Health & Wellbeing at Work Conference 2019

This month I attended the 13th Health and Wellbeing at Work Conference at the NEC Birmingham. My two days spent at the annual Conference were packed full of talks from a wide range of speakers, wellbeing workshops, and an exhibition hall filled with exhibitors such as national Mindful Employer.

Each day a variety of 10 programmes of talks ran in various rooms in the NEC, with the programme themes ranging from Health and Wellbeing (National Policy and Initiatives), Best Place to Work, Employment Law, Mental Health, Employee Engagement and Motivation, Emotional Wellbeing and Resilience, Sickness Absence Management, as well as Long Term Conditions and Disabilities.  
Other key focuses of the conference talks included men’s health, financial wellbeing, domestic abuse, LGBT workplace experience, remote and mobile working, as well as an aging workforce.

My days at the Conference were focused on attending a wide range of talks on different aspects of wellbeing in the workplace to find out about as many tips and resources as possible.

Here are notes from several of the talks that I attended…

Business in the Community Mental Health at Work 2018 Report

Key concerns in report:

  • 85% of managers acknowledge that employee wellbeing is their responsibility BUT ONLY 30% of line managers report that they have received any training
  • 34% of respondents report that their financial situation negatively affects their mental health HOWEVER 56% of employees do not feel comfortable talking about money issues at work
  • 81% of LGBT+ people have experienced a mental health condition WITH 72% having experienced mental health issues as a result of work
  • Only 38% of BAME employees feel comfortable discussing mental health COMPARED TO 56% of white counterparts
  • 68% of managers still believe that there are barriers to providing for the mental wellbeing of those they manage

Recommendations in the report:

  • On the ground: signpost to external guidance & support, reduce stigma, provide Mental Health First Aid training and create a network of mental health champions
  • Consider the impact of financial wellbeing on mental health: integrate financial wellbeing into your organisations Health & Wellbeing Policy, include awareness of financial issues in line manager employee wellbeing training and signpost colleagues to appropriate services (e.g. Step Change, Money Advice Service etc.)
  • Employer line managers: provide appropriate training, provide relevant resources, improve their confidence & capacity and encourage them to seek support
  • Be proactive, not reactive: give employees a clear and positive wellbeing offering
  • Support people to stay at or return to work: have the appropriate policies and an awareness of local support services (e.g. Workplace Leeds, IAPT Employment Services, Able Futures etc.)
  • Reinforce and tailor mental health support for minority groups: identify and address barriers, educate management and create links between staff networks

Access the report here:

Mental Health First Aid: An effective way to deal with mental health issues in the workplace?

Recommendations from University of Nottingham’s MENTOR Study:

  • Devise a policy: let everyone know who is responsible in developing a health culture (managers & employees)
  • Managing psychosocial risks: regular staff surveys addressing stress levels and support available
  • Setting up a success programme: MHFA part of a wider strategy which addresses supporting staff experiencing mental health difficulties (e.g. training, SLT champion, MHFA on parity with physical first aid, inclusive recruitment process, capture learnings)

Lessons learned through the MENTOR Study re. MHFA training in the workplace:

  • Ensure a quality training provider
  • Have a robust recruitment process for first aiders
  • Ask other organisations for guidance
  • Be clear on support available (and when) for first aiders
  • Be clear on numbers trained and ensure cover across the whole organisation
  • Monitor and review across every part of the company
  • Provide the first aiders with communication, a network and support (e.g. lunch meetings, quarterly meetings with a manager and refresher training provided)

Access the MENTOR Study (University of Nottingham) here:

Mental Health in Safety Critical Roles

(delivered by Dr Ludmila Musalova, Senior Consultant and Research and Development Key Service Manager at Greenstreet Berman)

Safety critical roles exist in high hazard industries, such as mining, oil, nuclear and transport. They are also typically very male dominated industries where perceptions of ‘masculinity’ can be toxic.
Safety critical roles are ones that within which any mistakes have a big and detrimental impact on the individuals and communities around them.

Safety critical roles include positions such as tunnelling worker, scaffolding worker, crane operators etc. It is important to note that in these roles people are not allowed to be in work if they are suffering from a medical condition or undergoing medical treatment, which does not promote an open culture about mental health and wellbeing.

Research into these roles by Dr Ludmila Musalova has shown there is a strong focus on product quality and workplace safety in these industries, but little attention to stress and other mental health difficulties. There is also persistent stigma attached to mental health difficulties.
There is a reactive approach to mental health crises for people in these roles, rather than proactive.

Major factors of stress in safety critical roles include:

  • Competing objectives
  • Occupational uncertainty
  • Imbalanced job design
  • Excessive workload
  • Lack of leadership
  • Exposure to harmful materials

These all contribute towards poor mental health.

