As a recent Organisational Psychology masters graduate, and with a passion for employee wellbeing, I was eager to be part of MAD World Summit 2020, having heard so many good things about it. For obvious reasons this year’s event was held online, but that didn’t stop the organisers from creating a superb agenda, with a wide range of industry leaders and expert speakers. 

The biggest challenge I faced was what to join live! Thankfully the attendee passes meant that anything I couldn’t make at the allocated time, I could catch up on later via a recording. 

Here are the main things I took from MAD World Summit 2020:

 

Embed wellbeing as part of your business strategy

As the future of work is uncertain, it is important to keep wellbeing as a core part of business strategy. The business case for supporting employee wellbeing is irrefutable and evidence continues to mount showing an association between investment in employee wellbeing and positive business outcomes like increased productivity and lower staff turnover. Two companies explained what they have been doing to keep wellbeing at the forefront of the agenda. 

Angela Lewis, Director of People Transformation at Companies House explained how the government department has put mental health goals and performance into its annual performance appraisals and development plans, so that conversations surrounding wellbeing are embedded as part of the culture. 

Kooth, the young people mental health charity, has been giving employees weekly broadcasts from its chair, which give employees information about the company and how to look after their own wellbeing. Rt Hon Sir Norman Lamb, Chair of the Advisory Board, explained how this was done with the intention of normalising the conversation around wellbeing and encouraging employees to discuss it with one another.

 

Check-in with your employees

One of the biggest challenges that employers face is the fact that the pandemic has inevitably impacted employee’s mental health. For example, the Office for National Statistics revealed that 50% of the population were feeling anxious in April due to Covid. It is impossible to support your employees if you are unaware of the challenges they face. 

Implementing wellbeing strategies which are not relevant to your employees could waste valuable time and resources. What have companies been doing to tackle this? Network Rail and BP have been sending out surveys to their employees to gauge their wellbeing and see how they can improve the firms’ support. 

More specifically, Dr Richard Peters, the Chief Medical Officer at Network Rail explained how a recent survey found that 86% of its employees were actively looking after their wellbeing, which is a promising finding. More crucially, 63% of employees reported that their health and wellbeing had been affected by COVID. This suggests that there could be higher numbers of employees requiring support, even though a high number are already actively looking after their own wellbeing. 

After BP sends out surveys, it then completes ‘well assessments’ where it uses the data to tell managers what they need to work on to improve employee wellbeing.

BP has also developed an anonymous chat function where employees can ask questions to the bosses and suggest improvements. This offers a great way to encourage employees to voice their opinion without worry of any negative consequences. 

 

Supply your employees with the tools to navigate working from home

Considering this is a new situation for many, it is important for employers to provide employees with practical tools they can use to help them adapt to working from home. 

The speakers outlined some great examples of resources which you could make available to your own employees. For example, David Oldfield from Lloyds Banking Group spoke about how the company has built its own online wellbeing portal, and is training their employees on emotional resilience, sleep and nutrition. 

Companies are also providing online spaces which employees can access in real-time, like Network Rail’s virtual mindfulness rooms where employees can unwind at any point during the day. BP has given their employees access to Headspace, a mindfulness app, which has been downloaded by 9,000 of its employees.

 

Encourage breaks and rest

Encouraging breaks is a great way to make sure that employees are rested, recuperated and engaged in work. Several recent studies have found that employees are at risk of not taking breaks when working from home, and without rest employees are at risk of burning out, which can have long-term repercussions for both employees and businesses. MAD World panellists revealed what their organisations have been doing to tackle this issue. 

BP has introduced ’45 minute meetings’ which are deliberately short so that employees have time to relax away from their computer screen even if they have back to back meetings. Recent studies have found that employees are suffering from ‘Zoom fatigue’ where they are drained from online and video meetings. Being in a video call requires more face-to-face chat and an awareness of being watched which depletes energy really quickly. Network Rail hinted that it may start putting reminders into employees’ diaries to encourage them to take breaks and prompt them that it is okay to do so. 

 

Promote initiatives with management buy-in

Research shows that new wellbeing schemes can fail to reach targets without endorsement from senior and middle-level managers. Some companies put down the success of their schemes to buy-in of management. For example, BP’s large uptake of Headspace could be down to the CEO speaking about his own usage of the app. 

Similarly, Simon Halle-Smith, Head of Global HR and EH&S at Givaudan has set up an initiative called ‘Project Silver Lining’ which consists of a 21-day mental health challenge throughout October. Senior managers will be interviewed each day and then employees will be given a corresponding mental-health related challenge. 

This is a point we make regularly when talking to clients or prospects – inform managers about the benefits of employee wellbeing initiatives, encourage them to lead by example, and take-up, and ultimately results, should be high.

 

Visit Mad World World Summit 2020 for further info on this year’s event, plus details of their online conferences in other countries.