The Duke of Cambridge today met a group of employees and attended a briefing with business leaders to learn about ways to promote positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. The Duke of Cambridge also spoke about the challenges around employee wellbeing as part of the Heads Together campaign which he is spearheading with The Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry to change the conversation on mental health.
The event, hosted by Unilever, one of the Heads Together campaign Founding Partners, was an opportunity for The Duke to hear from some of the country's top FTSE 100 employers about how mental health and wellbeing is currently promoted and supported within the workplace.
The businesses in attendance discussed what more can be done to challenge the stigma that stops people talking about mental health at work and asking for help, while leaders used the opportunity to share experiences and provide inspiration to other companies who are earlier in their journey. Charity partners around the room were available to show the business leaders what support exists to help companies create a work environment supportive of all mental health and wellbeing needs.
Mental health issues are the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, costing employers nearly £26 billion each year. Around half of all long-term sick leave in the UK is due to stress, depression and anxiety and 95% of employees who call in sick with stress give a different reason.
The Duke spent time meeting representatives from charities and organisations that provide advice and support with mental health at work, including Heads Together Charity Partner, Mind and the Time to Change campaign. He also spoke to a number of employees about their experience of managing their mental health at work and how their employers helped them through tough times.
His Royal Highness also joined the briefing to listen to presentations from Unilever CEO Paul Polman and Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind, about current efforts to support employees with their mental health. He also heard about the Time to Change campaign which has built up a large movement over the last five years including 473 employers from a wide range of sectors, from FTSE 100 household names to universities, who have signed the Time to Change employer pledge.
By signing, employers demonstrate their commitment to changing how we think and act about mental health in the workplace and ensuring that employees who are facing problems feel supported. This can be incredibly beneficial to businesses - FTSE 100 companies that prioritise employee engagement and wellbeing outperform the rest of the FTSE 100 by an average of 10%.
The Duke spoke at the event about the importance in promoting and supporting employee mental health in the workplace. He said: “Work, as we all know, can at times be a source of great fulfilment, growth and fun, but also at times a significant source of stress – sometimes, if we are honest, to the point of its being overwhelming.
As a pilot working with an air ambulance charity, I have seen first-hand how work can affect individuals' mental health. But I have also seen how an employer can create an environment where it is as unremarkable to talk about feeling a bit 'down' as it is to admit to having a cold.
“Our vision to create a society that treats mental health like physical health, as something to be nurtured, needs your help. We cannot do this without employers – and we believe it is in your interest.
“Your ability as employers to effect long-lasting social change on mental health by the example you set in your workplaces is something that I strongly urge you to embrace. Heads Together aims to change the conversation on mental health and, for this, we need your experience, your expertise and your advice.
It would also help us to get people talking if business leaders like you could lead conversations about mental health within your own workplaces. Without employers committed to changing attitudes, we would be pushing a rock uphill – but, with you, we can and will change the way we think about mental health in this nation.”
Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever, said: “At Unilever we take a holistic approach to the wellbeing of our people with a programme that spans physical, emotional, purposeful and mental health. We have particularly increased our focus on mental wellbeing in recent years in response to a growing need to breakdown stigma, encourage vital conversations and signpost support.
Businesses and leaders have a crucial role to play and the business case for providing such programmes within the workplace is extremely clear. Unilever is proud to be a founding partner of the Heads Together campaign and to share our learnings so far on this important journey.”
Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change said: “I hope today’s event triggers urgent action from employers everywhere to join us and put an end to the damaging stigma that continues to surround mental health in the workplace. It’s in everyone’s interest to create more mentally healthy workplaces.
One in six British workers experience mental illness and people with mental health problems report that the workplace is one of the most common areas of discrimination. Challenging how we all think and act about mental health can make a real difference to employee wellbeing and it also makes good business sense - improving sickness absence rates, staff wellbeing, productivity, and retention.”