The business case for greater organisational wellbeing

Housing Partners

At Housing Partners we are dedicated to building better working environments and as part of this practice, Olivia Hill, HR & Office Coordinator and Lesley Westwood, Head of Finance were recently trained as organisational mental health champions by Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA). We spoke with Olivia about the practical tools she’s learnt to safeguard employees, as well as the business case for mental health strategies within organisations.

Lesley Westwood and Olivia Hill

Lesley Westwood and Olivia Hill of Housing Partners

Increasingly the wellbeing of workers has claimed centrality for organisational success. Insurer Aviva found that 61% of workers would be better incentivised in their work for employers who invest in their health and wellbeing.

At Housing Partners, we aim for employees to be equipped with the skills necessary to recognise symptoms of distress, engage with those experiencing difficulty and offer pathways to appropriate support.

The Mental Health First Aiders course is not about placing therapists within an organisation but as Olivia explains, “educating champions in how an individual’s genetics, background and traumas can be factors in poor mental health.

We were then taught how to recognise triggers in the workplace and some behaviours a colleague might be exhibiting.” From this standpoint of increased confidence and knowledge, champions can instigate non-judgmental conversations and increase awareness overall within the company.

Training mental health first aiders is part of our wider strategy to “be an employer of choice.” Olivia strives for each employee to have “the ability to say they are having a bad day, bad week, bad month without cause for shame and without any stigma” and in turn, “feel proud to come here every day and know that they are looked after.”

“Mental Health First Aid training should always be one part of a ‘whole-organisation’ approach to mental health.”

Simon Blake OBE, Chief Executive, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England

Apart from the drive to strengthen our company’s culture the business imperative to address organisational mental health is striking. It is estimated that poor workplace mental health costs the UK economy £35 billion yearly and over 15 million working days are lost to anxiety, stress and depression.  The British Safety Council found that many who encounter pressurised workplaces feel obliged to attend work even when they are sick.

This can lead to a phenomenon called ‘Presenteeism’, whereby employees physically attend work, but are not productive.  By recognising these risks to service delivery and productivity, businesses in the UK are starting to protect themselves from the effects of poor mental health in the workplace.

There are tangible returns from investing in employee mental health. In 2009, Energy provider EDF rolled out free CBT sessions (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) across 100 of their sites. This form of therapy analyses ways of thinking and behaviour and then offers practical coping mechanisms.

EDF estimated that the scheme had saved them an estimated £288,000 per year from improved productivity.

“Wellbeing is written into our business plan and our annual reporting. It has become a strategic boardroom issue. Employees should be on the balance sheet in the same way as you account for cash. People think it’s a bolt-on, but we say this is part of our business strategy.”

Peter Simpson, CEO, Anglian Water

Olivia was the driving force behind training mental health champions at Housing Partners, seeing it as a proactive step to support “our overall strategy to improve mental health and mental wellbeing in the company.”

Moving forward, she describes some of the tactics herself and Lesley will be implementing: “I do the monthly newsletter and from now on it will include tips and information so people can practice mindfulness, MHFA are really good at providing free resources so we have also put up some of the posters provided around the office.” In the future, her hope is that the organisation could have wellbeing days.

One of the most important takeaways from the training was to share knowledge. Having one or two experts is valuable, but crucially everybody should know the building blocks. In light of this approach, Olivia is: “creating an action plan for training line managers with what we learnt on the course, because they’re with staff all day long.” This means they are therefore, better equipped to spot changes in everyday behaviour.

Safe Leave

Pioneers within the housing sector, South Ayrshire Council announced in February a ‘Safe Leave’ scheme. This committed to giving employees dealing with domestic abuse 10 days of paid leave to be used however they see fit.

Other employers have put in place strict communication rules to tackle our ‘always-on’ culture, which can be detrimental to mental health. Rules such as limiting emails between 8am and 7pm urge those who want to write business communications outside of these hours, to save their work and send them only during approved hours.

Smaller steps can be made too, and whilst it may seem reductive to tell people to ‘breathe’, there is a growing body of proof that these practices will improve your business.


Working in HR, Olivia also sees improved mental health literacy at Housing Partners as a way to attract talent. Younger people are more likely to report mental health challenges within the workplace, so a proactive mental health policy is a strong way of projecting our internal working culture.

In Olivia’s words, Housing Partners has: “an existing culture that understands that life and work have to be in consideration of one another; managers and colleagues are all understanding.

“Whether somebody is coming back from maternity leave for example or taking care of a relative, I believe that staff always feel comfortable asking those questions and working out requests,” she added.

People and millennials in particular are savvy and aware and nowadays are more likely to want to work for your company, use your services – and in turn pay for them – if they believe in the culture behind them.

It’s becoming clear that addressing poor mental health within the workplace can have wider positive consequences across the organisation, beyond the balance sheet. Since attending the MHFA course, Olivia has made sure that she “checks-in more with colleagues” when she sees signs of stress and potential burn-out, concluding that: “Questioning what I see and taking a step back to see whether your intuitions are correct. The course made it clear that if you got the answer to a check-in of ‘fine’, to check-in again.”

Small actions can mean the difference in somebody’s day, week or month, and opening up the conversation around mental health can only benefit our team and ensure we’re all working together as productively as possible.

Here are Olivia’s TOP 3 TIPS for keeping cool in the workplace

  1. Take a breath
  2. Don’t react straight away
  3. Remove yourself from the situation – use your body

If you want to know more about the Mental Health First Aid course, click here