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Adding the human factor to mental health strategies


March  2022


When it comes to increasing awareness of mental health in the workplace, we still have a long way to go. But collectively, we’re moving the needle. We are seeing more organisations place mental health at the top of their business agenda, regardless of size. Dr Wolfgang Seidl and Simon Berger discuss the strides organisations are making with their mental health strategies. And reflect on the importance of testing and being more aware, of our colleagues and clients alike, to ensure strategies contain that all important ‘human’ factor.

  • Adding the human factor to mental health strategies - Podcast transcript

    Podcast host:

    Tiree Houghton: Client Strategy Director, Mercer Marsh Benefits


    Guest speakers:

    Dr Wolfgang Seidl:  Workplace Health Consulting Leader, UK and Europe, Mercer Marsh Benefits

    Simon Berger: Founder of Make A Difference


    Tiree Houghton: Welcome to Mercer's energising the employee experience podcast with me, your host, Tiree Houghton. Each week I'll be joined by guests who will share their experiences and insights to help you create a people first workplaces to attract and retain the best talent. As some of you may be aware, we've recently launched a new proposition in the mental health space, Mental Health Awareness for All. Whilst the purpose of today's podcast isn't to discuss this, it did get us thinking about mental health, which is why today I'm joined by the brilliant duo of Wolfgang and Simon, it'd be great if you could both give us a little introduction into yourselves.


    Dr Wolfgang Seidl: With pleasure. Thank you, Tiree, it's always good to be with you, even if it's just a virtual room today. I lead Workplace Health Consulting at Mercer, I'm a psychiatrist by background and Simon and I co created the idea of those films that you briefly touched upon, which cover mental health awareness for all.


    Simon Berger: Yes, so thank you for inviting me to this, this podcast. My name is Simon Berger and as Wolfgang says, we have co-authored and designed this new training programme.


    Tiree Houghton: Fantastic, thank you both and lovely to have you today. Mental health has always been on business's radars, but for many years, it's just stayed on their to do list. I know from experience with my clients, it's something that's been talked about but not necessarily actioned upon. Today we're starting to see more than ever some action happening, which is absolutely brilliant. But in your opinions, what is it that has triggered that shift?


    Simon Berger: Well, for my side, I've seen a seismic shift, actually, over the six years I've been working in this sector. I still think in truth, we're still in the foothills, and we have a long way to go. But the shift of the last five years has been incredibly positive and I think collectively that the needle has moved. And I think if you go back five or six years ago, it was you know, mental health, everyone was looking for sort of parity of esteem between mental and physical health. And people were looking for, if you like, the business justification, the business case of investing in their employees, if you like, and that has now been proven. And everyone talks about, you know, the billions that are lost as a result of absenteeism and presenteeism and leaveism in terms of talent retention and so effectively, lots of lots of different studies have been done. And I firmly believe that the business case has now been proven once and for all. So almost like you'd have if you're a C suite, that box has been ticked, it's a good investment to invest in your human capital. And for lots of different reasons, I mean, how, why is it sort of like, changed so much recently, I'm sure we'll come on to this in this conversation. But certainly, the recent pandemic has catalytically propelled the issue, I think, to every boardroom table. And if there was any silver lining in this horrible situation we found ourselves in globally in the last two and a half years or so, it is that we are now firmly placed as a business agenda on every top table, on any size business. And quite rightly so, you know, the human capital of any organisation has to be the most important part. And we'll also come on to D&I which has also moved forward, you know, because of the pandemic. You know, it's really all about the people that can be forgotten at times. But for me, I've seen huge leaps, I'm delighted to see the huge leaps, I think we are almost at a parity of esteem, between mental and physical health, there are other elements of workplace wellbeing, but for numerous reasons, I feel we are making great advancements.


