Every year mental health costs the global economy around 1 trillion dollars. So, we surveyed 850 HR leaders around the world for the 2023 Workplace Mental Health Trends report and asked the trillion-dollar question – what will be the key mental health trends this year? Across three regional webinars, we gathered an expert panel to dig deeper into the trends and share their insights on how to be trendsetters.
1. Mental health jumps up the ESG agenda
In the EMEA session, Yolande Knock, UKIMEA Wellbeing Lead for Arup, summarised the need to place employee mental health and wellbeing within the wider narrative of ESG.
“The employee experience has transitioned and shifted and the focus for 2023 and beyond is around people sustainability,” she explained.
Speaking at the US event, Kathleen O’Driscoll, Cognizant’s VP of Human Resources – Global Benefits, Wellbeing & HR Policy, saw a paradigm shift in the way MHW is being viewed from utilisation to outcomes.
“A decade ago, in wellness conversations we were being asked to prove ROI. Now it’s no longer a matter of will we [engage with mental health and wellbeing] but how will we do it right?”
Elaine Davis, Chief Human Resources Officer, HealthComp, believes that the Covid-19 pandemic has played a crucial role in the evolution of MHW’s place in the ESG agenda.
“Covid made it okay for all of us to talk about how we were feeling and being anxious and uncertain because we were all experiencing the same frightening event,” she said. “Mental health is now out in the lexicon of life.”
2. Manager training and leadership development becoming central to workplace wellbeing
Daisy Abbott, Head of Client Solutions at Unmind, opened up this topic on the EMEA webinar by outlining the three groups of managers – those who have experienced mental health challenges themselves, those who are nervous about exacerbating others’ challenges and so avoid the topic, and those who don’t feel MHW is part of their job.
The crucial role of managers on the MHW frontline was stressed in all three events.
“The focus should be on managers’ mental health first. They need to be able to support themselves before supporting others,” Emily Watts, Community Manager at Grimshaw, said in the EMEA conversation. “We need to be mindful of our managers’ wellbeing – you can’t fill up a cup from an empty jug.”
During the APAC webinar, Nina Hoang, Senior Associate, Workplace Relations at FCW Lawyers, explained that organisations don’t need to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge.
She said: “It’s a misconception from businesses that you need to overhaul your system completely and have a perfect system. Touchpoint training – small acts incrementally done over time - can build a competency in your managers. Manager training will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the organisation and create a cultural shift that is so important.”
3. Wellbeing champions get formal recognition
Wellbeing champions have been unsung heroes for far too long, but 2023 could be the year they get the credit they deserve.
In the US, Matt Jackson, VP Americas at Unmind, made the point that wellbeing champions are often more in the know and more trusted in an organisation than the management layer.
“Deploying that network and empowering them, making them truly feel they are adding value and supporting them is a very successful recipe.”
A recurring challenge for the wellbeing champion is the lack of clear expectations and defining where their role starts and finishes. The task for 2023: ensuring wellbeing champions are not simply a resource group, but part of a strategic initiative.
It’s a challenge, Jamie Blower, Health and Wellbeing Manager at Siemens, knows well. “We must make sure wellbeing champions are aware of the responsibilities. If they don’t have capacity, you end up with a big group of people who want to lead wellbeing initiatives but don’t have the time to.”
4. Data and measurement become essential ingredients to workplace wellbeing strategies
Unmind has a mantra – you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Across the three webinars, our experts were in agreement – 2023 will be the year of data.
In EMEA, Jamie Blower stressed that: “Data is number one on the topic of a wellbeing strategy. Leading wellbeing initiatives should be data led and evidence based to make sure they are the most appropriate for staff.”
Yolande Knock explained the factors that she looks at when analysing the data for Arup, saying: “The internal metrics are really important – turnover, attrition, rate of sickness, utilisation, fatigue management. Triangulate that with external data and an annual wellbeing survey.
“Year on year the reporting on mental health is going up, so it’s central the business recognises it and grapples with it. It’s there in black and white.”
In the APAC conversation, Nina Hoang pointed out the importance of asking the right questions as there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to MHW.
“The goal for businesses is to make sure their employees are happy, healthy and productive and in order to do this you need evidence and data. You can’t apply a blanket approach,” she stated.
“If you aren’t checking in with your employees, you don’t know what hazards you are supposed to be addressing.”
5. Buyers turn up the scrutiny on wellbeing solutions
The Covid-19 pandemic led to an explosion of wellbeing solutions, but now it's becoming clear that many of these ‘solutions’ weren't effective.
Speaking on the APAC webinar, Shehan Peiris, Partner, People Risk at Howden, outlined the change in mentality for organisations looking for MHW solutions since the pandemic, moving from the support mindset towards recovery and stabilisation.
Insisting that ‘wellbeing favours the brave’ who are willing to challenge the status quo, Peiris insisted: “We need systemic changes, not band-aid responses,” he insisted. “One of the key questions buyers are asking is ‘what are the solutions doing to help drive systemic change?”
6. Employers break the taboo on financial stress
2022 made it very clear that financial wellbeing is a workplace issue. 72% said financial stress is impacting their employees’ ability to perform at work.
Kathleen O’Driscoll in the US webinar insisted that the global education system is failing people as it doesn’t set adults up to manage household finances. She reminded us that financial wellbeing isn’t only a problem for people with incomes and urged against stigma and judgement towards people who may be struggling, likening the situation to MHW in general.
“Just like you can’t tell just by looking at someone if they have a mental health struggle, you can’t tell by looking at someone if they have financial stress,” she said.
“Most people are simultaneously trying to fund three lifetimes – the present moment, their retirement and they might be trying to fund college educations. That’s a lot to put on somebody and expect them not to feel stressed.”
Stating that nobody expects (or wants) managers to try and become therapists or financial advisors, O’Driscoll concluded with some advice on what managers can do to help. “We can remind them to be empathic, non-judgemental, receptive and aware,” she said. “Acknowledging what somebody is feeling and signposting them to resources available.”
7. HR bridging business strategy and people centricity
97% of HR decision makers say they’re at least partially responsible for driving business strategy.
Elaine Davis had some strong advice for HRs on how to ensure that organisations truly embrace people centricity, rather than paying lip service.
“You can’t possibly say you’re going to make a positive impact on your clients’ lives if you’re not willing to make a positive impact on your employees’ lives as that’s how you’re delivering results,” she told the US call.
“It’s a mirror held up [to the organisation] and a moment to reflect on people centricity.”
Citing a statistic from Gallup that business or work units that scored the highest on employee engagement showed 21% higher levels of profitability than units in the lowest quartile, Davis remarked: “To be engaged you have to be mentally healthy, and you have to feel like you are in a place where people care about your wellbeing.”