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An invitation to help inspire positive change for investment in mental wellbeing solutions

23rd January, 2019

Rob Stephenson



If we treasure our employees’ wellbeing, then we need to measure it.

As a mental health advocate and campaigner, I spend a huge amount of my time helping break stigma and create workplaces where ALL employees can seek help regarding mental ill-health when we need it. However, for me, this is only part of the issue.

The works of Keyes and Huppert (2005) broadly tell us that for any given population, we can expect that 17% will be flourishing, 54% have moderate mental health, 11% are languishing and 18% have a mental disorder.

Applying this to the workplace, it is very clear that there is a strong need to invest in improving the mental health and wellbeing of all. I also spend a huge amount of time talking about this mental health continuum and the need for everyone to work on improving their mental wellbeing and the need for business cultures to evolve to give permission for employees to do this.

The Case for Investment in Preventative Employee Mental Wellbeing Solutions

There’s a growing recognition that mental illness and presenteeism come at a significant and increasing cost to business, and that there is a good estimated ROI on preventative mental wellbeing solutions (The Deloitte analysis for the Stevenson-Farmer Review points to a 4.2x ROI).

It’s hard to find an employer that doesn’t agree that employee mental wellbeing and business success are positively related. Why, then, are businesses underinvested in the mental wellbeing of their employees?

The answer is simple. We’ve only just starting to have the conversation. The next stage is a big shift towards solutions, with pioneer organisations enjoying all the benefits that come from having a more resilient and productive workforce.

What are the barriers to investment?

  1. It is very difficult to predict which solutions will work for individuals in different parts of an organisation and in a market where there is exponential innovation and there is a lack of evidence based research into the efficacy of solutions. Headspace and Calm are mindfully battling for a share of the $1.2bn meditation market but this solution is not optimal for everybody. What about social connection? Helping others? Meaningful activity? Exercise?
  2. We do not know what the return on investment is for mental wellbeing solutions. It is actually pretty difficult to calculate. One has to track the impact on wellbeing for a given intervention and then also find a measure of productivity or business performance and quantify the outcome. Difficult but not impossible if enough data can be collected.

I believe that if we can help to overcome those challenges, investment in employee mental wellbeing could move onto exponential curves. And with 32m people in employment in the UK, that could make a difference at a population level.

A Potential Solution and an Invitation to Participate.

This is where I declare my interest. I am an investor in a start-up called BetterSpace which I believe has the potential to be a game-changer in stimulating investment in mental wellbeing.

Our organising idea is that the rise in mental illness can be reversed through a wellbeing marketplace. Just as Airbnb triggered a dramatic growth in demand for home stays, it could transform demand for activities that improve mental health. The particular opportunity lies in prevention, where the market failure is greatest.

As we see it, employers have the greatest power to facilitate change. BetterSpace is developing the data platform and selection algorithm that underpins what we are calling "The Big Wellbeing Data Project". Working with 10 partner organisations, 5-10k employees and a data analytics consultancy, we aim to transform the way organisations invest in mental wellbeing, appraising the effectiveness of leading wellbeing solutions and creating investment certainty for CFOs.

“One long term aim is to help reduce inappropriate demand on the NHS. By providing the right information, tools and supports for people to look after their own mental health and wellbeing, as they do their physical health, this increases self care and action. Both in the promotion of good mental health and wellbeing, but also in the prevention of problems and in dealing with difficulties before they escalate and become more serious. The Big Wellbeing Data Project will provide the insights into what works, for whom and how." - Gregor Henderson: Chairman, BetterSpace Advisory Board

Ultimately, we would like to create a "Wellbeing Return in Investment Curve" for popular mental wellbeing solutions.

The Invitation:

We are inviting 10 forward-thinking organisations to partner with us on the Big Wellbeing Data Project.

By tackling a market failure, the project is designed to deliver benefits to the participating employees, partner organisations and society at large. It's a significant part of the BetterSpace mission to turn the tide on mental illness by making it easier for people to find what works.

Simply put, we invite you to partner with us to help create the dataset that will allow the Wellbeing Return on Investment Curve to be created. We will then release this to the market and hopefully encourage the financial heads of business to follow their hearts.

Next Steps

BetterSpace has asked me to be the Chief Catalyst for the project, which means I am responsible for getting the organisations together. If you are keen on looking at the proposal or having a chat with me then please drop me a note at rob@betterspace.uk.

The full version of this article appeared here


Rob Stephenson

Rob is a campaigner and public speaker regarding breaking the stigma of mental ill-health in the workplace. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2002. Rob is the founder of Inside-Out.org, a social enterprise with a mission of showcasing executive level role models with lived experiences of mental ill-health. Rob recently completed the MindCycle, riding over 3,000km of the Tour de France route on a static bike in a number of corporate workplaces, stimulating conversation about mental health. Rob holds a first class degree in economics and is a prize-winner from Loughborough University. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant with PwC before moving into the Executive Search industry. Rob is an early investor in BetterSpace and believes that the marketplace can help organisations better look after the mental wellbeing of all employees.

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