With over 91 million work days lost every year to poor mental health in the UK, it comes as little surprise that business leaders across the country are asking the same question: What can we do about this?

There are apps, helplines, tried and tested workplace formulas, but the daily flood of news stories about the growing cost to business of under- performance and time lost as a result of workers’ mental health suggests that whatever is out there isn’t working.

Perhaps it is because there is no legal requirement. With no set framework to work to, companies could be uncertain on best policy and practice; it is down to the conscience of individual employers to support the mental wellbeing of employees.

GENIUS is a new programme that has turned the traditional approach on its head, acknowledging the undeniable link between strong mental health and occupational performance.

Developed over seven years by performance experts at the rail talent specialists Ford & Stanley, the programme takes a completely fresh view of how businesses should be supporting staff and poses some very challenging questions about why businesses do what they do under the banner of health and safety.

Gone is the traditional support package, long-term counselling, referrals through NHS health professionals, and the stigma of being labelled as having a ‘mental health issue’ as if it somehow excludes you from everyday life.

A new multi-skilled approach

GENIUS employs multi-skilled practitioners who meet face to face with employees at their most convenient location, often at their workplace during a break. They are skilled in a wide range of disciplines – including performance coaching and mentoring, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and stress management – because until an individual sits in front of them, they will not know how best to help.

With the focus on occupational performance, the service is available for anyone to use. In the same way that we all have physical health problems, we all have mental health problems, along with the same wide degrees of severity. It could be someone suffering from a temporary lack of focus or someone trying to cope with a trauma in their personal life, which, naturally, impacts on their performance at work.

Says Peter Schofield, Ford & Stanley chairman, ‘Some of our practitioners work with the elite of the sporting world, helping them remove mental distractions and achieve the focus required to maximise their talents. Such people are not considered to have mental health problems, so why should the same not apply to someone who works in industry or commerce?’

GENIUS – so named because it helps staff ‘release the genius within’ – underwent an 18-month pilot in the UK at the global engineering company Sandvik, where management reported a tenfold payback in terms of staff being at work more, performing better, improved key staff retention and enhanced employer brand / reputation.

It helped those wanting to improve, deal with a difficult work colleague, build confidence or rediscover lost motivation. In an extreme case, it helped an employee successfully return to work who was on the brink of suicide, and others suffering severe depression. It created amongst the workforce a strong sense of loyalty to a business which was showing them that it genuinely cared about their wellbeing.

Fast and effective

GENIUS is fast and effective; the average time it took to help an employee get to where they wanted to be was four sessions, and because it was easily accessible to all. People weren’t nervous about talking about it and word of mouth ensured the service was used to its maximum.

Andy Duncan, consulting director of the GENIUS programme, said, ‘Respecting the uniqueness of the individual is key when it comes to asking that first question ‘how can I help?’ because only then will we know how to help, and help quickly and effectively.