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Podcast: The Real Cost of Overlooking Employee Wellbeing

Colleagues stood in a break area having a chat over a cup of tea

Poor mental health isn't just a personal issue; it's a significant organisational risk that affects productivity, employee retention, and workplace safety. The latest RiskACUMEN podcast from RiskSTOP explores this important topic.

How connected do employees feel to their company culture? Mental health expert Peter Larkum joins RiskSTOP’s Johnny Thomson to share insights on the importance of fostering positive connections at work and managing the impacts of social media on mental health.

The pair discuss how proactive engagement with employees' mental wellbeing can help create a positive working environment and improve performance. Listen to the podcast now to understand the real cost of overlooking employee wellbeing. 

"Peter brings a wealth of expertise, making mental health issues relatable and actionable for our listeners," says Johnny Thomson. "We are grateful for his participation and insights."

If you would prefer to read rather than listen to this episode, please see the transcript below.

Follow RiskSTOP on LinkedIn here for updates.


Johnny Thomson  00:01

Mental health affects all aspects of our lives. Not only work, but also how we manage risks. Hello, everyone. I'm Johnny Thomson from the RiskSTOP Group and welcome to our RiskACUMEN podcast, which offers thoughtful insight around risk management. A recent study from the Mental Health Foundation found that every pound invested in promoting wellbeing at work, returns around nine pound in productivity savings. Tackling mental health at work can also reduce injuries and prevent other costly errors. Today, I'm joined by Peter Larkum, who has worked, not only with us at RiskSTOP Group, but also the NHS, the Ministry of Defence, Experian, and Boots, to address mental health issues at work. Hi, Peter, great to catch up with you once again.


Peter Larkum  00:56

Thank you very much for having me.


Johnny Thomson  00:57

Now, Peter, we've spoken on the RiskACUMEN podcast before so I'm going to quickly skip over the usual, 'What is it you do?', question and simply say that you are, of course, a well known speaker on today's topic of discussion and an award winner for your mental health first aid and mentality training courses. What I would like to do is to jump straight into your frustration, shall we say, with the idea that tackling mental health is kind of flavour of the month? It's not, is it? Because what it certainly is, is a serious risk that needs to be addressed through organisational culture, right?


Peter Larkum  01:39

So it's one of those things that when Mental Health Awareness Day and Mental Health Awareness Week pop up, I go quiet. It's a weird one. Because, for me, it's an everyday conversation, all the time. And I see lots of people. And it does feel, it feels a little bit like jumping on the bandwagon. And I suppose I've seen the conversation of mental health shift and change from when I started back in 2009 as Mental Health Trainer, but before that, 1997 was when I started in this field of emotional literacy and wellbeing. And I've been talking about these topics for such a long time, where it is still a very difficult topic to quantify how the prevention of mental health issues can actually be quantified in their costs. And I like those statistics that you gave about the prevention of mental health illnesses costing, or for the investment of one pound, the saving can be up to ten pounds plus when it's done as an organisational thing. But I still get people on my courses who say, 'Is my company sending me on this course just so they can tick that box and say, look, we've got our mental health trained people on site.' And so it is still there as a conversation of, are companies taking this seriously? Or is it simply look, we're being told we've got to do it? So, let's just do it. So yeah, it is a little bit of a bee in my bonnet, if I can call it that.


Johnny Thomson  03:29

Okay, well, I'm glad I've given you the opportunity to get that off your chest, Peter. It's always good to help the helper. You know what I mean?


Peter Larkum  03:39

A dog's not for Christmas, it's for life. It's that kind of feeling. Mental health isn't just for when you're feeling down. It's for acknowledging that you're feeling up as well.


Johnny Thomson  03:50

Yeah and I guess it's often people in my position, who were partially to blame for that, you know, in the kind of whole marketing arena and so on. You know, we jump from one topic to another, and it almost feels like that, doesn't it? It's like that's the buzz topic for now. Now, let's move on to something else. But there's got to be real substance behind this.