    Dr Wolfgang Seidl: And you know, Simon, it's exactly as you say, and yet, right now, there are plenty of examples why those mental health strategies and when plans in the workplace will be tested, extremely tested in situations where we just coming out of the pandemic and all its implications but also where the war in Ukraine has, again, drawn attention to issues around business continuity and trauma particularly, and anxiety disorders for those people who are a bit further away from the eye of the storm. So it has always been a challenge to the human condition to live with uncertainty and that's part of the reason why we created that mental health awareness programme for everyone. And we will be sharing with you why those films as well create community because we are starting to watch out more for each other. That really is the purpose here, the purpose is not to get into psychiatric jargon, the purpose is, just like Simon was saying to raise awareness and to positively respond to that long term trajectory that both of us have seen that mental health has come to the forefront of people thinking, is close to achieving parity of esteem with physical health and wellbeing. But also, for us to be more open about talking about concerns that we have observed. And we know now that the trauma I just mentioned, of course, has a big impact, but also financial worries have a big impact that's unfortunately topical, again in this day and age. We have seen challenges on work life balance, demographic challenges, we've seen younger employees being a bit more prone to anxiety disorders, perhaps than older employees who have seen discrimination in the workplace. And it's often coming back also to manage the capabilities who we of course, have to acknowledge also employees and therefore, in a sandwich position but you know, upskilling managers is certainly part of the discourse.


    Tiree Houghton: And I think the key takeaways from there for me is, whilst a lot of the attention on mental health has come from potentially negative things happening in the world, the attention on mental health is brilliant that that is coming through. And you touched on some of the things that we'll probably go into in a bit more detail later on, and about creating that community and some of the solutions and different ways to do it. So that kind of leads on to my next question, which is both people and also businesses, how do we start doing something differently to really make a big impact and to make change and change that lasts and is sustainable?


    Simon Berger: If you're going to make any change in an organisation, if you're going to make proper cultural DNA change, you have to have the buy in from the top. So it was really important that our first ever conference, we got 270 CEOs in a room. We were very lucky enough to pull on those favours, just come and listen to this one thing and they did. And we got them to pledge that they would commit money, budget over time. Like they would, like a computer change. But it's not just getting that finances, it's also getting all that tick box or getting a CEO to back it, which a lot of people have done recently. But it's also getting, you know, buy in from every level. So we have that sort of top down, bottom up approach, which for what I then called the froze, or what was the frozen middle, you thaw it out from both sides, which was where it was sitting and only sitting in five years ago, which was around the HR, you know, sort of level area. You know, it's great having champions, and it's great having mental health first aiders, and it's great having advocates, but really, for me, one of our objectives was that every employee in any organisation was allowed to become mentally health aware and have some form of training about that. Because if you want to smash DNA, it's not just having a few it's about everyone getting involved.


    Dr Wolfgang Seidl: We wanted to share with our listeners as well, what are best practices in training delivery. And that of course, is to culturally adapt the training and meet your people where they are. And the pandemic has taught us a lot, that half a day of classroom teaching is just not on anymore. So we shifted to doing two hours online, then just 30 minutes and ultimately produce this four times, 10 to 12 minute types of films but properly developed films, as Simon said, where we don't focus so much or get stuck on the depression terminology or psychiatric terminology. But we are actually trying to do something that I called during the process of filming I called it the traumatised learning content. So it is something that you don't need to open a textbook to, to follow. But when you see actors, or interviewees or celebrities speaking out in such a way that you can empathise, you can identify, it's immersive learning, it's reflective learning, you don't need to take out a pen and write things down because we want to move you on a much more comprehensive level. Once we start writing things down it's usually an excuse that we don't want to think and feel. So this is more about thinking and feeling and it's about the basic skills of empathy and resilience and self-care and taking care of each other. There's no need to medicalise what we're talking about because the essence of being human in the workplace remains the same and we often lost touch with that type of essence of being human in the workplace with psychological safety and so on. So we need to have a discussion with one another, and we do that through the medium of film about what are the happiness tools that have been tried and tested? What are the happiness tools that you want to develop specifically just for yourself? How can you make work, good work again? Because we do know that in principle work is so healthy for us, I pause here for a second, work is healthy for us. That tug of war that we are fighting, usually between so called work life balance is a bit of a phony war, because what it is all about is making your experience engaging and exciting, just the way how Simon talked about it. But we as employers also need to be cognisant that we owe it to our colleagues to create good work together with them, co-create, and not a place of work where you get psychologically injured. I mean, I don't dare to ask the question rhetorically, at least. Is there such a thing as toxic boss syndrome?


