Wellbeing at work takes management not 'sushi at the desk': Cary Cooper

Quoting author Joseph Heller and assassinated US senator Bobby Kennedy and treating the audience to cartoon strips illustrating well-worn problems surrounding wellbeing in the workplace, Professor Sir Cary Cooper’s presence at the inaugural Mad World Forum brought vim to the topic of mental health.

However, the Professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester became totally serious when he shared with the audience what is, for him, the biggest crisis for mental health and wellbeing: bad line managers.

“In my view, the line manager that we have in the UK is technically extremely competent,” said Cooper. “But, do we train them to manage people, do we enhance their EQ (emotional intelligence)? Do we have social, interpersonally sensitive managers?” Poor management is the answer to our “productivity issue as well as our health issue,” he said.

“Rarely does a boss manage you by praise and reward but do something wrong, believe me, you’ll be told. This is to me the fundamental issue in the whole wellbeing arena,” he stressed.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper spoke about wellbeing and stress at the Mad World Forum on 9 October

He said companies should tackle the problem by running an audit on the interpersonal skills of all management staff, and providing training to those who would benefit. Although, some leaders he said are ‘untrainable’ – “keep that group away from people,” he quipped.

Cooper said that companies should also look beyond ‘quick fixes’ when it comes to improving the workplace culture. He listed issues including too much, or too little, work, time pressures, poor physical working conditions and too many decisions as important stressors that should be tackled.

“It’s easier to do sushi at the desk but it’s not going to solve [all the problems] – it takes management,” he concluded.