Peter Larkum  04:12

I think the more people understand that mental health is simply good days and bad days. And the ability to acknowledge whether you're having a good day or a bad day. And for anyone out there, if you've had a good day, welcome to your mental health and if you've had a bad day, welcome to the other part of your mental health. But when we are talking about mental health issues, and when mental health and poor mental health is really negatively impacting on people's lives, we're then talking about when a bad day becomes bad weeks, and it just doesn't go away. And that's when poor mental health has a significantly negative impact on everyone, not just the individual but all the people who are around on that individual as well.


Johnny Thomson  05:02

And as part of that, Peter, I understand there's kind of two key issues that you've been picking up on recently. And the first is to do with people connecting at work. Talk to me about that one first, please.


Peter Larkum  05:19

Well, I think I'm still trying to put my head together on this one. And it's going to be part of the the Mind Shift Forum. So over the last few years, I've been doing a monthly email to my network. And if people want to get involved with that they can. I'm trying to keep the conversation moving on this month by month basis, so it's not just a once a year, let's talk about our mental health. So we're going to be tackling the conversation around what does positive connection look like, with the people around us. So we often talk about attachment being children to parents and families. But actually, when you look at a work culture, we need to start looking at how we feel connected to the people that we work with, and the company that we work for. Because one of the things that's been happening with hybrid working, is when people are joining a company, and yet, all they know of that company is online. It can often become quite difficult for them to feel embedded into the company culture or into the team culture. And it can take either a very long time, or people simply don't stick around long enough to figure out what that culture is, or whether they really like it or not. So, we're seeing quite a significant change in the staff turnover process. With people coming on board, and not lasting the six months or not lasting much longer than a year to 18 months, before they're looking for something else, because they haven't quite managed to feel connected with the team or with the company that they have come on board with. So I'm still trying to understand my own view on this because I want to use the language around attachments, and connection, which goes right back to the first 1001 days of a child's life, and how that has a significant impact on adult mental health. And that we receive more praise in our first five years than we do for the rest of our life combined. Which is never a good statistic, really is it. And that actually, it's during those years, those first 1001 days and those first nought to five years, that we build the connections with our family and parents and kind of the carers that are in our lives. And those are the relationships that develop for the rest of our lives. And so when you start talking about it in the conversation of a workplace, the question is, well, how do we actually build positive connections with our team members, our managers, our colleagues our... All of it. So, I'm still trying to put it together. And it is my thought process for the whole of next year. So if you want to come on this journey with me, please feel free to join the Mind Shift Forum.


Johnny Thomson  08:15

So is what you're talking about, Peter, is it a sense of belonging? That's kind of the feeling that I'm getting, and I guess the security that goes with having a sense of belonging?


Peter Larkum  08:26

Yes. I mean, it was weird, because in the COVID, lockdown period, that never actually happened in the world, or certainly we don't talk about it as if it happened in the world anymore. We talked about the herd mentality and the herd mindset when you get a group of people who are then protecting the more vulnerable people around illnesses and things like that. But, we don't really talk about the herd mentality within our working culture. And actually when people feel connected when they feel safe and when they feel like they are able to be who they are, without fear of discrimination or judgement, or that someone's going to pick up on their insecurities. Their productivity, and their engagement shifts quite dramatically, in a positive way.


Johnny Thomson  09:15

Yeah. So it's almost like, what you're seeing is it's an important control measure to have that, you know, if you can look at it in a kind of technical way, that that sense of belonging is something that you should encourage and they should be conscious of as part of your organisational culture and encourage that, yeah?


Peter Larkum  09:36

I think for sure, and I think certainly when you're looking at the risk side of things. If you know that you've got someone who's got your back, who isn't going to judge you, isn't going to put you down, but who might see something that you don't see and catch it before it makes any damage. Then that's the kind of thing that we're talking about. We're talking about people that you can fully rely on, who have your best interests at heart, as well as the needs of the organisation and the growth of the organisation and everything else like that. But if I know that people around me care, I am much more likely to be real with them if I'm struggling.


Johnny Thomson  10:19

Right. Yeah, I'm picturing two different extremes here just to kind of illustrate your point, if you like, one end of the scales is that dog eat dog place, you know, where it's just absolute, out and out competition, and no one cares about the other. And then the other kind of genuine team working environment where everyone collectively pushes towards a purpose together, and they feel that, they feel like they're part of something, yeah?


