It has taken a pandemic to truly establish mental health and wellbeing as top boardroom priorities, on a par with the environment.

In 2008 – when my organisation Business in the Community (BITC) launched its national campaign, Business Action on Health – workplace wellbeing wasn’t even close to a state of maturity. Indeed, it was seen very much as a non-essential, typified by fluffy add-ons such as Fruit Fridays, a bit of yoga and the occasional free gym membership.

Flash forward 13 years, and it’s clear that the agenda has moved on. But while mental health awareness among businesses has risen dramatically in the past decade, BITC’s annual Mental Health at Work survey – run in partnership with YouGov – shows that employers have been focusing mainly on easier, ‘low-hanging fruit’ initiatives to address wellbeing issues, rather than tackling them at a systemic level.

This is somewhat disappointing – particularly in light of our finding that in 2020, 41% of employees developed a mental health issue that was either caused, or exacerbated, by work. If firms discovered that 41% of their staff were being physically injured because of their jobs, no one would ever tolerate it.

At BITC, we believe that businesses have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine ways of working that that will drive sustainable employee mental health and wellbeing – an approach built around the four, holistic pillars of physical, financial, social and mental health.

As part of the Prince’s Responsible Business Network, our bible for workplace wellbeing is our Responsible Business Map. Aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the map views ‘good’ jobs and ‘better’ work through the multiple, interconnected lenses of equity, diversity, inclusion, employment and skills – and, increasingly so, the climate crisis. So, what has all this got to do with community?

Well, BITC’s strength is our facility for convening our members towards answering a common purpose. With that in mind, our membership – comprised mainly of FTSE 250 firms and other, large organisations – has united behind a commitment to continually hone and refine responsible business practices, for the benefit of our whole community.

The overarching framework for the wellbeing campaign that I lead is BITC’s Workwell Model, which takes a whole-person, whole-organisation approach to embedding wellbeing into the fabric of organisational life. Its central thrust is that thriving people drive thriving businesses – which, in turn, drive thriving communities. And we work with our members to help them integrate the actions inspired by our campaign throughout their supply chains, which are formed largely by SMEs. So, the community’s influence ripples outwards.

The latest phase of our ongoing wellbeing drive, the Better Work campaign, kicked off in July 2020. In June this year, the campaign produced the provocatively titled report What If Your Job Was Good for You? – a thorough and fully evidence-based piece of quantitative and qualitative research that highlights the golden wellbeing opportunity that all organisations must seize.

Our report emerged from a fantastic, mega-collaborative effort between our BITC members, together with a group of national partner organisations such as CIPD – who actively endorsed the report – plus Mind, Mental Health UK and the Society of Occupational Medicine.

It’s important to stress that we don’t see the report as an end unto itself. Rather, we are using it to fuel engagement with business leaders and galvanise action. No one in BITC or our membership claims to have all the answers – instead, we are harnessing the insights that have stemmed from the report’s reception and flowing them into the next phase of the campaign.

What’s abundantly clear is that no organisation can do this on its own: a community built around an evolving pool of shared knowledge is key.

Within the campaign, we’re running what we call ‘Test and Learn’ forums, where members come together to share stories of what they’re doing to implement the best practices we’ve discussed. Some of the anecdotes are so inspiring, and often come down to a beautiful simplicity – for example, one firm that’s exploring ways around the Great Resignation has started to conduct ‘stay interviews.’ A superb idea – why wait till people want to leave?

If you look up the word ‘work’ in a thesaurus, it’s got some terrible synonyms attached to it, such as ‘grind,’ and ‘toil.’ Meanwhile, management is traditionally seen as rooted in ideas of command and control. All of that is now out of the window. People want the opportunity to choose how, where and when they want to work. They crave a personalised approach, that for many, provides autonomy, control and flexibility.

As such, employers need to take a much more human-centred approach to management – and rethink how work must be redesigned to allow for a more personalised co-creation of what individuals consider ‘my own good job.’

Voices from our community: Louise Aston is wellbeing director at Business in the Community.


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