In this episode we are joined by Sheila Lord, the Founder and Director of BMR Health and Wellbeing, working to create happier and healthier workplaces by taking a proactive approach to mental health and employee wellbeing.
This conversation highlights the importance of investing in wellbeing. This includes reducing workplace stress, saving money, effectively managing an agile workforce, and giving managers the tools to support their staff.
Here is a snippet of the conversation between Sheila and Adam:
Q1. When we are thinking about wellbeing, how do we deal with the outliers?
I think a lot of organisations, when it comes to trying to assess risk in wellbeing, they completely missed the mark. They’ll either approach it through wellbeing surveys, pool surveys, that type of thing. We’re not actually assessing the risk of people, we’re not collecting data in a way that is truly usable, that gives us real meaning.
If you look at wellbeing, one of the things that often gets asked in something like an engagement survey, is a statement question of something like I am often pressured to work to tight deadlines, or I have a heavy workload. Now, we can answer that question, but that tells you nothing about wellbeing impact. All that tells you is about how work is.
So, if you have a high workload with pressure to work to tight deadlines, that could be a real motivator for you. With a spring in your step thinking yes, got to get this deadline done, got all this pressure on, I love it – really motivates me. Whereas for me, for example, that might have the complete opposite effect, and really, really stress me out.
So we need to change the way you’re looking at wellbeing and how we’re trying to assess this in a different way. What we need to be asking people is when workload becomes too great for you to manage, either emotionally, physically, mentally, or any combination of does that impact your wellbeing? If the answer is yes, how much does that impact you? Is it a severe impact? Is it a minor impact? Is it an every now and then impact? How often does it happen? And when it happens? Or how long does that last for?
Yes, there’ll be outliers in there, but what we’ll be able to see is that actually a large percentage based on severity, risk and duration, we get this overall risk factor. So we’re able to really hone in on those areas that people are being impacted by.
Q2. What are some practical ways to start a conversation off with business leaders about staff wellbeing?
I think one of the first things we need to do is to have a look at the actual business case and to get the attention of senior leaders, because if we’ve not got senior leadership bought in it’s like trying to push water up a hill without a container. It is pretty much nigh on impossible to get it done without sponsorship from see somebody in the senior exec position.
There’s a number of statistics out there that we can use to actually work this out, if you take some of the most common ones. The thing is you can really tie yourself up in knots with all the data and all the stats that are out there. I stick to kind of two lots of statistics, which is the Deloitte Report on the cost per employee of sickness, absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover, which is estimated to be £1,700 per employee in your organisation. So that’s a really simple way of calculating – pounds times the number of employees in your business, that’s approximately what it’s costing you. Okay? So, let’s have a look at what the cost is, let’s have a look at our absence rates. I’ve a look at our sickness days, and let’s have a look at what that’s costing us today. And let’s have a look at then, you know, once you start to see those numbers, those numbers become quite big.
Then we’ve got to get the understanding at senior leadership level that wellbeing and productivity and outputs will correlate if everybody’s happy and engaged in your workforce. And I don’t mean the fluffy stuff, but I come to work, I feel like I’m valued. I have a sense of meaningfulness about my job, and I want to do a good job. My work levels are going to be up here, I’m going to be productive, I’ve got attention to detail, I want to do the right job and get the best results for myself and for the organisation.
If I’m disengaged, if I’ve got a horrible boss, if I’ve got a crap work environment, if I’ve got really crap pay, I’m going to come in and feel like if can’t be asked, or can’t be asked about me, I can’t be asked about that. The attitudes are very, very different. So, you might have sloppy workmanship going out to clients or poor service or somebody that just loses their rag in a customer service environment with a really important line, these things happen.
We’re just not joining the dots up here. Once we can get senior leadership to understand these things once we start to measure them, we can see them really add value to the business. I liken it back to when I worked in, so my previous career before I got involved in workplace wellbeing was in supply chain. I worked in procurement for many, many years – I started in procurement in the late 80s, early 90s. At that time, procurement was seen very much as an administrative function. It was seen that, oh, they’re just the order places that fill out the purchase requisitions, send them off to a supplier and get some stuff delivered.
