Workplace Wellbeing

MAD World Summit 2021: 6 things we learned

Sam Musguin-Rowe


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The MAD (short for ‘Make A Difference’) World Summit is a yearly, action-led expo with an aim that’s simple, yet bold: turning mental health talk into lasting change. This year, attendees met in person(!) to explore what employee wellbeing will look like, post-Covid. Unmind was there – to speak, and listen – here are our reflections.


1. Modern-day ‘health and safety’ is about body and mind

Newly published, ISO 45003 is the first global standard to help prevent psychological injuries at work. In short, this means any organisation not thinking about mental risks in line with physical ones can no longer hide behind naivety.

The importance of keeping your people physically safe and mentally sound was given plenty of air at the MAD World Summit. During a session titled ‘Anticipating risks and keeping staff safe: What works in wellbeing’, Peter Cheese (CEO of the CIPD) said this duty of care is not about organisations being “nice” or “altruistic”. Instead, “it’s fundamental to running your business effectively.”

Peter added: “Because if you’re not looking after your people, then you’re not going to get productivity, you’re going to get absenteeism rates.” It’s true. And it’s pricey. In 2020 alone, mental health-related absences cost UK businesses £14 billion.

But it needn’t be quite so scary. It’s also known that, for every £1 spent on workplace mental health schemes, firms get five back. So, if you’ve not done so already, swap naivety for proactivity – your staff, and shareholders, will thank you.

2. Our big, hybrid experiment remains a work-in-progress

Yes, last year’s WFH revolution was abrupt and near impossible to prep for. Teams managed (many thrived), with remote and hybrid workforces a thing of the present and future. The challenge? Pausing to reflect on what best practice looks like for your business.

Dr Nick Taylor (our CEO, here at Unmind) pointed out in the ‘Nurturing wellbeing in the hybrid world of work’ session that now is the time for firms to reflect – as the ‘future’ of work remains plastic. Think: if you could’ve stage-managed the sudden shift to remote work, what would you have done differently? And, with 18+ months of data in-hand, what surprise wins have emerged? Do any ‘temporary’ measures deserve a permanent place?

3. Creating ‘future ready’ workplaces starts with training

A major takeaway from MAD World’s keynote panel, ‘Mental health and wellbeing: from margins to mainstream business priority’ was that organisations can’t expect managers to keep winging it. If you’ve taken time to invest in a hybrid work structure, why not do the same for your staff?

Dr Wolfgang Seidl (Partner at Mercer Marsh Benefits) was clear: “We need to upskill managers … managing remote teams is a challenge.”

It’s something Peter Cheese touched on in the ‘Anticipating risks…’ session, too. His take? Such issues long pre-date the pandemic: “This has been a big failing in the corporate world for many, many years,” he confessed. “We have not trained our line managers to be good people managers. We promote them because of their job competence and their technical skills … then we don’t train them how to look after people.

“This agenda is now central – we cannot create a wellbeing environment if we don’t train our managers to look after their people effectively.”

4. Remember that individuals are individual

As companies map out what makes for a mentally healthy workplace, it’s vital we never lump whole tribes of employees into neat little silos. (For example: staff in their 20s love WFH; elder employees yearn for face-to-facetime.) Why? Every person – and their mind – is different.

In a discussion titled ‘Fast forward: future-proofing workplace wellbeing’, Aviva’s UK Wellbeing Lead, Debbie Bullock, nailed this fact: “We need to be careful not to tar all people with the same brush,” she said. “Personality type is as much an indicator for how people respond to the new way of working, and wellbeing support … it could be an age thing, it could be a personality thing, it could be an experience thing.”

What’s the answer? You’ll kick yourself: ask your people what they want. Have meetings (one-to-one, departmental, company-wide), send out anonymous surveys, and request feedback at every turn. If you don’t directly (and constantly) engage with your employees, don’t be surprised if you lose sight of their wants and needs.

5. Relationships are more important than ever

In the keynote panel, Marteka Swaby (Founder of Benevolent Health) noted that, right now, fostering a sense of belonging among your workforce is paramount.

“People need to feel safe, they need to feel contained,” she said. “They need to feel that they can show up as their authentic selves, and be heard, and be understood, and be seen.”

Yet as the age of hybrid work dawns, achieving this by no means easy. Dr Richard Heron (Chief Medical Officer at BP) outlined the challenge: “Not only have we got away from the one-to-one that’s personal – we’ve got Zoom and we’ve got Teams – many companies have gone through major reinventions, major reorganisations.

“Many people have got a new boss they’ve never met physically, and that brings out a whole new series of issues, including trust, and trust in what people stand for, which is making life really quite challenging.”

6. The pandemic isn’t over. And the mental health emergency has barely started

Gary Raucher, Executive Vice President at Asics, revealed some sobering data in his keynote speech. “We commissioned our own independent research in September," he said, "and I want to stress this is September, this is after vaccines were rolled out, after people started having some sense of normalcy again. And 57% of UK workers said that they were more stressed than ever before.”

This fact speaks to the harsh reality of our current moment, while nodding towards an uncertain future. A post-Covid world may never exist, yet the oncoming mental health crisis (that was trailed long before the pandemic) is very real.

As the MAD World Summit’s theme suggests, mental wellbeing conversations are great, but action – that brings about lasting change – is better. So, just in case it wasn’t crystal: Covid-19 was merely the end of the beginning. The real work, to deliver mentally-well workplaces, starts now.

What to find out more about Unmind?

To find out more about how we can help you drive cultural change around mental wellbeing in your organisation, book a demo with one of our workplace mental health specialists.