Three years ago, I entered the world of mental health to try to make a difference. My driver was a sad one. I had lost six friends to suicide over 20 years, and hoped I could rationalise some of the pain (and maybe some of the guilt?) by helping others with their mental health. I became a sponge for information, reading avidly and talking to any experts who would give me their time.
In a team meeting last week, Hemma – one of our newer team members at BetterSpace – asked me what has most influenced my thinking. I’ve written this blog for her, but I hope it will also be useful to others as they work on tackling the mental health crisis. These 7 things have profoundly shaped my thinking, and make me confident we’re going to witness an extraordinary change in the coming years.
1. 48% of junior lawyers were experiencing mental ill health pre-COVID
This finding in a 2019 survey by the Law Society mirrors many other surveys showing Millennials and Gen Z are experiencing catastrophic levels of poor mental health. There are signs there has been further deterioration in lockdown. Deloitte’s 2020 millennial survey shows similar numbers and hints at the why – don’t underestimate the impacts of climate change or social media on these generations.
2. Workplace wellbeing programmes have an NPS of -55
When I came across this number in a Willis Tower Watson report, it hit me like a train. As you may know, NPS measures the willingness of users to recommend a service, with scores ranging from -100 to +100. Most business sectors are in the +10 to +50 range, and I’m yet to find another sector in negative territory. A score of -55 tells us wellbeing programmes are held in desperately low regard by employees. Whilst shocking, it does at least point to the extraordinary potential for improvement.
3. The underinvestment in workplace wellbeing is eye-watering
Liz Hampson and her team at Deloitte have done outstanding work in this space. Their 2020 research showed the average employer is losing £1,652 per employee due to poor mental health, and that the average ROI for wellbeing initiatives is 5x. Despite this excellent investment opportunity, the average UK employer is spending just £26 per employee per year, compared to £210 in Sweden.
Feeling a little deflated? That’s how I felt too. But these numbers also show the scale of the opportunity for improvement, and we can now go onto the reasons things are about to change.
4. The problem we need to solve is around choice
All my conversations with progressive Wellbeing/HR Leads on how to best support employees ultimately boil down to one problem – there is no one-size-fits-all solution. As a rule of thumb, helping 100 employees requires a menu of 200 resources, and this creates a monumental task in terms of vetting, contracting, internal communication, payment and admin. That’s far beyond the capacity of an average HR/wellbeing team.
5. And the good news: the choice problem is being solved
Progressive employers like Slack, LinkedIn and Salesforce are giving employees a wellbeing allowance through a receipt reimbursement model. Yes, it’s inefficient, but each of these employers talk about the cultural impact. Through our pilots with Linklaters, we’ve shown how a marketplace can provide 500 personalised resources, resulting in a record 94% engagement rate and 70% seeing an improvement in wellbeing. Marketplaces will be the game changing category in the employee wellbeing market.
6. The growing emphasis on psychological safety matters
Google’s Project Aristotle has studied data from hundreds of Google’s teams, and concluded psychological safety is the top driver of outperformance. Employers that create interpersonal trust, who allow employees to be themselves, will win on productivity and innovation. And they conclude that getting people to open up about their struggles, talking about what is messy or sad, is the best way to create psychological safety.
7. A wellbeing culture is critical to psychological safety
At BetterSpace, we’ve been running a 2-year experiment on building a wellbeing culture, and we recently realised we’ve inadvertently been creating high levels of psychological safety. Each employee gets a £50 monthly wellbeing budget on the BetterSpace platform, 4 hours a week wellbeing time, and an environment where they can be open about their wellbeing successes and challenges. It can take a bit of getting used to, but they soon appreciate the security – especially in these constrained times.
Add all this up, and I believe this shows how wellbeing programmes will go from NPS scores of -55 to +35, and deliver outstanding commercial returns to the employer. The early embracers of a wellbeing culture and psychological safety will attract and retain the best talent and be more productive. It’s that simple, and it’s all the more pressing in times of COVID. But think what this will do for the mental health of employees – could this be the game changer in tackling the mental health crisis? We all cherish different things in life, but this feels important to me.