Inaugural Lecture with Professor Sir Cary Cooper


Inaugural Lecture with Professor Sir Cary Cooper

Posted on 19 April 2020

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Inaugural Lecture with Professor Sir Cary Cooper focused on “Health and wellbeing at work” hosted by Kings College London. Professor Cooper (Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Manchester University) deliver an excellent and insightful lecture.

One statistic which I found astounding and really showed the importance of the lecture was the fact that 57% of absences at work are the result of work-related stress. Professor Cooper also underlined the fact that the UK is also seeing a major rise in ‘presentism’ – something I had not previously had much insight into. With awareness around mental health being as high as it ever has been. Efforts to understand and increase wellbeing have surged recently.

57% of absences at work are the result of work-related stress

Does this mean they have been successful? Carey pointed out that unfortunately not. He began by relaying a story from a recent radio talk show he was invited onto. The presenter explained how statistics have been showing a reduction in the number of sick related absences, surely a positive for the UK? Sadly, Carey responded this was not true. This is actually a reflection of an increase in levels of presentism. Individuals have become too scared not go to work. He placed this down to increasing fears over job security, and that unfortunately work-related stress was still a very prominent issue.

The causes of stress

Research has established the natures of work-related stress. Too much or too little work, role ambiguity, too much responsibility, too little responsibility, time deadlines, workplaces relationships just to name a few. I'm sure readers of this can think of plenty more too. Carey focused on the latter of the above examples. The main cause of stress is the relationship you have with your boss, as ultimately, they hold the greatest influence over your job security. This relationship, on top of the number of other motivators for stress in the workplace lead to an increasingly stressed out employee. One that is too scared to speak up over fears of losing their job.

Why is this happening?

Carey believed that much of this was attributable to a focus on promoting managers based on technical competence. Rather than those with stronger levels of emotional intelligence that can understand and identify individuals who are struggling at work. Carey drew attention to how in recent times we have seen companies attempt to tackle these problems with strategies such as mindfulness at lunch times, or creating breakout rooms, bringing in ping pong tables, and daily dress down. However, these attempts do not tackle the underlying issues of wellbeing.

What needs to be done?

A greater focus on setting a culture of wellbeing is required. This means companies need to implement wellbeing into their overall business strategy. I have to say I agree, with work related stress leading to figures showing a large portion of the UK workforce being unproductive at work, and greater levels of staff turnover. Implementing a well-structured wellbeing program can seriously reduce the costs of an organisation, as well as improve the health of its work force. The lecture concluded with Carey explaining how he had been working hard with human resources departments on changing the way that wellbeing is approached. But, emphasised how it is not a quick fix and requires time to fully implement what needs to be a cultural change within organisations

Thanks to the team that organised the event at Kings College London and the other panel speakers including Dr Judith Grant, Director of Health and Wellbeing, Mace Group, Professor Cheryl Haslam, Professor of Health Psychology, Loughborough University and Dr Michael Clinton, Reader in Work Psychology & HRM and thank you to Professor Carey for what was a very insightful look at workplace wellbeing.

Share this article