Geoff McDonald - Keynote Speaker, Business Transformation Advisor & Mental Health Campaigner

Written by Geoff McDonald

We live in very volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times. For those in the working world that is compounded by the workplace expecting more from their people – doing more with less; being always on through technology; driving efficiencies through cost cutting; facing and dealing with a much more demanding customer or consumer. These times are having a profound effect upon the wellbeing of employees across all sectors1. I equate wellbeing to the “energy” of people, which I believe is the most “limiting resource” in the working world today – not money, people or services and products, but people are just tired and worn out!! This assertion is being played out in the rising incidence of depression and anxiety in the workplace2.

The total cost of staff mental health problems to UK employers is estimated to be around £26 billion each year, the equivalent to £1,035 for every employee across the UK.3 Additional costs to UK businesses include:

  • £8.4 billion a year in sickness absence.4 The number of absences as a result of reported work-related, mental health problems has increased 25% year on year and is now the leading cause of workplace absence in the UK,5 with an estimated 11.7 million lost working days for UK businesses.6 In 2015/16, stress accounted for 45% of all working days lost due to ill health, however the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate this to be much higher due to unreported cases.7
  • £15.1 billion a year due to reduced productivity at work,9 with the UK being at least 25% less productive than most of the countries we directly compete against.10 ’Presenteeism’ accounts for 1.5 times as much working time lost as ‘absenteeism’ and results in significant cost to employers due it’s association among higher-paid staff.11 The 2016 Social Market Foundation ‘Working Well’ report states that 1 in 3 employees are less productive due to poor mental health.12
  • £2.4 billion a year due to replacing staff who leave their jobs due to mental ill health.13

Research and case studies focusing upon workplace wellbeing interventions suggest that addressing employee mental health may be the single most effective tool to reduce absenteeism, presenteeism, staff replacement and loss of productivity. For example:

  • The ‘Mental Health Promotion in the Workplace’ report states that for every 80p spent on workplace health promotion and intervention programmes, £4 can be saved in reduced absenteeism, temporary staff, presenteeism and improved motivation.15
  • Literature and case study reviews by PwC revealed that return on investment in terms of a benefit-cost ratio for wellness programmes to be £4.17 for every £1 spent.16
  • Research involving 700 participants has demonstrated a link between employee happiness and productivity at work, with happiness resulting in a 12% spike in productivity; conversely, the research found that unhappy staff was, on the whole, 10% less productive. The importance of employee happiness, employer support and job satisfaction are easily over-looked within workplaces; however, the researchers draw attention to their importance, stating that employee satisfaction at Google rose by 37% following company investment in employee support.17

Support for employees’ wellbeing is increasingly becoming a required offering by employers. In fact, the 2016 Nutrition & Health Foundation Survey of nearly 1000 employees revealed that:14

  • 7 in 10 are highly likely to stay with employers interested in their wellbeing
  • 1 in 2 would consider leaving employers who don’t support their personal wellbeing
  • 35% considered a company’s workplace wellbeing programme as an important factor when choosing a new employer

The above data speaks for itself How do organisations, big, medium, small and across all sectors address this issue, and why would they?

We need to view wellbeing as a key driver of business performance. Organisations with high levels of employee wellbeing have outperformed the market by 2 -3% over a 25 year period (Prof Alex Edmans, London Business School, 2015). This should not be a surprise, as we all know what it is like to work with people who are highly energized, vs those who have the ability to suck all energy from us. Energy should be seen as important as skills, knowledge, behaviours and experience in driving the performance of people, and organisations need to find ways to include this as a key component of their performance and development programmes. Learning to have a development conversation about an employees levels of energy as part of their performance or development plan should become a critical capability of line managers and coaches who all support organisations in the development of their people.

This seems so obvious, but why have we not done this? I would suggest this is because the workplace has lost its sense of humanity, it has expected employees to leave their personality and humanness at the door as they walk through it; you cannot talk about “the personal” at work, yet organisations more and more are creating a perceived expectation of 24/7, always on and so encroach on the personal time of employees. The line between personal and work is very blurred today, and so beginning to speak and engage in conversations about the whole person, ie their physical, emotional, mental and purpose or meaning, I would suggest is the beginnings of bringing the humanness back into organisations during these very anxious and demanding times. And yes it has clear benefits to enhancing individual and organization performance, but more importantly is “just the right thing” to be doing at a time when we need a “north star/moral compass” to drive the behavior of organsations.

In addition to the above, the stigma surrounding mental wellbeing/health has also prevented line managers, coaches, etc to address this aspect of wellbeing. It is therefore more and more important that organisations address the stigma linked to mental health through educating their employees on what is depression, anxiety, and stress; what are the symptoms to look out for; what is my role as a line manager in supporting someone who may be ill or showing symptoms of depression and anxiety, etc, etc. For too long we have invested in the safety and physical health of employees, know is the time to give as much attention and investment to the mental wellbeing of people in an ever increasing knowledge economy.

Coaching and the role of coaches become even more critical today. People need someone to speak to as they learn to cope/become more resourceful in this world we confront today. More and more coaches need to view wellbeing as a key driver of performance and thus develop their skills and knowledge to be able to coach for enhancing the energy of employees and line managers, nit just the traditional approach of addressing skills, knowledge and behaviours. Your time is NOW more than ever before in supporting people to enhance their own wellbeing, such that they can flourish accordingly.


1. Mental Health at Work Report 2016: Millions suffer in silence, Business in the Community, 2016

2. Ibid

3. ‘Mental Health at Work: Developing the Business Case’ (Policy Paper 8), The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2007

4. Ibid

5. Estimate of the number of days of sickness absence taken: by reason, UK, 2013 to 2015, ONS, 2016

6. ‘Work related Stress, Anxiety and Depression Statistics in Great Britain’ Health & Safety Executive, 2016

7. Ibid

8. The Priory Group, 2016

9. ‘Mental Health at Work: Developing the Business Case’ (Policy Paper 8), The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2007

10. ‘Working Well: How employers can improve the wellbeing and productivity of their workforce’, Social Market Foundation, 2016

11. ‘Mental Health at Work: Developing the Business Case’ (Policy Paper 8), The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2007

12. ‘Working Well: How employers can improve the wellbeing and productivity of their workforce’, Social Market Foundation, 2016

13. ‘Mental Health at Work: Developing the Business Case’ (Policy Paper 8), The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2007

14. Nutrition & Health Foundation Survey, 2016

15. ‘Mental health promotion in the workplace – A good practice’ report, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2011

16. ‘Building a Case for Wellness’, Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2008

17. Andrew J. Oswald, Eugenio Proto & Daniel Sgroi, Happiness and Productivity, University of Warwick, 2014

18. Health and Safety Executive,

19. Health and Safety Executive,

20. Health and Safety Executive,