • Destructive goal pursuits
  • Trouble with sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Dreading going to work
  • Losing interest in activities you used to love
  • Level of concern dropping off
  • Not listening
  • Clock watching

It’s important to be aware of subtle signs and address them as soon as possible as the boundary to feeling well and unwell is very fine. It’s also important to engage in self-care intelligently – asking what’s the purpose of it for you and keeping tabs on bad habits i.e. you might think the glass of wine is helping but is it a good long term way of dealing with a difficult day?

It’s advisable to have a well-developed self-care armoury and not to be too reliant on one thing i.e. what would you do if your gym closed down…or if your best friend moved away?

Sustainable ways to use self-care:

  • Self-awareness and self-monitoring – what are your triggers and bad habits?
  • Building community
  • Focusing on your strengths and using them
  • Having diversity in work role and activities
  • Having multiple ‘coping’ strategies, not just reliant on one or two
  • Improving relationships with work colleagues, family and friends

Barriers to improving self-care:

  • Lack of self-awareness
  • Over personalising difficulties
  • Feeling shame
  • Having negative beliefs about self-care
  • Avoidance
  • Wider culture you’re involved in i.e. does your workplace or family have negative attitudes towards wellbeing?

TOP TIP: Never compare how you feel on the inside to how someone appears on the outside.