Then eventually, at strategic levels, you know, after people procurement professionals were pushing on this door, say, hang on a minute, we can deliver real value to your business, we can deliver real bottom line, and then the accountants the penny dropped. It was like, hang on a minute, every pound that that person in our procurement department saves on materials or services, straight to our bottom line. Ding, ding, ding, exactly, the ding, ding ding went off. You look at how Strategic Procurement is now, in the corporate world, in the world of business, procurement is one of the most focused strategic areas of the business, because the every penny saved is a penny on the bottom line.
Q3. How do we help practitioners build those skills to make the argument and push the agenda forward?
It’s still education, a lot of it, because people don’t know what they don’t know. For many, many years there’s just been this lack of knowledge and understanding, and I say that, but then actually, I could argue that the flip side as well. So, for example, we talk about wellbeing in the context that we do today, and it’s all about people and it’s all about fluffy – it’s let’s give somebody a hug. Let’s have a look inside somebody’s head and see what’s going on in their head, in their hearts. And actually, a lot of the time, that’s not the case. And I think there’s been a lot of good done over the last kind of eight to ten years of breaking down stigma of workplace mental health. But I also think there’s been a lot of rebranding and stigmatising of it at a board level as well.
If I look back at an example, when I worked in my old career, we had a warehouse department, right, that was stressed to the max, they were working loads of overtime, we were having loads of temps in, it was in disarray, they were backlogged, it was a bit of a disaster. I was tasked with it to sort it out.
Now in today’s culture, today’s environment, today’s approach, that would be a wellbeing issue, and a stress issue. It wasn’t any of those things, really. Those were the symptoms of what was going on, the problem, the root cause of that was poor work design, poor workflow, lack of resources, lack of materials. Everybody was sharing one printer, there were 16 people waiting for dispatch notes to come off.
So when we looked at work design and work organisation, and where we organised that, we had an effective, and I would say suddenly, it took a bit, it took a bit of time, you know, good 18 months, two years, eventually to sort it all out. But what happened was, you know, in today’s approach, we descend everybody on a mental health first aid course, would have gotten the EAP counsellor resume would have taken them out of work for a couple of hours to go and sit down and do a bit of meditation and teach them how to light switch off when actually what we needed to do was them to sort of teach them to switch on and switch on well, and have control over their job and give them the tools and the resources to be able to do that.
I think that the some of the narrative has changed. And we’ve taken some of our what we would normally do as a common sense type approach to problems, and we fluff them up. I think what we need to do is with some of this is kind of go back to basics and is about creating good work. And there have been, you know, worked on by the HSE. They’ve developed the stress management standards. And then more recently, we’ve had the ISO frameworks developed now I love the fact that an ISO framework has been developed for managing workplace mental health, taking a risk-based approach.
So, looking at what are the things that can go wrong in the in the way of work that can cause people to be stressed. And I think now we’re having these frameworks in place. Businesses, they understand frameworks, they understand KPIs. Now don’t get me wrong, there are ways to implement frameworks well and there are ways to implement frameworks not very well. Okay, so the clipboard non-conformance seeker approach isn’t really the best way forward and you know, the overly bureaucratic approach, but used in the spirit to which these are intended.
These are fantastic tools for making for basically operationalising wellbeing and making sure that we’re looking at our work environment. We put process and controls and measures in place, and again, not regimented, not rigid. I always liken it to a school fence around a school playground. It’s there to keep us safe. Yeah, but if it needs moving, if the boundaries need moving, we change it. We flex it and by being able to constantly evaluate through having structured process, collaboratively across the whole organisation, we’re able to do that now.
If you look back at things like quality of products and services and our how our business is structured, you’ve got ISO 9001, I remember it back in the days when it was BS 5750. But years ago, businesses didn’t have that, you know, early 90s, that again, started to kind of come into effect and, and that became a de facto standard when I worked in procurement, if a supplier didn’t demonstrate that that ISO 9001 they didn’t get past a desktop audit.