I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that 2020 is already a year like no other. At the end of last year, I wrote about how anxiety is causing us to take our health and wellbeing far more seriously.
To echo other debates, tackling wellbeing is now the new normal. Yet we are not there yet. It remains urgent. Being Well Together is our new programme to help businesses do exactly that.
It is my view that wellbeing is the defining issue of our time. We saw that in 2019 the suicide rate rose for the first time since 2013. Though this remains lower than its peak in the 1980s, each one is a tragedy. Each one avoidable.
This, at a time when we have evidence and tools and experts to know what to do to prevent such terrible events, is a national disgrace. It is too soon to say what impact Covid-19 and the lockdown has had but most commentators expect suicides to rise again in 2020.
A second and Covid-19 related development is the dreadful mental toll taken on those who have suffered from the worst consequences of the illness. Not just those who have been hospitalised, though reports on their experiences and the many incidences of PTSD are upsetting, but for the many who have taken months to get over it. Or who have witnessed loved ones suffer.
There is no doubt that their mental wellbeing remains at stake and they need all the support they can get. Of course, the vulnerability of those with obesity has also been one of the headline discoveries of the last few months.
As a membership organisation with many years of experience in health and safety, we are in a very good position to help organisations and people navigate these difficult times.
While I think it’s important to be aware of the problems, it is equally important not to be overwhelmed and focus on what we know can really help ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of all working people.
In developing the Being Well Together programme, I have had the honour to meet and discuss with many in industry, as well as thought-leaders in the field, about what should be done.
Evidence tells us that the answer to the question, what makes people thrive? is to start with change at the top, with leadership that demonstrates care, implemented and made real by specific actions for the good of staff.
Of course, this can be difficult. While the ‘top’ can push out the right message, it can weaken as others in the management chain offer a less convincing version of what care looks like.
In the examples above, people who intend suicide mostly show symptoms of the pain they are suffering. For those at work, we need managers with the soft skills necessary to pick up on the signals and provide a safe, secure environment to start a conversation.
There also needs to be a supportive culture where flexibility is offered in good faith to help people through difficult times.
All this comes from the top: setting the direction for recruitment that balances ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills, a leadership team or Board with someone who has a specific interest in wellbeing, who will run and join in activities and report back about staff health and wellbeing.
I have no doubt that many at work remain anxious. Is there enough social distancing, why has the sanitiser run out, why are the people I work next to not wearing masks when those I travel into work with, have to? Is continuing to work from home damaging my career prospects; will I even have a job this time next year?
The best way to reduce this anxiety is dialogue, followed by effective action. People need to feel they can talk to their managers openly and honestly and alert them to problems before it is too late. Leaders need to create an environment where such conversations are possible and the norm.
Being Well Together: register your interest here
Mike Robinson FCA is Chief executive of the British Safety Council
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