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Spreading the health and wellbeing message

Leading executives from across the private and public sector shared their very personal experiences about how they are pushing health and wellbeing to the top of the boardroom agenda, at our Vital Topics debate.

The National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work is focused on improving workplace wellbeing in the UK and globally and is led by Alliance MBS’s 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology Sir Cary Cooper. Today the Forum has 38 employers, including a host of major global organisations, which collectively represent millions of workers.

Ahead of the Forum’s latest meeting in Manchester, a selection of members joined a special panel debate exploring issues around workplace wellbeing and shared best practice.


Dr David Roomes, Chief Medical Officer at engineering company Rolls-Royce, said because people spend eight to ten hours a day in the workplace it is a really important determinant around health behaviours. “If you can create a work environment that allows people to make healthier choices then they are more likely to do so. We are really trying to make this a holistic agenda.”

He said the approach that Rolls-Royce took to health and wellbeing was ultimately related to business performance. “What I say to the organisation is that if we are serious about high performance you cannot achieve that in the absence of individual health and wellbeing. You are never going to achieve peak performance in the absence of individual and personal health and wellbeing.”


Dr Richard Heron, Chief Medical Officer at BP, said at some point in their lives one in four people will suffer from a mental issue. “What that means is one in one of us will be affected. If it’s not you then it will be a colleague or a family member. So this is more inclusive than any other agenda. Yes it’s a business and business productivity issue, but it’s also a personal issue. We embed health and wellbeing in our values, in our code of practice, and in our code of conduct.”

He added that it was important for business leaders to also lead from the front on the issue, something which he said BP’s incoming new chief executive Bernard Looney was already doing.


Monika Misra, Head of Employee Health and Wellbeing Europe at global healthcare company GSK, said health and wellbeing fitted into its ambition to be a modern employer and to enable people to be at their best. “We make sure health and wellbeing is at the heart of company strategy and in everyone’s plans and objectives for the year. This ensures it stays at the forefront for both employees and managers.”

However she warned that one size does not fit all. “There are some people that might respond, for example, to mindfulness sessions. But for other people that will switch them off. It is about offering a variety of solutions and it is also about reach. In terms of the future we are also looking at more personalisation. It is about helping employees understand their health through health assessments, and then bringing solutions to them based upon their needs.”


Dr Judith Grant, Director of Health and Wellbeing at construction company Mace, told how she joined the business three years ago with a specific remit to bring a strategic approach to health and wellbeing.

“At the time we didn’t have many metrics so there wasn’t really anything telling us how people were doing. So I pulled together a business case to do an audit of wellbeing within the organisation and we then did a baseline audit using a number of measures. I presented that back to the board and that then started to give them interesting insights into the wellbeing of the organisation. It’s really been about building the business case and the board are really now bought into it.

“In terms of the future we are now bringing together millions of wellbeing data points with other metrics such as customer satisfaction, productivity data, and quality data, and then looking at how those data sets interact with each other.”


The debate also heard from Andy Rhodes, Chief Constable of Lancashire Police and National Policing Lead for Wellbeing.

He said that the police service first set up a national wellbeing working group five years ago, and today  there is now a national wellbeing service funded by the Home Office and branded as Oscar Kilo. “We have a real stigma around talking about mental health in policing which is improving, but we wanted to set up an organisation that was outside of the normal hierarchy that people could relate to. 

“We are leading horses to water and helping them to drink and we are now seeing huge increases in people feeling confident enough to report mental health issues. You have got to create opportunities for people.”

He added that the service was attracting political attention too. “We are getting a lot of interest around this issue because it is understood that this is a bottom line issue for the sector. Leading from the top is essential.”

Summing up, Professor Cooper said stress-related sickness absence was now the leading cause of workplace absence, but said health and wellbeing was also a productivity issue. “The UK is currently ranked 17th in the G20 for productivity. So this is not just a health issue but a productivity issue.”

*After our debate the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work was addressed by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham. Here he talks about how the Forum is helping support his Good Employment Charter for the city.