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Who needs a Chief Happiness Officer? Interview with Dr Kai Haas, Managerial Occupational Physician, Health Management, AIRBUS

9th August, 2018

Mad World Team



Deloitte pointed out back in March 2017, that when it comes to talking about mental health, it feels like we’re at a tipping point.  Conversations have certainly evolved since then – from inspirational to practical - and as awareness rises, along with a desire to turn talk in action, employers are increasingly grappling with concrete questions.

One key question revolves around where ownership of initiatives that support employee mental health and wellbeing in the workplace should sit within an organisation. For instance, can HR drive mental health initiatives when they are also responsible for performance appraisals? Should trained clinicians be in charge? Or perhaps what’s needed is a Chief Happiness Officer?

With a storied career in workplace wellbeing, we put a series of short questions to Germany based Dr Kai Haas, to get his take on this issue, give a flavour of the insights he will bring to Mad World in October and also to find out how he hopes the fast-developing field of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace will evolve.

First question: you have a wealth of experience in the field of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace - what achievements are you most proud of and why?

My motivation is to improve the health and wellbeing of as many employees as possible. So, in that regard, I think the achievement I am most proud of was leading a project at a Swiss pharmaceutical company globally to integrate physical, mental and emotional health with a clear link to the company culture as well. We brought programs and KPIs from HR, D&I and HSE into one health management program. It was great to really develop this both from an employee experience and from a business perspective. To do this also across functional barriers, with lots of great and passionate experts - who all wanted to move the needle in the right direction - was a unique experience.

Who do you think should drive initiatives to promote mental health and wellbeing in the workplace? What are your top tips for getting all levels of management committed?

I would see mental health initiatives as an integral part of any corporate health and wellbeing program. Who organizes these functionally does not really matter – in my opinion that could be HR as well as HSE. What’s important is to have senior management support and to link these initiatives to leadership and company culture. Without this senior management support, these initiatives will not be sustainable and not successful.

1. I think to get buy-in you have to consider the value to the business when developing and designing these programs. Mental health issues have become one of the main drivers for long-term absenteeism. In regard to performance and productivity presenteeism is an even greater issue, so this is something you have to address and make specific and graphic for your company. Think about what you want to achieve and how you want to measure progress?

2. The topic has to become part of leadership culture and thus training. It is interesting to see that once you start communicating about these things in more detail, you get a lot of examples from leaders, be it their own personal experiences or examples from within their teams. At Airbus Operations GmbH for example we offer mental first aid training to all managers and we also look at the link between health and sustainable performance in our health-focused leadership training program.

What are some of the most interesting advances you've observed recently when it comes to the workplace mental health and wellbeing agenda?

In regard to the public mindset I think, especially when I look at the UK, over the last few years there has been quite a change both in the perception of this topic and in the speak-up culture. With people like Geoff McDonaldand lots of others being role-models and leading this change, we start to see a shift to creating a climate where people feel safer to speak about mental health. Maybe not yet enough, but moving in the right direction.

Also, there is a tremendous pull from employees. If you look at the demand for things like mindfulness, employee resource groups and so forth, there is quite some energy on this topic as well from the bottom-up.

Technically speaking there are more and more options and services on the digital side through digital platforms, apps, etc. I think we´ve not yet really seen what is possible in that regard (e.g. thinking about EAP and AI support), but mental health is increasingly going digital.

What is your personal vision for the next generation of workplace wellbeing?

My personal vision is that we really have a complete integration of all the different aspects touching health in the work place, be it the physical design, the team and leadership culture or the offers related to health and wellbeing. Companies are not just mitigating health risks but are working on a great employee experience, thus boosting engagement and productivity. These offers will be much more individualised and not necessarily linked to a physical site; using digital tools to bring these to a more flexible work force.

Where do you think we still need more fresh thinking on the topic of mental health in the workplace?

1. I think in general we often think about (not just mental) health in the workplace still too much in terms of mitigating risk of work-related injuries and illnesses. This is important, of course, but this also limits the scope of what we can do. I think we have to see that this is not just about mitigating risk, but about enabling energy at work as well as at home. There are already a lot of examples out there e.g. in regard to using positive psychology in everyday business life, but we have to still get much better at that positive narrative.

2. On the digital side I think we have to be more open in looking for opportunities that technology can bring.

3. And last but not least, over the next years and decades we will see a strong transformation of the ways we work in the future. So, we have so start already now to think about what that means in regard to mental and emotional health and develop strategies to keep up with these changes in terms of health.

6) What are the three key takeaways you would like to gain from being part of Mad World in October?

1. I am always keen to learn from other perspectives and other experiences, so just learning and understanding more about the topic from some great leaders in that field is one.

2. The second is to see what is possible in the digital arena, what are best practices already working or new developments to look out for?

3. And last but not least I would like to take a glimpse into the future to better understand what is relevant not just now, but within the next years to come and how are others preparing for that?

On that inspiring note, we thank Kai for his time and look forward to continuing the conversation at Mad World in October.

Don’t forget to registerif you haven’t already booked your place. We look forward to seeing you there.

You can read more about Dr Kai Haashere.

About the authors:As well as being a member of the Mad World Advisory Board, Petra Velzeboeris an integrative counsellor, executive coach, speaker and training facilitator with extensive experience helping leaders create mentally healthy workplaces. Prior to her role as a mental health consultant, Petra was clinical director for an EAP provider, managed youth mental health projects in the charity sector as well as a private therapy practice since 2009. She has a MSc in Psychodynamics of Human Development and is excited about developing technology tools to enhance empathy and compassion. http://petravelzeboer.com

Claire Farrowis the Conference Director for Mad World. She drives the content for both Mad World News and for the Mad World Forum.


Mad World Team

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