Robust Health Strategy for Better Business

By Jonny Jacobs CA, Head of Finance, M&S Foods, Marks and Spencer [LON: MKS]

Jonny Jacobs CA, Head of Finance, M&S Foods, Marks and Spencer [LON: MKS]

Approximately one in four people in the UK experience mental health problems each year. It is an immense societal issue. Yet, there’s still perceived stigma around the topic and the language that is used when discussing it.

We know that the only way to break down the stigma is by talking about it. Raising awareness and normalising conversations around mental health encourages that shift in perspective, which can help people engage with their own mental health and wellbeing as well as better understand others.

"Whilst mental health does not discriminate by demographic or role, it is widely acknowledged that, certain professions come with individual pressures and high levels of stress"

The cost of failing to engage people hits public social care and negatively impacts businesses. Due to this, the government has taken a keen interest.

Chancellor Philip Hammond earmarked an extra £2bn in the last budget to boost mental health services in the NHS, but that only scratches the surface. Before that, Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Lord Stevenson to conduct a review, where it was found that employers lose at least £33bn annually to issues caused by mental health. One of the last things May did at the end of her premiership was promoting mental health.

Addressing the challenge

An estimated one in three UK sick notes are attributed to a mental health issue, costing employers millions of pounds and contributes to a huge drop in productivity.

At the heart of every business are people and those people need to perform. So how do you support them to be their best and perform to their best? Supporting and protecting colleagues, in both challenging times and more widely, is key to giving our best and engaging in the success of an organisation.

In addition to frequent absences, an employee suffering from a mental health issue is said to be at least half as productive and over twice as likely to get into conflicts at work, and therefore, can cause damaging and unproductive presenters.

The effect on financial professionals

Whilst mental health does not discriminate by demographic or role, it is widely acknowledged that, certain professions come with individual pressures and high levels of stress.

Accountants are right up there - we work for long hours, are pressured by tight deadlines and use a huge amount of mental energy on a daily basis.

CAs are central to organisations, we work alongside some of the most senior decision makers and span the breadth of the organisation. Whether it is being a finance business partner or working in corporate, we have good contacts.

And this is why accountants should be leading the conversations on this subject.

Sir Ian Cheshire, the Chairman of Barclays Retail Bank, and Lord Stevenson, both said at the Mad World Summit 2018 that the two most important people to get on board are the CEO and CFO.

The CFO ultimately holds the purse strings and has to justify the investment. However, it is not as straightforward. Establishing the success criteria or the ROI for this kind of an initiative is extremely difficult because it is such a human element. It is intangible.

Can you demonstrate that absence goes down? Can you measure better productivity and a more positive culture? Can you prove that this is a good thing? Yes, there is a lot of data, a lot of science, but in terms of the business case, it is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

How can Finance Professionals help?

How do you give yourself and your organisation the tools that drive forward the mental health agenda?

Oftentimes, it is not until you are well into your career that you learn about resilience and mental health, but it is such a core part of performing your best. We can combat that with mental health education, and mental health awareness training. Get people talking, feeling supported, break the stigma, and then you can get them into solution mode.

An example of that is what was achieved at pladis, the global snacking business and owner of McVitie’s.

I was incredibly fortunate to lead the Mental Health and Wellbeing agenda during my tenor there. What started as an internal business initiative to support a five thousand strong colleague base with their mental health, grew into a national external campaign ‘Let’s talk’ partnering with mental health charity, Mind, to drive the conversation around the importance of sharing a biscuit with a friend, colleague or family member and simply talking.

When pladis re-confirmed its commitment to Mental Health, the Time to Change pledge was signed, committed to train all line managers in mental health awareness and to have over 120 passionate Mental Health and Wellbeing Ambassadors.

It was the energy of these Ambassadors that drove the business to partner with Mind on the UK wide “Let’s Talk” campaign. The journey was not straightforward, and we grappled long and hard about what to call the initiative. It comes back to the stigma of language, of avoiding the negativity and promoting good health.

Finally, we settled down on #Positive Minds.

Now having recently joined M&S, I am greatly privileged to be part of a business that takes supporting our colleagues very seriously. As well as having a buddy network that supports our colleagues and plenty of other support services. Our partnership with Ruby Wax’s Frazzled Café is also another great example of supporting the Mental Health agenda externally.

Launching a campaign of this kind within your own organisation relies on support from the top. Reach out to organisations that have successfully done this and think about how they put a strategy in place. Learn from that and take it to your senior team.

It starts with all of us

Crucially, leaders and line managers themselves need support too, so that they can provide the most effective management. Take responsibility for your own wellbeing and live by example. It is the first step in making a real difference.

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