    Simon Berger: Are you asking me?


    Dr Wolfgang Seidl: Like it was a rhetorical question, if you wanted to respond fine, but…


    Simon Berger: I mean, oh, my God, absolutely, there is. And not just you know, toxic boss, but toxic environments, there's toxic everything. You talked about that the human factor, and it is all about people, you know, without your people without that human capital, there is nothing. And I think, also the fact that we know the attention to prevention, and that you talk about the work life balance. For me, it's, it's a life balance, right, where work has to fit in, maybe not as your employer, but that's what you should be looking for. And if you have the right life balance, then you will perform better with more passion and purpose, and therefore profit as an employee, or as an officer in your company. So, you know, and I think this whole pandemic has just exacerbated that for everyone. We've looked into people's lives, we've been into their homes, it's become more personal, we've become more aware of our colleagues, and our bosses and, you know, maybe our suppliers and our clients even so it's become more human.


    Tiree Houghton: I think, Simon, where you talked about the pandemic has almost let us into people's lives. For me, that's so important, because I've had quite a few clients who, when we've been talking about something that's potentially more of a app based product that's at home, at work, well-being solutions, they've wanted to very much focus on the time that employees are in work, and obviously, for well-being that just doesn't work. And the pandemic has broken down those barriers into that home and work that we're able, as businesses, they're able to support outside of the workplace as well, which is so important.


    Simon Berger: No, I totally agree. You know, adversely, as I'm sure Wolfgang will attest, you know, there are issues that have come as a result of, you know, working remotely. And I think managers have had to learn, leadership teams have had to learn new skills. But the need, the desperate need for all of us, regardless of work, actually, to be in contact with us, the importance of conversation, the importance of relationships, and the importance of listening as well as talking has, you know, has come to the fore. And frankly, those are the, I mean, I again, I'm not the academic here, but if you, if everyone was more empathetic to themselves and to each other, then frankly, we're in a much, much, much better place both in and outside of work.


    Dr Wolfgang Seidl: And you know, when you talk about DEI a lot or how to embed those mental health practices in the DNA of an organisation, I'm always being reminded of the concept of psychological safety. Which means that you know, the group and the workplace is safe for interpersonal risk taking, we trust each other, we don't hide our mistakes, because we learn from them. And the reason why I say that is just because now, it makes sense to me what HR professionals meant in the past when they were saying, bring your whole self to work. And it also reminded me of that phrase, when you just described Simon, that we got the privileged insight into people's home life, if you like, through the way we are working. But also in the broader sense of the positive aspects of that, we are also better able to integrate work forces that in the past were not integrated enough. Like people with disabilities, or neurodiversity, there is new ways of working that have opened up but obviously we need to be very careful that we don't use the new way of working to ostracise groups in another way than we did in the past. That's really important, so we also need good role models. We need managers who really believe in this type of approach that brings out the best in one another, and we need to challenge organisations and say, can you evidence that? Is it part of your people's core competencies that we want managers to be mental health, mentally health aware? And, you know, what we have learned over the last few years is that leaders really need more EQ than IQ. I mean, there's nothing wrong with IQ and academic knowledge that you just referenced as well, Simon, but in order to translate what we are saying here, you need that emotional intelligence to reach out to people and to, to meet them where they are, and to allow people to bring their whole self to work. So then it translates into your business plan, because it doesn't sit outside the business plan. Because as you were just saying before, Simon, people are our business. And we need to create a culture of health, through the way how we dealing with people and you know, it's a business variable, how do you report on it? And are you at least bringing it to the attention of the boardroom? But beyond that, as well, does your external and internal marketing match in some ways? You know, do you report publicly on health and wellbeing? These are very interesting questions for everyone and one last point to that as well, I think the best way of smashing the stigma is by being pragmatic. But what I don't really fancy so much is to endlessly talk about destigmatisation, but doing it by just treating a mental health issue in the same pragmatic and practical way as you would a physical health issue and have referral routes in place, mental health pathways, as I call them, and just get on with it. Leads to multi-stigmatisation, than all kinds of conferences on stigma.