Peter Larkum  10:50

And I think every time we hear the story, we know which team we want to be on. Do you know what I mean? We know what we want to be on. And yet we still find ourselves being the dog eat dog culture. And it becomes countercultural really, to actually care for one another. It's a weird one. We know, statistically and through all the research that's done, and for any good film that you've ever watched, the feel good moment, is when all the people who have been working against each other seem to pull together and actually achieve the goal that they're after. If only we could live it in our working lives and our family lives. It would be wonderful, wouldn't it?


Johnny Thomson  11:37

It would be. It certainly would be. Interesting one, Peter, definitely one to follow. Before I forget, the forum that you mentioned, how will people find that or how will people get involved in that?


Peter Larkum  11:48

Ah so, the Mind Shift Forum, you can sign up to the Mind Shift Forum, it's completely free. So it's a monthly email. And it's just to help put positive mental health practice into our daily lives. So you can go to And on the top of the website, there's a number of different topics, and it should have Mind Shift Forum or MSF, and you can click on that, and it will take you through the how to log in and sign up to that.


Johnny Thomson  12:17

Brilliant, excellent. Now, the second big thing you're finding is something that extends very much outside of work. And this one is to do with the pressure many parents and others who are responsible for children feel around online safety and social media. It's a big, big topic, isn't it, Peter?


Peter Larkum  12:40

Yes. Where do you want me to start, Johnny?


Johnny Thomson  12:45

At the beginning!


Peter Larkum  12:47

Goodness. Yeah, so I've become, and lots of people have started to come to me, because of their concern for young people, in general, and children, especially growing up in this world of social media. Where we seem to be presented with a very false reality of what life is and what life should be. But also, highlighting on some of the algorithms that are going on in the background of the social media world, of the likes of Facebook, and Instagram, and YouTube and all that. Which is where negative posts take more of our time than positive posts. Which means that we start getting fed negative news, if you like. And the way that it was described to me is that you come away from a friend's birthday party, and you put on social media, 'Oh, that was such a great party, really enjoyed it. Thanks, everyone love you.' And then somebody else who was also at the party went, 'Oh, what a mad party, everyone was drunk, all this kind of stuff was going off, you'd had the other person who fell into the pool.' And interestingly, the negative post will have more reaction and more time taken on it than the positive one. Now, because the companies in the background are looking to absorb your time, so your time is what's being bought by these social media companies. And so because you spend more time reading and sharing or liking or commenting on the negative post, they just start to feed you more negative posts. Isn't this a horrid reality?


Johnny Thomson  14:35

It's interesting. What's interesting for me that you've just, kind of, painted a picture of there is, we often blame social media companies and the algorithms for doing this but it's almost, what you're saying is, that we are to blame because we are the ones that are driving that.


Peter Larkum  14:55

Yes. And the algorithms are simply learning from our behaviour. And so you could say, 'Oh, yeah, but it's the AI bots.' Well, actually, all they're doing is they're collecting the data from how you and I use the materials. And when you put that into the world of young people, you can then begin to understand why so many young people are struggling with anxiety or with depression, if all they are getting is the negative stories. Because what young people are trying to do is they're trying to put out something that people will like. Because when you like something you go, 'Oh, people like what I'm doing, that makes me feel good.' But people don't spend time liking stuff, they spend time ripping stuff apart. And so even though you could get a teenage girl or teenage guy taking a photo of themselves, and people having a few thumbs up, they only get a few thumbs up. But if they were to do something nasty, they get more likes, and more thumbs up and more comments. And so they start to be fueled towards the negative vibes than towards the positive. And then no wonder we find that our mental health is struggling as a result.


Johnny Thomson  16:08

Yeah, and there's a darker side, from an adult perspective as well. And I think this is the kind of thing you were talking before about being part of an organisation where people feel they can be open and talk to each other, and so on. And I'm proud to say that, you know, RiskSTOP Group is one of those kinds of organisations and the things that I've heard and picked up on is a lot of concern around people who work for the organisation who will have children that they don't understand fully what their kids may be getting into, maybe exposed to, and they're worried about that. I mean, you know, we've heard all of the kind of big news stories about, you know, people being drawn into these kinds of suicide pacts and things like that. And I mean, it's scary, isn't it?


