Are organisations thinking strategically about mental health?

Mark Witte, head of health and risk consulting at Aon, said while there was no shortage of investment in health and benefits generally, or of support for specific issues, employers often lacked a strategic focus when it came to wellbeing. https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/less-than-half-of-uk-employers-have-a-formal-wellbeing-strategy

We recently ran a survey asking respondents about their strategic approach (or lack of it) to mental health - we know it is on the agenda of most leadership teams and boards but what are they doing about it? Coincidentally, Aon were doing a similar exercise around the same time - reported in People Management as per the link below.  The comparison between the respective results is interesting.

The first thing to note is that Aon have more clout than we do - they managed 332 responses, we got 41! We can swallow our pride, don't worry.

Of more note, in our responses 78% of people said their organisation had a strategy in place and another 12% said it was being considered. The Aon results suggested only 44% had a strategy in place. I think there might be two factors at play here. The first is the cohort polled - our client base that we contacted is possibly more likely than the wider business community to have developed a sophisticated approach in this area, and perhaps those that have are more likely to want to complete a survey saying so.  The second factor maybe is differing views as to what constitutes a strategy. A strategy is more than a collection of activity.

Other headlines from our survey:

  • 90% of those with a strategy had discussed it at board level which is encouraging
  • 84% said it was informed by internal research and data
  • 81% had developed it in house with the remainder getting some external help and of those who were considering developing a strategy the majority were planning to get external help (albeit the numbers are too small to draw too much from them)
  • Only 63% were measuring the impact which seems surprising and certainly some room for improvement
  • 81% had a dedicated budget to support the strategy - this compares with 70% of Aon's respondents saying they did not have a dedicated budget for health and wellness  
  • Reassuringly, when asked whether they were happy with how it is going, on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is unhappy and 5 is happy, 97% of those with a strategy were at 3 or above, which would suggest that those who do it find it helpful.

What can we learn from all of this? Based on the Aon results, a lot of organisations are not thinking strategically about mental health, notwithstanding the focus it has gained through the trials of lockdown. This is despite the data out there (see for example the 2020 Deloitte report which we referenced here) which confirms the enormous return on investment available. It may be that organisations lack the internal resource (time and expertise) to think in this way. That needn't be a blocker - we would love to have the conversation with you and can help with the research that should underpin a strategy and provide the basis for measuring its impact.  

It is our view (it would be wouldn't it?) that getting external support is going to help. You share the load of course, you get the benefit of different perspectives and expertise and people interviewed for the research are perhaps more likely to answer honestly to someone they don't know rather than, for any number of reasons, sugar coat their answers for someone they do know. Lastly, but perhaps most crucially, someone independent and objective is able to ask the questions and draw attention to the issues that are the most sensitive, the most challenging, and perhaps have been sitting way too long grooming their tusks and trunks in the corner.  

If we are going to make progress to address the ongoing mental health crisis in our workplaces, which is sure to be worse as a result of Covid, we need to dare to do just that. We need to understand the problem and its causes, and then think properly about how to address them - that is more difficult than just rolling out another resource or training programme but we are seeing that it works, and that it makes financial sense too.