In a business that’s all about people, we know first-hand how leaders influence happiness, healthiness and high-performing work environments. Investing holistically in health and wellbeing is high on the agenda of both clients and candidates. At our recent Health Matters for the Workplace event in partnership with Aetna and the InsideOut LeaderBoard, Savannah Group’s Mary Driscoll explored the topic of getting c-suite support on health and wellbeing in the workplace.
At Savannah Group, our clients increasingly want to understand the social impact of the candidates that we put forward for senior roles, above and beyond traditional skills and competencies. Similarly, top candidates want to know that their prospective employer has in place a health and wellbeing strategy and a clear position on work/ life balance. Pushing mental health up the board agenda brings with it a broad range of benefits related to recruitment, retention, productivity and most importantly, overall workforce health.


Rob Stephenson – Founder and CEO of the wellbeing analytics engine, FormScore

Helen Gillett – COO at wellbeing platform, BetterSpace

John Flint – Former CEO of HSBC

Simon Miller – Senior Director, Customer Proposition at Aetna International

Richard Woodward – Chief Financial Officer at Hyperoptic Ltd

Kirstin Furber – People Director at Channel 4


“Leaders have one thing to lead. Their people.” — John Flint, former CEO of HSBC

Our panel discussion commenced with a conversation about where responsibility for employee mental health sits. There was a strong consensus that mental health is a collective responsibility. In delegating it to one department, or to a small group of individuals, efforts risk losing enterprise-wide traction. While representation groups are positive in bringing forward ideas from around the business, the strategy needs to run top-down as well as bottom-up.

Input from groups and individuals at individual and team level needs to be supported by leaders and management who role-model behaviours. For example, as leaders we can encourage conversations about wellness and share our stories so that wellbeing becomes part of a continuous conversation. “If you can tell your story, you will move mountains. Be honest about how you have built up your resilience”, says Helen.

Attitudes towards responsibility for mental health are connected to culture and our panellists discussed tools versus support. While the tools may be there, does the culture or environment prevent them from being effective? In some cases, there is a gap between what employers offer and what employees feel they get in terms of support.

This could perhaps take the form of the right type of support not being available at the right time or a ‘one size fits all’ approach which, in effect, enables the employer to feel they have ‘ticked the box’ on mental health without providing what’s actually needed. Everyone’s circumstances are different and so personalisation is key if we are to avoid settling for a compromise that benefits nobody.

To provide the right type of support employers need to tap into the knowledge of line managers as well as trends in data to understand what is relevant to individual employees.


“We can’t just build A&E departments. We need to take preventive measures.” — Richard Woodward, Chief Financial Officer at Hyperoptic Ltd

A successful approach to positive mental health needs to be based on preventative measures. This includes setting clarity of direction and targets. For example, we might overlook the stress that we put people under at work – and the timeframes which are imposed upon them. Taking a proactive stance means we consider the demands that people are put under, rather than waiting for mental health to suffer before addressing it.

Secondly, companies need to put the infrastructure in place. This can go as far as including mental wellbeing in business continuity planning as a risk to be managed. Systems and processes will help leaders to create a psychologically safe environment and to ensure that employees can be at their best. This in turn reduces the need for support only when mental health is under pressure.


There is no doubt that investing in mental wellbeing is the right thing to do and from the experiences of our panel, companies are largely open to investment. The challenge is in defining what the support looks like and in implementation. These tend to be the stumbling blocks to enterprise-wide buy-in.

“The case for mental health needs to be head and heart.” — Helen Gillett, COO at wellbeing platform BetterSpace

In order to build a successful strategy, it’s vital that as well as offering resources, we offer time. One panellist mentioned a client at which there was a lack of take-up of meditation sessions. Although the support was there, people didn’t have the gift of time to make use of it. Resources need to be supported by a culture that welcomes and embraces the use of those resources.

Organisational culture and the mindset of individuals is a key determinant of success of mental health programmes. In organisations where ‘command and control’ is the norm and where colleagues stand by and watch others fail, employees are unlikely to talk about mental health or to take up support that’s offered. This is an issue that runs right up to the leadership team in some businesses, and it’s an issue that damages culture, and wellbeing efforts.

Lastly, organisations need to see taking care of mental health as a partnership that needs to be managed. Calculating ROI is no easy feat but by taking collective responsibility, organisations will feel the benefits of a healthier, happier workforce.

Thank you to our panellists for sharing their stories and experience with us. Savannah Group’s co-host for this event was Mary Driscoll. Mary is a Partner in Savannah Group’s interim management, operational leaders and HR practice as well as being our own wellbeing ambassador. 

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