July 8, 2024 All Articles

An exciting change for growth & wellbeing in the UK

Chris Cummings, Group CEO, Wellbeing at Work

Recent events have given me a sense of optimism here in the UK and I get the feeling that the positive vibes are spreading across the country. After what has been a challenging time to make progress in the business world and while we have this feel-good glow, I feel now is the time to make some lasting and sustainable change, so I am calling on our new Government to prioritise growth through wellbeing at work to unlock the real potential across the UK.

I must confess…I am an election geek. In the UK, the change of power after an election in the space of just a few hours even before all votes have been counted is both swift and brutal. However, the system works, is envied globally and most importantly, it gives the population a unique position to kick out a government if progress is not being made. Not for many years have I felt a sense of optimism as I did on Friday having craved some stability, grown up behaviour and fresh ideas. The England football team’s win in the Quarter finals of the Euros on Saturday certainly helped the positivity continue!

Sir Kier Starmer said on the steps of Downing Street that he wants to ensure his new government are “treating every single person with respect…and everyone treated with dignity and respect at work”. As CEO of Wellbeing at Work, I couldn’t agree more, and these words certainly struck a chord with me. Additionally, at the core of this new government’s priority is growth and there has been a lot of talk around investment that I completely agree with. However, without prioritising wellbeing at work, the promise of growth through investment alone will simply be another slogan of broken promises in five years’ time.

In the UK, we currently have the highest percentage of working age people, not working; the mental health and burnout crisis numbers are growing, levels of engagement at work are at an all-time low and all these challenges plus many more are also having a major impact on performance, productivity and growth. We must tackle this with long-term, sustainable solutions and my plea to the new government is tackle this with workplace legislation. It was 1974 when the original Health and Safety at Work Act was introduced in the UK, and we know that our working lives have changed significantly since then, so it needs updating.  

From a global perspective, The NSW Government in Australia, followed by other states in the country soon after, implemented a legal requirement to employers in 2022 on psychosocial safe workplace (and have issued fines in the last 12-18 months to those who are not complying); in 2019, Mexico introduced new requirements for employers relating to mental health risks in the workplace and in 2020, with workplace harassment such a major source of wellbeing at work, Puerto Rico was the first and only jurisdiction in the United States to introduce new laws. We have seen developments in the UAE who have started their roadmap on mental health with new a new law introduced at the end of 2023 that will continue to develop over the coming months and years.

My prediction is that many other territories will follow shortly, and I feel the new UK government could lead the way in developing world leading solutions in this space. In fact, in my work with Wellbeing at Work, I see some amazing initiatives taking place in many organisations globally and the differences in cultures, regions and approaches provide us all with some great learnings that we can implement ourselves. Working together as a global community, sharing best-practices, and having a co-ordinated approach to the health of the world must be the right way forward.  

It is very early days for the new UK government but so far so good. There is a strong sense of purpose, it feels like the grown-ups are in the room, there are some interesting fresh ideas and Sir Keir Starmer has a calm and efficiency demeanour. Likewise, Gareth Southgate, our wonderful England Men’s football manager, has been calm, focused and prioritising the mindset of his team to increase performance with outstanding results. At last, the quiet, thoughtful and unassuming leaders, who are not about their personal brand promotion, are getting their time to shine and recognition they deserve. Now is the time for those thoughtful minds in the UK government to be radical and put in place the required legislation that can stand the test of time in our new future of work.

Whilst we have seen significant strides forward in recent years with organisations developing their wellbeing strategies, investments during the Covid years have not impacted our people as we had hoped, and this has rightly raised questions on future spend. My view is that many of these investments were made with the right intentions but due to the sheer panic and speed of the required decisions and the need to support people quickly, many decisions were not necessarily made with much thought and strategy and have subsequently not had the desired impact. Many didn’t tackle the route cause either.

We have access to the data, proof, and case studies to demonstrate that a well-thought out, long-term and comprehensive wellbeing strategy delivers incredible results, returns, share price rises and performance. The tinkering around the edges might tick boxes for organisations but doesn’t have the desired results or usage and we must have impact as this concerns our people’s health.

With at least 64 countries globally, representing nearly half of the world’s population (49%) holding democratic elections in 2024, I see this as a huge opportunity for change. With many of the regions of the world experiencing some of the most challenging world events for decades, healthcare systems not able to cope, some of the worst mental health figures ever recorded and productivity levels across most countries flat or barely growing, surely now really is the time that we act and act with ambition and purpose.

I’m not one for legislation necessarily and I know there are many organisations delivering some incredible work in this area without the clout of the law but when the situation is not improving and sickness absences growing, what are we going to do to tackle this burgeoning issue? Observing the impact and change that has happened in those countries who have moved forward with legislation has brought me to the conclusion that this must be the time for us all to be bold and ambitious. Simply running a handful of workshops is just not cutting it anymore. 

Think about the impact we could achieve with this focus – a highly functioning health system that is not crippled with huge mental health waiting lists, a better world for the next generations and a happier, more productive workforce that is so desperately needed. I for one, urge leaders and the world to be brave, tackle this once and for all and I look forward to these developments globally that will result in a happier, healthier world for us all.

Recommended Reading