Peter Larkum  16:56

Yeah. And it's also the extreme. So it's not the majority, but we know that it's out there. And, again, welcome to the fuel of the negativity. We are intrigued by that negativity. And so we then assume that every young person who goes onto social media is going to get sucked into the same stuff. Because that's what fear does, it creates this False Expectation that Appears Real (FEAR). It's also recognising that not every young person is going to get sucked into that type of world. We're just very aware that it becomes like quicksand, and that more young people are gonna get stuck with it. And I was talking to a friend today, and we're talking about social media and screen time. And we know that the dopamine levels and the chemical hits and everything else. And he said, 'Well, could you compare it to sugar, because we know that we shouldn't give our kids loads of sugar, especially before bedtime.' And if you make the comparison of screen time, or social media time or engagement with their devices, we know that it needs to be monitored, we know that it needs to be little bits, and we need to put some protectionism boundaries in place and all this kind of stuff. And I was like, you know, it's a great conversation, except you have the NHS banging on about sugar content, and diabetes, and all the kind of medical reasons obesity and everything else around the negative impact of, of sugar. So we know that sugar is a bad thing that we shouldn't be giving our kids. But there's nobody out there really, who is banging on about how social media and screen time and engagement with devices, is having a negative impact on our young people's mental health. It's one of those things that we know. But there isn't the same level of government push, NHS health push, organisation push, that's trying to say, we need to really be careful how we engage with this world of social media, online gaming, this whole world of devices, to protect our young people over the next 5, 10, 15 years of kids that are now being born into this level of social media engagement, and the world that we're in.


Johnny Thomson  19:28

I guess the big challenge then is as either a parent or a responsible adult, you know, grandparent, whatever it is actually knowing what it is that you can do about it.


Peter Larkum  19:40

I think the more I think about it, the more I'm aware that we can't stop the development of social media. We can't stop the big giants from creating the algorithms that are preying on our insecurities and all that kind of stuff. But what we can do is, coming back to the idea of connection, we can choose to put our phones down, we can choose to turn the telly off, we can choose to play a game, or go for a walk, or spend time with one another. But it is easier for us to put a device on than it is to engage with the chaos of family life. And so it's about recognising that social media and devices create the path of least resistance, if you like. It is easier for me to give my kid a device than it is for me to stop what I want to do, which is to go on my device, and sit down with my kid and play a game. You know, and when you're exhausted at the end of the day, and all you really want to do is escape into your device of the world of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, whatever it is that people are engaging with. That's the easier option. And when we look at building connections, it's countercultural it's going against the flow, it's not easy, because it has a better long term effect. You could look at anything like exercise, I don't do enough exercise, because I hate it. But I know that I should do more of it, because it will have more of a positive impact for the later years of my life. It's that kind of context, in the world of social media, screentime devices, and how do we force ourselves to connect with the people in our family, friendship groups, and the people around us?


Johnny Thomson  21:51

Let's remember, this is a risk management podcast, Peter. So how is any of what we've been discussing today, interesting as it may be, how is it relevant, Peter?


Peter Larkum  22:11

Yeah, I think the biggest thing in my mind, when I look at risk, and when I look at the development of mental health issues, and the increase that we're seeing within the next generation. My biggest question is, in five years time, when you've got 17 year olds entering into the workplace. How are they going to be able to engage with the workplace, if all they understand is online relationships? You know, and I suppose going on my question is, if we were to go for a seven year to ten year projection, is, will we need to be employing pastoral workers who are engaging with this younger generation coming in? Because they don't actually know how to engage with one another. In a working context, you know, it's that kind of thing, when you when you look at it as a risk, how do we mitigate risk? Well, we try and spot it before it becomes a reality. And I think when we talk about mental health and the development of mental health issues, within the generations that are coming up, social media and device engagement is something that we might need to start looking at as a risk that we need to get ahead of, rather than in five to seven to ten years time going, 'Oh, my gosh, what do we need to do about this? We never saw it coming.' You know, I think that's, does that answer the question?