    Simon Berger: No, I agree, I'm glad that you said that there's something equal to IQ because, like, I don't know about you Tiree, my IQ will never get anywhere near his but maybe on an EQ we might be able to get there.


    Dr Wolfgang Seidl: I'm so lucky that I work with you because you bring the best out in me and it's absolutely not true because your IQ is obviously amazing and has led to instigating those films. And, you know, we said at the beginning, we won't talk too much about them. But again, it was also your idea to use well known celebrities as role models for people to identify with and to, to interview them. And it was fascinating going through that process, when you know a heavyweight boxing champion talks to you about staying physically fit to remain mentally healthy. And, when you talk to a supermodel about other aspects of keeping yourself fit or a footballer who has experienced injury, and therefore, unfortunately, started self-medicalising with alcohol, so many people do and, of course, I just remembered we are on the podcast, so you can't see my inverted commas that I was just showing. Self-medicalising, that's what we medics call it when people start abusing drugs. It's really, it just, mental health should just be common sense, as Frank Bruno was saying, but then he also added, didn’t he Simon, that the unfortunate thing with common sense is that it's not very common these days.


    Simon Berger: I love that line, that was a super line of his and no, it's great. Great, great, great.


    Tiree Houghton: I think that all links nicely back to sort of what is it that has the biggest impact, and where you were talking, Wolfgang, about bringing people who people look up to, people that they see out there in the papers, in the news, and sharing their stories and making it something that really does flag that it's, this isn't just certain people, it's everyone that this is impacting. I think that's a really powerful way to have a big impact.


    Dr Wolfgang Seidl: The one thing I wanted to highlight as well, it's a sombre note, probably. That we should address more inequalities in health and differential in accessibility of health care. Because very often when we have a conversation, like the one we are having today, where all of us are sitting in our respective offices or home offices, you know, we think about white collar employees and their choice of working from home, which is a choice that's not open to everybody. So we need to be way more creative, to look at equity across the piece, not just where you work, but how you work and when you work and who does the work, because I was looking at the statistics. Even during the height of the pandemic in 2020, in the UK, it was less than 50% of people, just marginally less, I think 47 and a half or so, who were working partly or fully from home. That means the majority didn't have that opportunity. I don't call it a luxury because some of us may not even want to work from home for many, many reasons we don't probably have enough time to go into right now. But we need to also offer flexibility to somebody who cannot flex the place of work because they're front line workers or they are checkout assistants in a supermarket. All those really important key workers that we have learned to value more than we did before. And it's always good when there is no immediate answer, because that makes the human brain work faster and more creatively, because there are solutions out there. And if you have a lack of resources, or when the answer is not obvious, that's when we usually produce our best work. So I call upon everybody to think about how, what the equivalent to working from home and the flexibility looks like for someone who is looking after our utilities or works in a hospital.


    Tiree Houghton: Simon, you talked about getting the buy in of the C suite. And I guess a theme that I've picked up from what both of you were saying is that it needs, mental health needs to be embedded in a business's DNA. And I guess a lot of that comes from being driven through from the C suite. But how do you truly change corporate culture to enable that to happen, so that everyone does live and breathe it?


