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Dr.Tim Marsh | How to Optimise Mental Health and Well-being at Work for Health and Safety

Dr.Tim Marsh | How to Optimise Mental Health and Well-being at Work | (Expert Interview #14)

“We all know about good diet, exercise, good sleep, and mindful meditation, what organisations can do is facilitate it by making it easy to do”  – Dr. Tim Marsh

This week we welcome Dr. Tim Marsh back to the podcast with a discussion on mental health in the workplace and what can be done to help workers optimise, and take ownership of their mental well-being when at work and in personal life.

Tim is a long term content partner for the HSE Network and we are delighted to welcome him back for a fourth podcast all with the aim of promoting good health and safety practices.

Read full transcript

– [Paul] And we’re absolutely delighted today to interview Dr. Tim Marsh, the managing director of Anker and Marsh. Tim, you’ve been heavily involved with the HSE Global Series events for a year now and I’ve got to thank you so much for your commitment and I think we will work well as partners. But I think what I love most is your take on a holistic approach to workplace safety health and wellbeing.

And some of the talks that you’re doing at the moment, the books that you’ve written are a credit to yourself and to the business and I just want to say well done and thank you. Not to sound patronizing but it’s incredible.

[Tim] Especially since you haven’t read it either or anything. So, you know.

– Oh, there’s always time to start.

– And, two, three, cut, well, thank you.

– I’ve got a flight. I’ve got a flight. So I’ll start banging into it. Listen. So let’s get started. Question number one. As you’re aware, I mean, the accident rate has plateaued.

There are a lot of, I feel like processes, technologies, reporting techniques used in safety and health to keep people safe which is all well and good. More so than ever, we’ve seen a huge increase in health and wellbeing issues. I mean, I’ve got personal opinions with the rate of technology, is that detrimental?

Though some people see it as helpful we taking away the human factors of performance and that sort of natural cause of understanding, gut feeling, whether there’s an issue or there’s a problem. But, again, I’m not a safety professional, so I’m looking to the professionals to educate us. But if we look at mental health and wellbeing as a reason for the current incident and accident rate, would you say that is a big part to play?

– There’s two aspects to mental health I think why is it so many people are so interested in it. The first one is increasingly, we’re becoming aware of the fact that for every person who is killed in work, 35 will kill themselves, 35 working-age people will kill themselves in the UK. And the ratios are similar worldwide.

And obviously, in terms of disruption and loss and cost and human cost, that’s colossal. So why wouldn’t you focus on it? There’s the second reason, of course, is when we’re talking about getting the best out of people. I mean, the stuff I was doing about pies and being switched on or having a bad day, I mean, a good day at work, having a bad day at work. If you’re hanging by a thread, if you’re teetering towards the edge of needing to be referred to, you know, to work health and so on, the likelihood of you producing your best is tiny, you know.

You’re just looking at the clock, you just want it to be five o’clock so you can get down to the pub. You’re not going to be giving any discretionary effort, you know, and compliance itself is discretionary a lot of the time. But you’re certainly not doing that above the line organizational citizenship behavior stuff. And of course, you’re distracted. And if you’re distracted, you’re much more likely to make some sort of an error which could be hurting yourself or switching the wrong thing off, or missing the opportunity to empower somebody around you or ask them if they’re alright, you know.

You’re just tunnel vision and getting to five o’clock.

– Yeah. It makes sense and as an introduction of mental health, there’s, I guess, controversy over this subject. I spoke to a few people over the course of the event. Do we think this introduction of perhaps mental health first aiders in the workplace? Some say they could be perceived perhaps as the magic bullet if you like. Do you think it’s going to go and have that much of an impact?

– You know, they can be very helpful in setting the tone. You know, it’s okay to not be okay, it’s okay to talk. They can be really useful and referring people to work health and specialist advice employment systems programs and so on. But, you know, a way of looking at it, I think the criticism is, you know, if I work in a factory, an old lumber and steel works where I come from, that hot metal flying everywhere, you’ve got forklifts, trucks bombing back and forth, you know, all that sort of stuff.

You know, if I’m sending my kid to work in that factory and somebody says, “Well, don’t worry about those risks because we’ve got five really highly skilled first aiders out there.” You know, I’m not going to be reassured by that and it’s exactly the same now in work. If I’m putting huge amounts of psychological pressure on you, you know, because the tasks are too onerous, their demands are conflicting and vague, there’s no emotional intelligence from my frontline supervisors, etc., etc., you know, all the stuff that can cause stress at work, having mental health first aiders wandering around with sticking plasters isn’t going to get us very far at all.

