Professor Colin Lindsay, Director of ESRC PrOPEL Hub, reflects on insights from our recent Knowledge Into Practice event, hosted in collaboration the Enterprise Research Centre, on Mental Health, Workplace Wellbeing and Productivity

Here at the ESRC: Economic and Social Research Council PrOPEL Hub, we hugely enjoyed partnering with the Enterprise Research Centre (UK) on our recent Knowledge Into Practice event at The Shard on Mental Health, Workplace Wellbeing and Productivity. Our ERC partners share our passion for converting robust evidence into impactful, actionable insights that can transform workplaces. So, it was exciting that we were able to share insights from our work, gather together some of the UK’s other leading workplace wellbeing researchers, and engage in lively discussion with a packed room of people managers and policy stakeholders.

First, Dr Maria Wishart from the ERC shared insights from the Centre’s extensive research on mental health and productivity in England, Ireland and Sweden. She spoke about how Swedish employers are more likely to report days lost to mental health absence, but less likely to experience negative business impacts as a result. This may be because our Nordic neighbours are more likely to put effective mitigation strategies in place and/or that more generous long-term sick pay supported by the state allows employers to plan and backfill for sickness absence.

Next, Prof Adam Whitworth from the Department of Work, Employment and Organisation at Strathclyde Business School spoke about the transferability of insights from publicly-funded programmes such as Supported Employment. Relatively few HR and OH stakeholders in the room were familiar with how Supported Employment works, so Adam’s insights on the value of building personalised support around the individual in the workplace (rather than trying to ‘fix’ people and fit them into an unchanged work environment) were of considerable interest.

Our ESRC: Economic and Social Research Council PrOPEL Hub and University of East Anglia colleague Dr Helen Fitzhugh was next up, sharing her extensive experience as part of the Evolve Workplace Wellbeing team. Through research and extensive employer engagement, Helen and team have helped employers to consider ‘what might work’ and the costs and benefits of wellbeing strategies. She counselled against being attracted by ‘shiny’ or ‘spangly’ initiatives, which can sometime distract managers from doing the hard work of creating healthy teams and workplaces.

Our final keynote, Dr Louise Thomson from the University of Nottingham, shared insights from the Managing Minds at Work project, which has explored the role of line managers in fostering mental health in the workplace. The project found that supporting line managers’ learning on mental health resulted significant improvements in ‘mental health at work literacy’ and communication skills. There is clear scope for greater support to build management capabilities when it comes to managing mental health.

The day concluded with a panel session: “What can and should employers and policy stakeholders do to improve workplace mental health?”… A lively discussion chaired by Sean Russell of Global Leadership Exchange brought together top experts Francoise Woolley of Acas, Jonathan Stuart of Mind and former GP-turned ‘You Are Not A Frog’ podcaster Dr Rachel Morris. Among the wide range of issues discussed was the need to support managers to address negative behaviours within teams and the challenge of empowering employees to speak out about burnout. It was an insightful session to end a highly informative, interactive day.

There is much work still to do to improve the management of mental health in the workplace. But the passion, insight and commitment of our participants suggests that plenty of us are keen to take on that work.

You can download the slides here:

The next ESRC PrOPEL Hub event will be our latest People Management Hackathon in Leicester, Monday 17 June. Join us for a networking lunch and half-day workshop to access cutting-edge research and toolkits on workplace wellbeing, but also employee engagement, conflict resolution skills and much more! Register for free on Eventbrite.