Is Work Good for You? Turning Socio-Economic Challenges into Opportunities
Carlyle’s Laura Thorburn recently attended a conference held in conjunction with Queen Margaret University, the University of Roehampton, Business in the Community and NHS Lothian. The event focused on the key strengths and perceived limitations of working with a disability (both mental and physical) and a diverse audience of entrepreneurs, executives and researchers debated the challenges and potential opportunities relating to mental health and general wellbeing in the workplace.
The main theme on the day was ‘Is Work Good for You?’, and the conclusive response throughout the discussions was overwhelmingly positive: work gives us structure, purpose and fulfilment. Whilst work related factors can contribute to anxiety and ill-health, supportive work environments can also provide opportunities for individuals to learn how to effectively process and manage stress.
When discussing entrepreneurs (particularly those who would be classed as disabled), Wilson Ng (Roehampton University Business School) and Felix Arndt (DMU Business School) explored how stress and adversity can motivate individuals to create innovative and ground-breaking solutions to both personal and professional problems. They gave examples of individuals who used their experiences of illness and accidents to develop their skill-sets and expertise, which not only resulted in more positive business outcomes, but greater mental resilience in the long-term.
Alistair Campbell (writer, strategist and former press secretary) shared his own experience of mental breakdown; he believes that he succeeded not in spite of, but because of, his mental health challenges. Research data suggests that 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime. Alistair suggested however that in our current culture, although not every person will experience a mental health breakdown, a large proportion will experience elements of a mental health concern, with stress as a primary cause.
He went on to articulate that the type of work environment and people that surround an individual are crucial factors in how well that individual reacts and recovers from periods of adverse mental health. Alistair admitted that he produced some of his best work when he was most unwell and described how important the supportive reaction of those around him was in making this possible.
Key points of interest from the discussions that followed included:
- There is a need for organisations to invest in initiatives that promote positive workplace mental health and protect employees from the negative impact of work stress.
- There is now consistent evidence that certain work situations, including occupational uncertainty and perceived lack of value and respect in the workplace, are associated with an increased risk of common mental disorders.
- Most mental illnesses can be positively impacted and improved over time, leading to increased productivity, social functioning, quality of life, physical health and life expectancy.
What was emphasised by all of the speakers was that that businesses which reflect an inclusive and diverse spectrum of society are likely to be more successful overall. Alan Thornburrow (Business in the Community) stated that “businesses ultimately have a duty of care to their employees” and described how organisations who demonstrate acceptance and provide support for wellbeing (physical and mental) benefit in the long-term through increased employee engagement. Research consistently shows that the provision of more comprehensive mental health support in the workplace reduces absence, increases productivity and helps retain talent. In addition, effective wellbeing programmes could also potentially save UK businesses upwards of £8 billion per year.
Investing in mental health and general wellbeing in the workplace offers threefold benefits: to the individual, to the organisation and to the wider economy. In a culture in which individuals feel supported and valued, no matter what the state of their health, morale, loyalty, resilience, innovation and productivity all rise. As the final keynote speakers of the day concluded, “Mental illness is not a personal failure”, and businesses which offer open, transparent and supportive environments significantly contribute to ensuring a positive response to the question: “Is Work Good for You?”.
Laura Thorburn is an Associate at Carlyle and specialises in the Investment and Asset Management sector, supporting technology innovations, strategic development and product functionality across Financial Products.
Laura is also Chair of the Glasgow branch of Women in Banking & Finance.