How to Talk to the Top Team About Wellbeing

When it comes to wellbeing at work, one of the obstacles facing many organisations is how to get the message through to those who hold the purse strings and wield the most power. Persuading the executive team that wellbeing is important can be a tough sell.

So how do you do it?

A good starting point is to think about what is important to them and place wellbeing in that context. Clearly, this will vary depending on the culture of the organisation and the priorities of the board.  For example, persuading the top team of a charity to invest in wellbeing may require a different approach to that of a legal firm. If board members are focussed on certain goals, such as profit, then make the business case accordingly.

All organisations need to make the balance sheet work so using evidence that shows a return on investment will help. Statistics and reports can help executive teams to take it as seriously as they undoubtedly should.

For example, when the government-commissioned report Thriving at Work: a review of mental health and employers was published in October 2017, it made headlines, and rightly so. The independent review of mental health and employers, which was carried out by Lord Dennis Stevenson and mental health charity Mind CEO Paul Farmer, revealed the extent of the problem facing workplaces. It says that stigma persists around mental ill-health and it prevents open discussion on the subject, which results in the UK facing a significant mental health challenge at work.


The Thriving at Work report is packed with figures that can help make the case. For starters, the large annual cost to employers is between £33 billion and £42 billion, with over half of the cost coming from presenteeism – when individuals are less productive due to poor mental health in work – with the rest of the cost coming from sickness absence and staff turnover.

More valuable evidence for helping to persuade the top team that they should invest in the workforce’s mental wellbeing comes in a separate piece of work from Deloitte. The report Mental Health and Wellbeing in Employment was carried out as part of the Thriving at Work report and it analysed the return on investment at organisations that had put money into improving wellbeing at work.

The analysis shows that those who do this consistently see a positive return on that investment.

On p24, Deloitte sets out in detail how much ROI was achieved. The smallest return was 8:1 and the largest was 10:1.

Another piece of work published in The Lancet revealed the same.  It showed that a manager mental health training programme had a significant impact on absence with an ROI of nearly £10 for each pound spent.

Mind Your Language

Another approach in helping to convince the top team that they should support wellbeing initiatives is to talk in their language. Words such as ‘wellbeing’ might be too intangible and perhaps even fluffy to some senior management teams – so translate it into language they understand. Identify any words that might be off-putting to the top team and edit them out of your communications.

Of course, a strong awareness and understanding of the language used within an organisational culture will also be fundamental in designing a wellbeing campaign, so it is work that needs to be done anyway.  Doing it early should help you secure the funding required for any initiatives, so study the turns of phrase the board or top team use on a regular basis in its communications, either written or verbal, and make use of them. For example, the board may want to the company to have ‘a competitive edge’ and be ‘results driven’ and be ‘an employer of choice’ – all of these can succeed or fail depending on culture and the workforce’s health.

Again, use any reports or evidence to build the case.  For example, The Mental Health at Work report 2017 by Business in the Community talks about there being a gap between the vision for mental health in the workplace and the reality (p9) – the savvy organisation will see that gap as an opportunity to secure a competitive edge.

Keeping It Real

Where possible, use real examples within the organisation to show the board how what matters to them most – their business goals – are being affected. Are there hot spots of high absence or complaints? If so, there is a good chance that stress is high and presenteeism is a problem.

Translate the national statistics into relevant figures for your organisation. The Mental Health at Work report 2017 found that 20% of those studied had experienced mental health issues in the last month – how does that translate into the effect it might have on one business area? For example, a factory employing 150 on the manufacturing floor means that 30 individuals have had problems within the last month.  Those problems may not resolve themselves of their own accord – what impact might that have on productivity?

Educate the top team where it’s required. Gaining and maintaining a competitive edge means fostering a growth mindset to create a sustainable high-performance culture. Challenge and pressure will not disappear and the constant flux surrounding organisations – such as economic shifts, political change and Brexit uncertainty – means they need to be consistently adaptable if they are to stay ahead of the game and their competitors.

Helping a workforce to do this might involve teaching them techniques and strategies to remain resilient when faced with change and challenge. Holding on to that invaluable growth mindset allows individuals and teams to remain motivated and engaged, being able to implement new ways of doing things while also being able to identify emerging opportunities in the midst of flux – and then moving quickly to take advantage of those.

TWP has a range of mental health resources that can help an organisation to teach employees strategies and techniques that will enable them to stay resilient and maintain their mental wellbeing.   Get in touch to find out how we might be able to help you.

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