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It’s undeniable that mental health problems are on the rise – but could the statistics that show this upward trend actually be telling us we’re making progress?

It’s hard to ignore the warning signs that the UK has a mental health crisis – it’s a dominant topic within the media, a clearly stated priority across political parties, and is the top priority on many corporate agendas. In fact, the latest figures show that almost half of businesses have a defined mental wellbeing strategy and half of those who don’t plan to introduce one at some point this year (REBA, 2018). And it’s no surprise they’re prioritising it – it’s widely reported that stress, depression and anxiety are now the leading cause of absence in the UK accounting for almost half of all working days lost (HSE). At the same time, 1 in 3 businesses say the length of absences related to mental ill health have gone up in the past three years (British Chambers of Commerce). This is taking its’ toll on businesses and the economy too, with poor mental health estimated to cost the UK 4.5% of GDP according to the OECD.

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Top tips on workplace health and wellbeing strategy from Professor Sir Cary Cooper
Off the back of our blog series on workplace health and wellbeing by our Managing Director, Ben Moss, we asked our Founding Director and CIPD President, Professor Sir Cary Cooper for his 5 top tips for businesses thinking about creating their workplace wellbeing strategy. This is what he told us… 

Tip 1: Be clear on the purpose

Know why your business values wellbeing and what you hope to achieve by investing in it - both for your employees and for the organisation as a whole. 

Tip 2: Remember wellbeing is cultural

You won’t harness what wellbeing can offer if you don’t embed it in your broader culture. That means you have to think beyond commissioning line manager and mental health first aid training. As my colleague Ben Moss wrote in Part 3 of his blog post on the subject…it all has to add up to something: a vision, with real outcomes. 

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Developing a health and wellbeing strategy that drives real culture change
In my last blog on 'readiness' and 'making change stick' I introduced the Good Day at Work model of wellbeing and change. Let’s now look at that model’s final two components which make up the ‘engine room’ of creating real change around health and wellbeing. Getting them right is the key to creating a wellbeing strategy that will drive real cultural change.

A culture change model to support health and wellbeing strategy development

1. Creating the 'Good Day at Work' mindset:

This is about ensuring your employees have the understanding, skills and capability they need to play their part in the success of your wellbeing strategy.

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Your health and wellbeing strategy is about business culture, if you want it to be
In Part Two of this blog series on corporate health and wellbeing strategy I looked at the difference between a strategy and a plan, including the factors to consider when deciding which is right for your business. In this third instalment, I’ll be considering the opportunity presented by developing a wellbeing strategy for influencing the overall culture of the business.

Having established that employers have a choice to focus either on a plan- or strategy-driven approach to organisational wellbeing, it follows that the former is more attuned to creating specific short-term business outcomes while the latter offers an opportunity to influence culture.

So if culture change is your main priority a more operational (and therefore narrower) approach to workplace wellbeing introduces the risk that you end up doing lots of ‘wellbeing stuff’. By which I mean well-intended (and often well-presented) interventions, services and activities that either don’t get used or don’t add up to much for the business: often not nearly enough to justify the combined cost and time associated with the investment.

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Understanding  the difference between a health and wellbeing strategy and a health and wellbeing plan
In the second part of this blog series on health and wellbeing strategy, I’ll be looking at where the line is between a strategy and a plan - and how to decide which side of that line you sit.

As we saw in part one, we’re moving towards a future where most organisations have a wellbeing strategy, albeit this is not yet quite the reality. We know (from a range of surveys) that there is a genuine desire and an intention to get going in earnest with wellbeing, whether that be through an internal project or by engaging external experts to help. But in either case, I think there is very often a strong desire to move through the thought piece and quickly get into action. One of the drivers for this can be cultural; so in cultures characterised by pace, action and results, senior people are likely to be heard saying things like:

‘This consultation is all very well, but we do a lot of consultation – when are actually going to get on and do wellbeing?!’.

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Cary CooperGood Day at Work®

The new wellbeing resources hub founded by @profcarycooper and Roberston Cooper. Join for FREE and access blogs, videos, downloads, podcasts and more.

Ben MossBen on Twitter

MD of Cary Cooper's business psychology firm, Robertson Cooper - for all things wellbeing, engagement and resilience at work.

Cary CooperCary on Twitter

Professor Cary Cooper, Director and Founder of Robertson Cooper Ltd, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School.

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