Johnny Thomson  23:41

It does, it does. And it also makes me think kind of more broadly and generally, about mental health. And reminds me of an Australian study a few years ago that found, when there was a moderate or high, what are they called, you know, psychological stress and there were psychological issues increased the odds of an accident occuring, the ratio of that was around one and a half times where there was psychological issues. And I'm talking about tiredness, nervousness, restlessness, things like that were features. The chances of an accident occurring would would increase by around one and a half times and generally, some kind of workplace failure by around two and a half times. And that's the relevance in all of this, really, for me, because there's a clear connection between people's state of mind at work, and then some of the what we may consider to be the more traditional kind of physical risks that exist. And I think it's really important that organisations recognise that connection.


Peter Larkum  24:59

I couldn't have put it better. So it's one of those things, which is blindingly obvious, when you actually stop and think about it. And I think when we explore all these different topics. For me, I think Johnny, everything is connected to our mental health. And well, I could probably talk about anything being connected to our mental health, but when you put it like that, and how all these different things. I mean, family life is exhausting. I have four boys at home, it is exhausting. And it's about at the end of the day, when all I want to do is just disengage is actually when I need to reengage. And when I want to say to my kids, you know what, why don't you just go and I move them away from me is actually when I need to be saying, 'Hey, guys, why don't you come and sit with me, and let's read together?' You know, it's the active engagement into the positive place, that is more important. Because we can see all those things that you just mentioned about the tiredness and the fatigue, and not feeling yourself and not feeling connected and not feeling like people understand who you are or the things that you're going through. All of that psychological safety in the workplace is really, really important.


Johnny Thomson  26:19

And I guess, going beyond the obvious kind of moral imperative of creating a place that's more caring. You know, there is those legal liability and financial losses, and things like that, which are associated with mental health, to consider too as part of the bigger, bigger picture.


Peter Larkum  26:41

And I think what I like about the connection that I have with RiskSTOP Group is that I see RiskSTOP Group. I mean, I work with lots of organisations around the country, and across the world, but I see RiskSTOP Group, as a group who actually care about it staff's wellbeing, and the engagement of the staff wellbeing. And that's really rare. Unfortunately. I'd love to see it in more organisations, where from the top right through the management right into the workplace, that your wellbeing is important. Because sometimes as employees, we suffer in silence, not realising that the organisation we work for actually cares enough to support us. And I want to say that, from what I've understood of RiskSTOP Group and the years that I've been working with RiskSTOP Group, this is a company that does actually care.


Johnny Thomson  27:45

Yeah, and I think that links back to where we started, and because it's not for us a case of, 'Oh, it's Mental Health Awareness Week, let's let's do something now and move on to something else.' It's a genuine part of the culture that exists within the organisation. And I think unless you find a way of making it like that, then all of these significant risks are going to come with it.


Peter Larkum  28:20

I think it's, such a great conversation, isn't it?


Johnny Thomson  28:23

It is because, for me, hopefully, it'll help explain to maybe those who don't quite get this, why it's such an important issue. It's a very simple issue as well, really, to my mind, it's just a matter of if you create a positive environment, a good place to work in then you're gonna get good results. Likewise, if you create a toxic culture of competition and so on, then then you're gonna get a lot of losers, as well as maybe the occasional, temporary winner.


Peter Larkum  29:06

I mean, it's a weird one in that what I teach about and train about, in my mind, anyway, really isn't rocket science. When you are just asking people to care enough to take notice. If someone's normal level of weird has started to shift, then why don't we say, 'Are you okay?' You know? It's such a simple thing to do. And yet, so often we get sucked into our own little bubble. And that's what I'm trying to burst. It's to help people find the help and support they need by asking for help, but also by seeing it in those around them.


Johnny Thomson  29:54

Excellent. Well, thanks, Peter. It's always great chatting with you. And thanks for once again discussing a topic which I know many of our listeners are really interested in.


Peter Larkum  30:09

Thank you so much for having me and for hearing my perspective on things, I suppose. So thank you.


Johnny Thomson  30:16

It's always a pleasure, Peter, and thank you once again. And that's all for this episode of the RiskACUMEN podcast. If you have any questions or comments around the topic we've discussed today, or any of our other risk related content, then please head to our LinkedIn page, you can find a link at Thanks, everyone for listening to the end. And until the next time, goodbye for now.



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