    Simon Berger: I think it's a great question. I think, I just, I touched on it earlier, but for me, it's involving everyone. So if we were to use a simile of, I don't know, changing a computer system or a CRM in an organisation, okay? Obviously, it costs money, so the FD or the CEO has to sign that cheque off. It then gets implemented and everyone gets trained, and they have to go through a, you know, a process of change. But if one department didn't buy into that CRM change, that computer change, well, it's like the other analogy, you're only as good as your weakest link. So if that link is not there, then the whole chain falls apart. And I feel it's the same with workplace wellbeing. And I say workplace wellbeing generally, so that's mental, physical, financial, social, environmental, those, those five elements of it. But it's specifically with mental health. It only works if everyone's bought into it. And that was the reason that really is the reason for creating what we've have, you know, having something that very quickly, succinctly, effectively, you know, creates an awareness for everyone in that company of their own, and others and their colleagues mental health. And if you can do that, then you can look at systemic change, albeit in sustainable incremental lumps, obviously, it's not going to happen overnight. But if everyone is trained, let's say everyone goes and there's new employees that come in, and they go through the same sort of, you know, system and they learn this as they come in, it’s part of their induction, then a DNA will change. So yes, I think it should be the importance of mental health within a workforce within a company within the DNA of that company, you know, should be as much as heavy or as important as the computer system you use or as your D&I policy or any of the other very important issues. That's how I feel, things will change.


    Dr Wolfgang Seidl: Simon, I think you've sketched a beautiful journey, really how we can get from gaining individual insight to achieving systemic change. And I love that, and that is probably the reason why our last module then is called engagement because first you look at resilience, then you look at empathy, how can I help others, then you look at yourself and self-help. And then ultimately, you have to look beyond yourself, and look at the wider context and that purpose driven organisation that we all are striving for. And so we, when we all have this type of approach and thinking then we have psychological safety and ultimately engagement. So what I wanted to do as well is to encourage people to come up with their own grassroots movement, if you like, of mental health awareness for all. We can just give you so much as an, if you like stimulus or provocation, but then it will only land properly when you think about, so what? Do I want to join an employee resource group? Do I want to fund my own one, a completely new approach to things? How do I want to conduct my team meetings? How do I want to take better care of colleagues who are currently being overlooked? And how to be become more successful when we pool our resources than when we selfishly just strive for our on promotion? So there's millions of ideas, I am not saying that this is prescriptive in any way and I have forgotten to mention, you know, physical wellbeing and how it affects our emotional wellbeing. There's millions of ideas that we deliberately don't tell you to execute, because we trust you. And trust is essential in a flourishing and productive workplace. It really is essential and ultimately, people are creative enough to come up with better ways of working. So at some stage, it's not only good work anymore, its better work that we are co-creating with one another.


    Simon Berger: I also think just quickly adding there, I think I've talked to a lot of sort of like next gen, employees, employers, bosses, whatever coming through. And I'm delighted to say that, you know, at interviews, they are asking, they are asking their prospective employers, so what is your policy on mental, mental health, and wellbeing in the office? And if they're not getting the right answers, I hope and my advice would be to go elsewhere, you know, don't take the job. You know, that's how you're going to make change. And I want employers, equally to feel proud of their workplace well-being strategy when they're interviewing people, and to lead with that, as part of their corporate credentials. And that I think, will attract the best talent. And at the end of the day, talent retention, and you know, and identification is a massive part of any future business as well. So, just as a final point there.


    Dr Wolfgang Seidl: And you don't have to do it selflessly, because we do know that it pays back, isn't it, the more diversity you have in a team and more authenticity you have, the higher your productivity is. I could rattle off studies now but I'm not going to bore you with statistics. But trust me, the more diversity you have, the more productive your team will be. And that's diversity across the piece, not just in terms of, you know, ethnicity and gender, and sexual orientation. But also in terms of educational background, you know, if you look at a group of Ivy League graduates trying to solve a problem, they will be less successful than when you have a group of mixed educational background. That is fascinating.