This research resulted in the creation of a suggested process for high hazard industries to follow to support employee mental health.
The process includes the following steps:

  • Recognising what mental health and stress is
  • Understanding the risks of impaired mental health (and the importance of good mental health)
  • Effective decision making and action planned to improve individual mental health when issues are identified
  • Monitoring and evaluating progress of individual as action plan is carried out

Supporting Colleagues Affected by Domestic Abuse

Domestic Abuse and The Employers’ Initiative


  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experience domestic abuse
  • 2 women a month are killed by a partner
  • 3 women a week take their own life as a result of domestic abuse
  • One average people live with domestic abuse for 2 years before talking to anyone
  • A third of victims report detriment to working life

The Employers’ Initiative is a network of employers who aim is to provide information for employers, many of whom have no experience in this area, to help them support their employees who are facing domestic abuse or who are perpetrators.

It is free to join the initiative and those who join receive:

The initiative asks members to commit to:

  1. Signal to staff that you will support victims of domestic abuse
  2. That you will support perpetrators of domestic abuse
  3. That you will provide information and support for colleagues, friends and family of victims

You can find further information on the initiative here.

Business in the Community & Public Health England Domestic Abuse Toolkit for Employers

Business in the Community have developed a Domestic Abuse Toolkit for Employers, in partnership with Public Health England.

This came about after research revealed that 86% of HR leads agree that employers have a duty of care to provide support to employees on the issue of domestic abuse, but only 5% of organisations have a specific policy or guidelines on the issue of domestic abuse. Research also showed that the average disclosure to employers over the previous 12 months was less than 1%.

Other figures highlighted in the report are that 75% of those experiencing domestic violence are targeted at work, and that the estimated cost of domestic violence in our workplaces is £1.9 billion, due to decreased productivity, time off work and lost wages.

Therefore, the Toolkits aims to raise awareness of these issues and provide guidance for employers on appropriate interventions.

The Toolkit can be accessed here.

Supporting Colleagues Affected by Domestic Abuse

(delivered by Santander)

Santander launched an initiative to improve support for employees within their organisation who experience domestic violence after noticing an increase in the number of managers contacting HR regarding staff experiencing domestic violence. They realised there was a lack of awareness, as well as practical and financial support for victims of domestic abuse within their workplace.

The support they put in place internally included creating an inclusive culture, training line managers, putting in domestic abuse guidelines and personal safety protocol in place, as well as tasking the Health, Safety and Wellbeing Team with taking this work further and establishing a central point of contact.

External support that was highlighted and engaged with included Employee Assistance Programmes, Personal Support workers (via Bank Worker’s Charity), establishing relationships with local refuge services, the Police and local GPs.

They also created guidance for other employers on the ‘Do’s & Don’ts) when supporting a staff member experiencing domestic abuse, they are:


  • Give them a break from duties
  • Have a chat with them
  • Keep what is discussed confidential
  • Be understanding of the situation
  • Offer a change of duties
  • Provide time and resources needed
  • Offer flexible working


  • Judge
  • Tell them what to do
  • Over promise
  • Take matters into your own hands

Top tip: If you don’t know what to do then seek help from your HR team and Occupational Health Service – this an be done with anonymity to begin with!

Useful local service: Behind Closed Doors (will be presenting at the June Mindful Employer Leeds Network Event)

Making Reasonable Adjustments for Mental Health Conditions

(delivered by Council for Work & Health)

Even the name ‘reasonable adjustments’ overmedicalizes the fact that people just needs to have good conversations with employers to discuss best ways of doing their job

It is simple practical steps that are needed from employers, often around simple flexible working that accommodate clinical support needs in a regular 9-5 week

Be clear on expectations – what can and what can’t be done


  • OK to ask ‘Are you OK?’
  • Talk through all the options available to an employee
  • First and early contact is important (and to maintain dialogue)
  • Use positive language
  • Create engagement and build trust

Simple practical options:

  • Support employee with treatments and symptoms
  • Explore safety critical issues
  • Tackle workplace stigma within teams
  • Phased return: have positive and open dialogue re. employee needs and have early expectation that adjustments can be explored

Disclosure (think creatively!):

  • Open discussion re. if colleagues are informed/how adjustments are positioned
  • Train staff to provide peer support
  • Option of external support and involvement of occupational health

Useful resources include: What’s Reasonable at Work Report (Rethink Mental Illness), Improving Lives Report (DWP) & Thriving at Work Report (Stevenson/Farmer)

How to Engage Staff in Multinational, Complex Organisations Undergoing Significant Change

(delivered by Engage for Success)

  1. Modern advanced intranets remain central to an engaging workplace, especially technology you can interact with
  2. Ensuring people have the right resources to do their jobs and there is a framework people can work within
  3. Create staff networks which embrace collaboration and collective learning
  4. Employment branding: upholding and promoting the principles and values of the organisation
  5. Global/national HR decisions must be viewed in the context of national/regional cultures

Key enablers of engagement:

  1. Visible and empowering leadership
  2. Engaging managers (focus on the support available to them)
  3. Ensure the employee voice permeates throughout the organisation
  4. Your organisational integrity is reflected in day to day behaviours

Key tip: Ensure there is compassion in your workplace!

