Poor mental health at work is a growing crisis in the ad industry and across the world. But could collecting and reporting data on worker’s mental health be the key to holding employers accountable and inciting change? The Drum speaks to industry leaders to find out more.
Last week, Josh Krichefski, the global chief operating officer and EMEA chief executive officer of MediaCom, called for it to become mandatory that businesses with more than 50 employees collect data on their staff’s mental health and wellbeing in the hopes that more can be done to address the issue of poor mental health in the workplace.
However, the question remains whether data collection and reporting is really the solution to tackling such deep-rooted and systemic issues such as poor mental health within workplace culture.
To discuss the methodology of data collection, and whether this is a viable way to hold the industry accountable, The Drum speaks to Krichefski, Nabs and other network agency leaders to discern whether data collection really is the best place to start when it comes to tackling the industry’s mental health crisis.
Mental health is a workplace issue
Krichefski’s statement, which was rolled out to the industry in an email last week, coincided with Mental Health Awareness Week and follows the UK government’s announcement that £17m of mental health funding would be made available to improve wellbeing support in schools and colleges and to identify, address and treat wellbeing challenges at a young age.
In his statement, Krichefski says that more needs to be done to combat mental health and wellbeing challenges across all age groups, and is calling on all businesses with more than 50 employees to collect and report their mental health data, and for it to be a law to do so by the end of 2022.
“The issue of mental health is centralized – though not exclusively – in the working world. People struggle because, too often, we look for quick fixes,” he says.
“Over the past year, we have changed how we work, how we interact with family and friends, how we socialize and how we live our life. And while no one could have prepared for the pandemic, it has firmly shone a light on the importance of people’s mental health.”
Data collection through the use of surveys and polls on the subject of mental health in the workplace has increased since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the results of The Drum’s own recent survey revealing that marketers and agency staff say employers are not providing enough support for worker’s mental health.
Krichefski says it is results like this that are the reason behind his call for the mandatory reporting of mental health data. “It’s never too late to talk about mental health and it’s certainly not too late to act on it – and by working alongside peers, healthcare experts and leaders in this field, we can effect real change and monitor progress (good and bad) properly.”
How would it be done?
According to Krichefski’s demands, the collection of mental health data would take place annually through the distribution of a standardized, anonymous survey. The results would then be debated in parliament by no later than 2022. While the conception of the scheme is in its early days, Krichefski suggests that much like the mandatory reporting of gender pay gap data in the UK, his call is that all medium-large businesses (more than 50 employees) should take part – concluding that “so many of WPP’s agencies would fit that bracket”.
Krichefski says that the logistics and methodology of the reporting is something that would need to be formalized and fine-tuned over the coming years, but that it would likely consist of a combination of employer and worker survey input.
Considering how the surveys might be executed to encourage maximum participation and accurate results, Krichefski suggests that questions would need to be unbiased and broad, and on subjects such as levels of happiness and comfort in the workplace, as well as around workplace initiatives in place at companies.
Diana Tickell, chief executive officer of Nabs, believes that the methodology of the surveys would be crucial to it being successful.
“You need to measure a range of employee experiences to track the contributing factors to mental health, alongside more specific HR data like sickness, and there needs to be a significant amount of trust in how data is being collected, anonymized and used.
“The best result would be to create a supportive environment where those who are experiencing mental health challenges can thrive. It’s not realistic, empathetic or productive to try to ‘delete’ mental health challenges from your workforce. We all experience challenges throughout our lives. It’s about understanding what the drivers are, working to reduce unnecessary pressures and putting systems in place to help people where they are.”
Should it be done?
Answering whether the reporting of mental health data is something that ought to be mandatory across the industry, Tickell says that data should only be collected if it is to “ensure an organizational culture that supports employee mental health”.
“Nabs would ask everyone to ensure that mental health data is collected and action plans developed as part of their wider diversity and inclusion strategies – reporting this is then a natural next step,” she concludes.
On the agency side, Jeremy Hine, chief executive officer of MullenLowe Group UK, agrees that the collection of data could provide vital information on worker’s mental health and wellbeing, but that it cannot always tell senior leaders everything they need to know.
“There’s an interesting quantitative v qualitative debate here. Monitoring our progress via a standardized survey could be excellent, but does it give us the full picture? Often it’s difficult for senior leaders to have a concrete understanding of our workforce’s mental health, so harvesting data would help to improve this.”
However, Hine concedes that the subject of mental health is a complex topic, and not one that can be handled by data alone. “I believe an essential blend of data and open and constructive communication alongside empathetic leadership will give us the best possible outcome. Don’t treat your employees as statistics – lean on your managers and shadow boards for deeper insights into your workforce’s mental health.”
Ewen MacPherson, group chief people officer at Havas UK, points out that one potential issue with uptake might be the extent to which employees feel comfortable revealing their struggles to their workplace, and that would rely heavily on the company culture and policies already in place.
He says: “It’s not only a question of trust; health, and mental health, in particular, is a very personal subject – even with a strong foundation of trust and psychological safety, I expect employees will still closely guard their privacy.”
Would it work?
There is no doubt that the last year has highlighted the impact work can have on mental health, and everyone is in agreement that something needs to be done.
Speaking on whether mental health data collection would be rolled out across WPP, chief executive officer Mark Read told The Drum that “making mental wellbeing a priority in the workplace helps to build an inclusive culture that supports our people”.
He says: “That’s why I was proud that last week WPP became a founding partner of the Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health and why we’re continuing to work across WPP to ensure we’re putting in place the right assistance and resources our people need.”
Tickell from Nabs concludes that the key to supporting staff with their mental health, or indeed any issue that affects people at work, is the implementation of robust policies that will support staff “based on a deeper understanding of the practices that contribute to poor mental health. Being accountable on their plans ensures they are followed through”.
However, while the collection of mental health data would doubtless provide employers with relevant information that would help better support workers, as Havas’s MacPherson says: “Perhaps you don’t always need to know the scale of a problem in order to know it exists and then to fix it. If we are widely accepting that a significant enough problem exists, or has the potential to exist – as I believe we are – then simply knowing that should be enough.”