What businesses can do to support the mental wellbeing of employees, customers and communities

Virgin Management recently hosted Better Chances 2018 – an event which brought Virgin companies together to discuss what businesses can do to support the mental wellbeing of their employees, customers and communities. Guests included Mind, CALM, Headspace and many more.

At Virgin, we’re fortunate to have a founder who never shies away from using his voice to tackle global challenges and draw attention to the causes he cares about. As far as advocacy goes – whether blogging, using social media or engaging with policy makers – his capacity to drive positive change is remarkable and here at Virgin Management we’re committed to walking the talk.

In 2016 we launched Better Chances – a yearly programme for the Virgin companies, designed to translate advocacy into tangible engagement. Each year we organise a half-day event for senior executives, sharing information and inspiration, highlighting best practice in engagement and introducing new opportunities.

Better Chances, Mental Wellbeing

This year’s Better Chances focused on mental wellbeing. Over the years, Richard has been a passionate champion of people’s wellbeing; he has fought stigma and prejudice around a range of physical and mental challenges and called for greater support for those that are affected.

After all, the statistics speak for themselves. Over one in four people in the general UK population are likely to be suffering from a mental health condition; and yet just 13 per cent of people feel able to disclose a mental health issue to their line manager. It is estimated poor mental health costs UK employers £33bn-£42bn each year.

To address this challenge, we brought together the people directors from across the Virgin Group to help them develop a full understanding of mental wellbeing within the context of mental health. The line-up of speakers sought to highlight the roles business can play in improving mental wellbeing – within workplaces as well as among customers and communities ­ – and showcase best-in-class business actions, from the Virgin family and beyond.

Better Chances, Mental Wellbeing

We kicked off the event hearing from Mind and Monitor Deloitte who shared the business case for engagement in mental wellbeing. Mind introduced their expansive workplace wellbeing index, while Deloitte discussed their latest report which offers detailed insight into the cost of employers failing to address and support mental wellbeing.

The second session focused on what businesses can do to support their employees. We heard from Karl Simons, Head of health, safety, security and wellbeing at Thames Water, who described their five-year journey towards looking after their employees’ physical and mental health. Their exceptional work, that utilises VR as a training tool, has reduced work-related illness absence by more than 75 per cent in the last five years.

Members of the Virgin family also spoke about their work addressing employee wellbeing. Vikki Barnes, clinical psychologist and national lead for positive psychology at Virgin Care, introduced their My Wellness platform which seeks to improve colleagues’ health and wellbeing through a range of different techniques. Emma Thomas from Virgin Active spoke about their recent partnership with Salary Finance in working to improve the financial wellbeing of their staff members; and Dave Roberts from Virgin Media explained the steps they’ve taken to shift their workplace culture since signing the Time to Change pledge earlier this year.

Better Chances, Mental Wellbeing

The third session focused on what businesses can do for their customers and communities. We heard from Katie Legg at Mental Health UK who talked about their recent campaign with Lloyds Banking Group. She described their work exploring what it means to engage with mentally vulnerable customers and the impact of their latest #gettheinsideout campaign.

We also welcomed Lucinda Gemmell, people director at Virgin Australia, who spoke about the challenges of looking after a globally dispersed workforce. In addition to workplace initiatives, she discussed the importance of community-based activity they have performed alongside charities like the Black Dog Institute and RUOK?.

Better Chances, Mental Wellbeing

Closing the day’s event was Andrew Brown from CALM. Their work raising awareness of mental illness via impactful and touching public campaigns is nothing short of remarkable. Campaigns such as Project 84 have draw attention to very specific challenges, notably the gender bias in suicides – suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45.

Throughout the day we also made use of helpful digital platforms, like Headspace and Soma Analytics, which support businesses and employees in building greater resilience, through meditation, mindfulness training and other exercises. 

We were enormously grateful to have such an incredible line-up of speakers, panellists, and activations throughout the day. And during the coming weeks Virgin will share stories from the event, case studies of what’s happening in the mental wellbeing space, and suggestions on how business can best incorporate practices and programmes to improve mental wellbeing across their areas of work.  


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