It’s a Wonderful (workplace) Life?

I was heartened to read that Virgin Trains and the Rethink Mental Illness charity in the UK have recreated the script of “A Wonderful Life” at 14 British railway stations (painted on the platforms) as a way to highlight the film’s essential theme of life’s struggle. The 70-year old film is often picked out as one of the most memorable Christmas films, even though its subject is so much more than seasonal fare. Not only is James Stewart’s performance a masterpiece, the film’s subject matter was way ahead of its time in dealing with male mental health. Read the BBC’s article here.

Estimates vary about the cost of mental ill health to UK industry:
I’ve seen figures in a range between £33bn and £140bn.

Frankly, the exact value of this hidden issue is somewhat irrelevant given that at either end of the spectrum it’s a Big Number. Around 14% of all sick days are accounted for by illnesses connected to mental health, and these have impacts on absenteeism from work, employee attrition, reductions in workplace productivity, withdrawal and a lack of team playing by individuals, disruption to business as usual and costs of drafting in additional temporary or redeployed employees.

Primeast recently ran and hosted an event to explore mental wellbeing (MWB) with our partner Headtorch.  They are a specialist mental wellbeing consultancy offering at work mental health solutions which champion organisational awareness and strategies for reducing the incidence and effects of poor MWB.

A key discussion for participants was about the fundamental link between an organisation’s values,
its leadership style, its culture and the management of mental wellbeing.

We can see this link clearly in this definition of  Engagement – “… employees are committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of wellbeing” and of employee wellbeing – “… every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, is able to make a contribution to her or his community” (Engage For Success 2014 | Wellbeing And Engagement – www.engageforsuccess.org).

The role of leaders is essential. Organisational leaders need to become aware of the stats and facts, acknowledge the issue (and not duck it), understand what leadership behaviours and attitudes support MWB and practise to become an effective role model for those behaviours and attitudes.

Further discussion confirmed the importance of setting the right cultural climate – creating a place where it is safe to talk about personal matters and to be able to articulate personal concerns without fear of reprisal. We also explored the importance of the employee experience, recognising that the employer – and its leaders in particular – has a moral as well as a commercial imperative to engage its people meaningfully and authentically.

This naturally led to a review of the critical importance of values.  Everyone agreed that if personal and organisational values are aligned, engagement tends to be higher. Values alignment also drives intrinsic motivation and personal commitment, which, in turn, leads to higher levels of operational openness and trust, as well as a growth mindset. Organisational culture is therefore a fundamental differentiator for success and impacts on our whole approach to MWB.

Primeast’s preferred approach to understanding culture is values based, through the Barrett Values Centre cultural transformation tools (CTT®).  This enables organisations to explore the gap between its current culture and the desired culture identified by its employees, leaders and stakeholders (www.valuescentre.com). Taking a values-oriented approach is particularly useful because values are relatively unchanging over time, express something fundamental about our personal motivations and drivers and enable our beliefs to be articulated.

Putting workplace mental wellbeing at the heart of our organisation means that we can:

  • Make ours a great place to work
  • Enable people to do what they do best, every day
  • Create time and place for respite
  • Adopt a positive psychology approach to work and the workplace
  • Recognise that human capital is not an inexhaustible resource
  • Develop practical workplace and workday strategies to reduce absence, attrition and ‘presenteeism’.

Putting workplace MWB at the heart of our organisation also places an onus on leaders to be humble, people-focussed, genuine and concerned. Where the organisation’s culture is expressed in terms of the values it holds authentically to be important, it becomes much more difficult for leaders to ignore their colleagues’ wellbeing and much easier for them to be held accountable when they are doing so.

It becomes even easier to remember that the best thing
someone can hear when they are not in a great place is: “I’m listening!”


It is this about which James Stewart’s character, George Bailey, is reminded – that someone is there to listen and to underline the importance of family, colleagues, love and friendship.

David Evans, Head of Organisational Consulting at Primeast.