    Tiree Houghton: So I mean, I've got a lot of clients who are finding that as well, that they're struggling to recruit if they don't have something solid in place to support well-being for their employees. And I think it's something that employees can really drive and shift a change in businesses, because they've got the power to do so.


    Simon Berger: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. So I'm delighted to hear that. And I think it's increasingly getting more popular on both sides, which is great, then it's a win-win, isn't it? Which is wonderful.


    Tiree Houghton: And Simon at the very beginning, you sort of said, how you felt we were still slightly in the foothills, we had a long way to go with mental health to get to where we want to do. And in my last podcast, we were talking about the future of D&I and where, where we see that and what the ultimate goal is. So asking you the same question, what does the future look like? And what is the ultimate goal around mental health?


    Simon Berger: I mean, I have a simple answer to that, which, again, I've probably said throughout this thing, which is really it's all about people, it's about, you know, that's really what our business is about, I have my own numerous amounts of businesses, across events, and also in real estate and various other bits and pieces. And I've always put people first. And with that, you know, if people are put first, for me, it's passion, purpose, or people, passion, purpose, profits, it's just as simple as that. And not necessarily in that chronological order. But with all those mixed together, you know, you'll hopefully have a good business. And the one thing I would like to leave you with, which is, every time someone tells a story, okay, their story, their authentic story, maybe not just about themselves, but about maybe someone that they know. And let's face it, everyone in the world after this last pandemic, everyone has had some form of episode of anxiety, or stress or loneliness in the last two and a half years. So we've all had an experience now it's not, you know, it should be normal, it is normal. So every time someone tells their own story, it's like someone's sending a lifeboat out into an ocean, where there are hundreds of 1000s of people who as soon as they hear that story, they can put their hand out from the sea and hang on to that boat. And you know, have some hope that one day you know, we will all be able to talk about this in a normal and right way. So I think the power of storytelling for me should continue at infinitum. It is incredibly powerful.


    Tiree Houghton: Thank you Simon and thank you for sharing that as well. It is certainly the most powerful way to speak to people and sharing stories. Wolfgang anything to add?


    Dr Wolfgang Seidl: Well, yeah, I'm deep, I have had that experience before, but I'm always deeply moved by it. And I don't want to add anything to it other than emphasising what Simon was touching upon. That, storytelling, yes, so what we are learning from it is, keep the conversation going, don't stop engaging with other people, because that may be a lifeline for them. And the other aspect of it is, as well, make it a deliberate effort to offer kindness. There's a big study underway at the moment into kindness. And we have known for a while that it serves many purposes and functions, not just to help the other person but also to help yourself because kindness makes you even happier than when you receive a present. So bear that in mind. And it's also the best remedy for loneliness. If you are kind to others, you're reaching out to others and your loneliness fades into the background.


    Tiree Houghton: My one year old actually has a book on kindness. And it talks about everyone having buckets of kindness. And if you feel anyone's bucket is getting empty, then you just fill it up with a bit of kindness. And it's something so simply put for a one year old, or probably a little bit complex for her, but it just paints it quite nicely. And it's nice to see those messages are being ingrained in our children as well.


    Simon Berger: I agree and I'm delighted you've got a one year old that's reading books.


    Tiree Houghton: Yeah, she's got Wolfgang's IQ, that's why!


    Simon Berger: I bet she has.


    Tiree Houghton: Well, thank you both so much for joining me today. It's been a wonderful conversation and hopefully, our listeners will have taken a few things from it that they can learn from and embed into their journeys. We hope you enjoyed today's podcast and thank you for listening. Please subscribe to keep up to date with our latest episodes and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us at


    You can subscribe to keep up to date with our latest podcast episodes and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at Explore more episodes in our ‘Energising the employee experience’ podcast series.




Guests this episode

Dr Wolfgang Seidl

Workplace Health Consulting Leader, UK and Europe
Mercer Marsh Benefits

Simon Berger

Founder of Make A Difference


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