Businesses must act now on mental health, says Sir Cary

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Mental health is now the biggest single cause of illness in the UK and costing the economy £120bn a year, warns Sir Cary Cooper.

Speaking at his lecture at Alliance Manchester Business School, the 50th anniversary Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health said one in four people will at some point suffer from mental health and it had become a bottom line issue for business.

During his lecture he laid bare the dramatic impact that the recession had had on people’s health in this country. “In this post-recession era fewer people are doing more work, feeling more job insecure and working longer hours than ever before. The UK has the longest working hours in Europe. We have been Americanised to think that long means efficient, but it does not. We have to work smart, not long.”

In such an environment Sir Cary said we needed managers who “know how to manage people”, but said too often this wasn’t happening. “The big question for us in management is do we have the right managers to manage a workforce that is so mean and so lean? Do we have the socially and interpersonally skilled managers to do this? In my view we do not. Sixty to seventy per cent of the UK management force are socially incompetent.”

He said one of the answers was giving staff more flexibility. “We need managers to say ‘fine, work from home, here are your objectives’. The problem is too often that managers don’t trust people and also want their funny little empires. Yet people who work flexibly actually tend to work longer hours.”

Sir Cary said businesses that properly understood the wellness agenda were already seeing the benefits. “Companies that report well-being and job satisfaction levels in their annual company reports outperform those companies that don’t, and that gap is getting wider. The business case for wellness programmes is now overwhelming. This is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it is a ‘have to have’.”

Prior to Sir Cary’s lecture Lord David Alliance, whose family made a landmark donation to the school this year, addressed the audience and pledged the continued support of his family to the business school.

He said: “It is a great honour for me for the business school to be known as Alliance MBS. I owe a lot to Manchester. I came to this city with only £14 in my pocket and over 40 years, with the help of local people, I built one of the largest textile companies in the world.

“Being here knowing that I have not had the privilege of a higher education myself is emotional for me. The business school is very close to my heart and to my children who are here tonight, and they will be supporting the school for years to come.”

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