The Impact that Informal Caregiving has on Carer’s Employment, Financial and Health Outcomes and what Employers can do about it

(delivered by The Work Foundation)

Definition of informal care: someone who looks after a friend or family (who they can live with or can live separately from) but is not paid a wage


  • 58-60% of informal carers are women
  • 1 in 10 working age people are informal carers
  • There is a growing number of informal carers in UK – with 5.8m in 2001 having risen to 6.5m in 2011
  • Value of informal care is estimated to have increased to £132bn
  • Number of people 85yr+ in UK has increased by 38% from 2001-2015
  • It is expected that number of people needing informal care will double over next 30 years
  • Social care spending in England has decreased from 2009-2015
  • 64% of informal carers are in work so there is an employment gap
  • Women aged 45-54 are more likely to have reduced their working hours because of caring responsibilities
  • 71% of informal carers feel lonely and isolated in their workplace due to their caring responsibilities

Effect of informal caregiving on individual wellbeing:

  • 70% of informal caregivers reported feelings of anxiety
  • 46% of informal caregivers have experienced depression
  • 54% of informal caregivers have reduced their levels of physical activity
  • 78% of informal caregivers have experienced care related stress

The Business Case:

  • Caring responsibilities tend to peak around 45-64 years old, when people are likely to hold more senior positions within organisations – this is a barrier to businesses retaining talented employees
  • More than a third of informal carers have used annual leave to cover gaps in care arrangement and a fifth have used sick leave for the same reason

Tackling the carer’s employment gap:

  1. Workplace flexibility – commit to opportunities for flexible and remote working for employees and be open to requests for fewer hours and less senior roles
  2. Statutory leave – more than a third of carers want entitlement to leave arrangements without using up all their annual leave allowance
  3. Workplace support – create a workplace where carers are supported by ‘carer friendly’ policies, peer support groups and external support services
  4. Return to work – consider phased return to work for employees who have had to take time off for caring responsibilities

Useful resource: Work Foundation report on ‘Gender, Sex, Health and Work’ Report

Useful local service: Carers Leeds

Combatting Workplace Loneliness

3 relational dynamics in the workplace:

  • Experience of working together and collaboration – the modern workforce is good at doing this virtually, but not as good at doing this in person
  • Social support and compassion – there are toxins in working environments (e.g. discrimination)
  • Social identity and connection – identifying your role and position (e.g. as an entrepreneur)

Health impacts in the workplace:

  • Holt-Lundstad et al. study on ‘Social Relationships and Mortality Risk’ indicates that individuals with adequate social relationships have a 50% greater likelihood of survival compared to those with poor or insufficient social relationships. The magnitude of this effect is comparable with quitting smoking and it exceeds many well-known risk factors for mortality (e.g., obesity, physical inactivity).
  • There is a perception gap which means we don’t recognise how important social relationship factors are for individual wellbeing
  • The social cure is an increased sense of identification, growing sense of belonging, increased trust and psychological safety and positive expectations

Workplace climate risks which increase social isolation:

  • Individual transitions and changes in people’s working arrangements
  • Demand intensification which decreases capacity for workplace support
  • Low interactional justice which affects how people are treated during workplace processes
  • Discrimination and stigma (e.g. racism and mental health stigma)
  • Ostracism (e.g. bullying and abusive supervision)

Steps to take:

  • Raise awareness of how important social aspects of environment are to our health
  • Risk assessments where points of vulnerability in the workplace are identified
  • Investment in social support and staff networks
  • Risk mitigation implemented (e.g. relevant support put in place)

Bereavement, Loss and Grief within the Workplace

(delivered by Optima Health)


  • Employee has ‘day one’ right to ‘reasonable’ time off work
  • Employees are protected from discrimination via Equality Act (mental health difficulties resulting from bereavement are also covered by this act)

Important for managers to have awareness of Kübler-Ross’ ‘Grief Cycle’

In this grief cycle:

  • Stage of Denial & Anger needs information and communication
  • Stage of Depression needs emotional support
  • Stage of Bargaining & Acceptance needs guidance and direction

Supporting a colleague who has experienced bereavement as a manager


  • Offer condolences
  • Agree how to stay in touch
  • Agree what they would like colleagues to be told
  • Ask if they would like contact from colleagues
  • Be conscious of cultural or religious mourning rituals


  • Avoid someone who is bereaved
  • Use clichés (e.g. ‘time heals’)
  • Be alarmed if the bereaved person is angry or doesn’t want to talk about it
  • Underestimate how draining it is for the bereaved person


  • Take care of yourself e.g. access peer support, EAP’s or other support available

Useful resource: ACAS Guide to Managing Bereavement in the Workplace

Useful local service: Cruse Bereavement Care