– I totally agree.

– It’s got to be part of the holistic and heuristic approach.

– You know, people have to take ownership for their own mental health. I think that’s the most important thing, right?

– They do and organize it, but we all know what we need to do. But there’s not a person on the planet who doesn’t know about good diet, about good sleep, about taking exercise, mindful meditation. There isn’t a person on the planet who doesn’t know that, you know. What organizations can do is they can facilitate it by making it easy to do.

– Sure. And encourage it.

– And encourage it. I mean, obviously, you get the people that go to the gym anyway get to go in the gym for free, you know. But, you know, a lot of studies show that if there is a metric out there, if there are measures being taken that senior management take seriously, like riding bikes. People tend to ride bikes more, you know. And you can facilitate it. So a very interesting study of why people rode bikes in London to work, the third reason was having somewhere safe and dry to store them.

The second reason was that they had a place they could shower and get ready for work if they were sweaty or wet. And the first reason was that management were interested in the scheme and checked the scores. It was effortless, wasn’t it? You get what you demonstrate you really, really want. The sixth reason was that people thought it was good for their health. So, you know, there’s a lot that organizations can do to set the scene and facilitate and encourage and nurture.

– Yeah. It’s funny you say that actually because when I used to work at an employer in Bristol, I used to travel an hour and a half to work in my car. And I’d get to work sweating, stressed, I was a heavy smoker at the time, I’d gone through 15 cigarettes, you know, and I’d turn up for work just, and I wouldn’t be on my best, you know. Granted, I wasn’t operating machinery, I was just picking up a phone, but, you know, it would be very difficult to hurt myself doing that.

But it’s crazy that that’s a really easy process to bring in, the cycling scheme just to help with management of health. But I guess, let’s look at leadership qualities. It’s a top-down approach perhaps from a culture perspective. All teams are different but I guess culture is king. How do you feel organizations and business leaders can maybe create the right culture within the business?

– Well, that’s very simple really, you know. It’s safely different to talk about the vital importance of dialog, quality dialog. Couldn’t agree more, you know. So what a leader needs to have the habits of doing is always trying to learn. You know, in the presentation just now, we talked about Matthew Syed’s black box thinking. Learning is key. An adult, objective, analytical approach to what goes wrong because things are going wrong all the time.

So a sensible adult approach to that is key. So that begets things like asking why curiously, not aggressively. You can ask questions like is there anything slow, inconvenient, or uncomfortable? Are we getting this done safely or healthily? You can ask, you know, the classic question, you know, you want to work well and safely and healthily? I want you to do that too of course.

There are all sorts of reasons. What you need? And if you’ve got leaders that are in a habit of doing that, they won’t be going fairly wrong unless the transformational leadership stuff, you know. They’re leading by example at all times, so they might as well be doing it well. Are they coaching rather than telling to get that fire and empowered. Are they praising rather than criticizing? Are they communicating well?

You know. And if they’re doing all of those things, they are creating an environment where dialog is good, where people are likely to be switched on, engaged, energized, and so on.

– Sure. That’s brilliant. Well, listen Tim, that really helps and I’m sure for the benefit of the network, if you were to summarize what we’ve discussed through sort of key takeaways, do you think in terms of how we can improve mental health across the workplace and create a better culture, how would you summarize in sort of three key points?

– Three key points for improving mental…well, I think minding people would say it has to be okay to not be okay. So you’ve got to encourage dialog. The world is full of error, people are full of error. A mature, objective, analytical approach to that is absolutely key. That’s two points.

And the third point is, you know, have some fun, you know. And first, we were saying, you know, the great thing about your conference is everybody has lots of fun, you know. There’s lots of good speakers. But also, it’s a lot of fun. Everybody likes being here. And that really engenders the right atmosphere, the right culture.

– Sure. I mean, it’s such a sensitive subject in some ways, but it is nice to inject that sort of passion and fun into it because it just lightens the tone, perhaps, it gets people to open up. So I know you’re a master at that, brilliant workshop, definitely one of my favorites.

So I’m really excited to work with you again in the future. Thank you for joining us on HSE network today and we look forward to you returning soon Tim.

– Yeah. Really, really welcome Paul.

– Thank you very much. Cheers.

– Bye.