Amy McKeown identifies the skills and expertise needed to thrive in these newly created roles

A workplace health, mental health or wellbeing strategy is now an essential part of an organisation’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP). It is no longer a ‘nice to have’.

Health and mental health, and who pays for healthcare, is going to be the next big societal issue we have to deal with. It is the elephant in the room.

For organisations in the United Kingdom, the direction is clear. Health and mental health reporting is now included in the UK government’s procurement ‘Social Value model’ requiring large organisations who wish to sell services to the government to start to report on how they are looking after their people. A global standard on Psychosocial Risk (ISO 45003) was released last year, becoming a legal requirement in some countries already. And increasingly, conversations about health and mental health are becoming wrapped into the ‘S’ of ESG or Corporate Social Responsibility and organisational resilience, as well as profitability and competitiveness.

It is a question of when, not if, an organisation strategically and thoughtfully creates and implements a comprehensive end-to-end health and mental health strategy. You can’t run a healthy business without healthy people.

Writing the Health, Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy

The big challenge for many organisations is who should write their health, mental health and wellbeing strategy and what it should contain. The ‘who’ varies dependent on the organisation, but it is not unusual for an Executive Assistant (EA) or Chief of Staff to be handed the task and the responsibility for employee health and wellbeing.

I have noticed in my work (as a strategist, consultant, strategic partner, and mentor to people across the industry) that many of the people I work with have come from one background, or a ‘passion’ for health, mental health and wellbeing.

For example, I have worked with and mentored many Wellbeing Leads (including EAs) who have been given this role and are ‘learning on the job’. They are experts in the field that they have come from (EA or Chief of Staff, HR, Diversity and Inclusion, Health and Safety, Reward and Benefit) but don’t often have training or understanding in all the different multi-dimensional aspects of heath, mental health and wellbeing strategies required to do it properly or in a way that creates organisational change. There is a big skills gap. Especially with strategic thinking.

Workplace health, mental health and wellbeing is a complex beast. Doing it right means creating a strategy or programme that involves numerous parts of an organisation, managing different and varied stakeholders and speaking many different languages.

The skills gap

There is currently a skills gap where the pace of evolution in Wellbeing has not been matched by training or skills-led courses for the people working within it. The gap is less to do with knowledge or interest in health, mental health or wellbeing; there is plenty of that, which is why so many people are passionate about working in this area.

What is missing is the knowledge of how to translate this into organisational structures, systems and strategies – how to launch and implement these strategies. Even those who have come from line roles in an organisation’s function can be siloed and may not necessarily have the skills or understanding of how to change things at a system level, using organisation-wide thinking and working.

There are a number of things that are crucial for the success of any health or mental health strategy. These are:

  • An owner and driver
  • A senior sponsor to champion the strategy
  • Clear roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders
  • Clear foundations – vision and principles
  • Inclusive and diverse approach
  • Adequate budget and resources

What Does a Health, Mental Health or Wellbeing Lead Look Like?

Rapid interest in Wellbeing has meant that many organisations now have a ‘Wellbeing Lead’ or something similar. These are newly created roles which are very exciting to see but have the following challenges:

Wellbeing and …

We are seeing Wellbeing roles being tacked on to other roles – for example, an EA or HR professional doing Wellbeing on the side whilst not losing any of their previous workload or responsibility. We are seeing the rise of roles such as Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing, and Health, Safety and Wellbeing.

Lack of consistency

There is a huge lack of consistency in what the role of Wellbeing Lead is. Often the role is created with the intention of raising awareness of health, organising Wellbeing events and creating a strategy but can morph over time into ‘all things to all men’. Many of the Leads I work with, in addition to running all an organisation’s Wellbeing programme, can become the person who everyone contacts with problems, questions and queries due to their prominence talking about health and mental health.

I have seen an example where a Wellbeing Lead, brought in to create and write a strategy, spent 80% of their time counselling people across the organisation in crisis. Without their own support. Or the organisation recognising this.

Career progression

This raises an issue increasingly talked about: how to progress a career in health, mental health and wellbeing. With roles being new and people ‘pivoting’ into the industry, I get asked a lot how to help people find their next step. There is not yet an obvious staircase, though.

How should HR fit in with Wellbeing?

Where Wellbeing sits in an organisation is also inconsistent. In most cases this is within the HR function, as Wellbeing is seen as ‘people’ related, so it makes sense for many organisations to house it there. Whilst this can bring many benefits, such as an understanding of the wider People strategy and the use of HR policy and process to make behaviour change, it can also limit an approach with Wellbeing being shaped by the part of the organisation it sits in.

Health and mental health has the chance to become the sum of all its parts. With people working across Wellbeing from so many diverse backgrounds, we have a real ability to build a multi-disciplinary approach which combines skills, knowledge and experience from each.

To maximise this, though, we need to be honest about where we are now and what gaps we need to fill. The skills and experience gap is an immediate one. I can think of few other roles that can be obtained from ‘passion’ alone, without any background or experience. Combining this passion with core skills in how to build and implement organisational strategies and programmes is imperative as these roles and the industry develop. Especially as there are governance and safety risks and legal implications when organisations become invested in their people’s health, mental health and wellbeing.

It is also important to bring in the right help and expertise to support you. Writing a strategy can be overwhelming at the best of times; however, there are so many health and wellbeing providers out there, each promising the earth, that it can be hard to know where to begin. It does not need to be complicated. The best strategies are simple, structured, thought through and have a focus on what is going to have an impact on the health, mental health or wellbeing of employees.

Practical training should be combined with a clear framework (perhaps regulated by an industry body) for what different Wellbeing roles are, what is expected in them and what skills and expertise are needed. Consistency across this and the development of a clear career path and progression would build standardisation across the industry, help people develop and grow within it and build credibility for all the amazing and progressive work being done and the people doing it.

‘Do Workplace Health Right’ is Amy’s 6-week practical, skills-led course on all aspects of creating and implementing an organisational health, mental health or wellbeing strategy and programme. The next cohort will run from late October to December 2023, and Executive Support Magazine readers can get a discount. Sign up at

Amy McKeown is a strategic consultant, engaging speaker and respected writer within health, mental health, wellbeing and women’s health. Specialising in creating and delivering measurable strategies which are both innovative and realistic, Amy coaches ... (Read More)

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