Health is a big part of our business, and we wanted to join CMHA in 2015 because we felt we could bring to bear, both within L&G and the CMHA network, the knowledge and insight we have gained from providing health-related products via our group protection business to our clients, together with the expertise we have gained working with mental health issues. We understand very clearly that if someone who is struggling is identified early and given the appropriate support, then they return to work quickly – and work is good for people’s mental health and wellbeing.
We ran a campaign in 2012 called Stress in the City, based around research we had done; we partner with [mental health charity] Sane; and in 2013 we signed the Time to Change pledge in both England and Wales. So we’d been raising awareness and debate around mental health and its impact, and seeking to address the stigma, but CMHA helps us keep our focus on continuous improvement.
Being able to talk to other members at networking events is invaluable. In October 2015 our CEO Nigel Wilson hosted a dinner with Lord Dennis Stevenson, chairman of [mental health research charity] MQ, and attended by other CMHA members. One of the key issues discussed was that the evidence for what works to help manage mental health problems is thin, and that there is a need for more research, and on a grand scale, to really understand the issues. This, in turn, will inform the best solutions. Employers are well placed to help do this, and Nigel has continued to stress his commitment to supporting MQ and CMHA by means of further research among our 7,000 staff.
Last year we asked specific questions on mental health in a small survey as part of Mental Health Awareness Week in May, to help us understand the extent of mild to moderate mental illness experienced by working adults and inform what we do next. We have introduced some new things this year as part of our health and wellbeing programme, including providing free healthy breakfasts at key locations, and offering free BUPA health checks to everyone. We are also continuing to raise awareness of who people should speak to if they have a problem. Good mental health is an integral part of overall good physical health, and we are taking an increasingly holistic approach.
You have to create the right climate if people are to share their stories. We did that through promoting our commitment to Time to Change, through the Stress in the City research, through promoting our EAP and by creating health and wellbeing champions at different locations. Nigel and the senior executive team are very supportive and have written blogs on mental health. All sorts of stories have started to emerge from colleagues who have been very brave and spoken about their experiences, from someone who spent a year in The Priory after attempting suicide, to people who talk about ‘blackness’ descending on them, to people whose spouses have mental health issues. We featured these stories on the intranet during Mental Health Awareness Week. They were all eloquent, articulate and inspiring. We re-promoted them as part of World Mental Health Day in October, and momentum is growing.
We have created an overarching brand for our mental health activities – called ‘One in Four’. It is a subset of our overall health and wellbeing programme – called ‘My Health, My Life, My Money’. We want our employees to feel that they can be honest about their problems in a ‘safe’ environment. I believe that L&G is a very genuine company both for its employees and customers – people are friends as well as colleagues – but we’re not perfect. There are some mental health ‘hot spots’ where people are under pressure. One of our sites is closing, for example, and people are relocating elsewhere, and we are also looking at more agile ways of working. While that may help work-life balance and give flexibility, moving people through the transition is not without its challenges.
The key thing is to be committed, consistent and to stick with things for the long term. This is not a fad; we mean it. But you cannot change culture, overcome stigmas or bring change overnight. You have to keep at it, keep going, however hard it is. We are helped in this by the commitment and passion of our CEO. He was invited to David Cameron’s round table on how to promote good mental health in business, and L&G is a member of the Department of Work and Pensions Mental Health Expert Advisory Group. If you promote what you do externally, that has to be reflected internally: it’s about putting your money where your mouth is.
The thing that I’m most excited about at the moment is the potential impact of the Mental Health First Aid England training that we just about to roll out, which will create a team of mental health ‘first aiders’ who will operate in much the same way as our physical health first aiders. Having staff across our locations who are trained to spot potential problems and able to provide early support will be very powerful. Places on the course were snapped up in minutes and there is a long waiting list for the next ones. Support for our line managers, who may be even more likely than anyone else to be experiencing problems, is also key, and we will soon introduce e-learning to help them specifically.
Very few, if any, FTSE-100 company reports on mental-health-related absence in annual report and accounts, according to organisations such as Business in the Community. We want to be more open with what we publicise in both our annual report and accounts and our annual corporate responsibility report. That willingness to be more open and take the first step is important to creating change. In 2014 we reported on wellbeing in our report and accounts for the first time, and we will disclose more information next year.