Inspire’s Noelle Higgins, Business Development Manager – Therapeutic Services reflects on the recent CIPD conference and research. 

My colleague Jonathan Cody and I recently took the opportunity to head to the CIPD conference at the RDS, enjoying a day away from our e-mails and catching up with a range of engaged professionals eager to learn more about positive change.

From a personal perspective, this was the first conference I had attended as a delegate since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and I found the experiencing to be an energising one (Steve Barnett deserves a good deal of praise here for keeping us all going mid-morning with the aid of a silent orchestra).

Mary Connaughton, the Director of CIPD Ireland, kicked things off with an engaging and insightful opening. She set out the context for the day and launched the organisation’s new HR Practices in Ireland 2024 survey – conducted alongside the University of Limerick – which looks at how mental ill health is affecting workers in Ireland.

There was a mix of panel discussions and speakers throughout the day. The first group, which was chaired by IPA Director General Helen Brophy, addressed the topic of setting the tone at the top and included valuable on-the-ground testimonies from leaders at the Musgrave Group, Clare County Council and Irish Red Cross. For me, the key takeaway was the importance of authenticity and empathy in leadership.

This was followed by Tara Shine conducting an interview with Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Deborah Meaden. Once again, empathy emerged as a key issue during this segment of the programme. Deborah spoke about encouraging a culture in which people can make mistakes, have safe spaces, feel heard and reflect on jobs well done. Hers was a thought-provoking keynote address that resonated with everyone there.

Jonathan and I welcomed the chance to meet other delegates, some of whom were representing Inspire customers, and the conference offered a space in which to explore the concept of leading positive change, something many employers are navigating at present. Furthermore, it was a pleasure to be in the audience for a plenary session focused on equality and diversity. This is a fascinating subject and it was especially inspiring to hear ESB’s Bernie O’Connor, who was recognised as a Highly Commended Diversity Champion at the CIPD HR Awards in Ireland 2024, outline the actions her organisation is taking in this field.

Later, I joined an expert roundtable with Bronagh Eaton from the AsIAm Autism charity, who led a conversation about effective ways of give those living with autism the best chance at work. This is a vital consideration for any workplace, particularly given the fact that 85% of adults living with autism in Ireland are unemployed or under-represented in the labour force. Indeed, many of those individuals experience stigma, loneliness and feelings of being overwhelmed.

Since returning from the conference, I have been reflecting on the research published that day. According to the study, concerns around mental health caused 22% of employee absenteeism last year, 5% higher than in 2022.

The report also reveals that, for the first time, the level of reported mental health issues matched that of acute medical conditions, which also rose from 14% to 22% between 2022 and 2023.

It examines the causes of these challenges: ‘In terms of the factors contributing to mental health issues, workload featured significantly, with 55% of respondents identifying this. Nonwork issues such as relationships/family were reported by 59% of respondents, and 47% reported a perceived lack of management support. These factors are significant and warrant attention to reduce any negative impact of work on employees.’

The survey concludes that the findings ‘highlight the need for managers to be more effective in managing workload and conflict. Investing in leaders and managers has the potential to be a gamechanger and could directly contribute to cost savings from reduced absence and employee turnover.’

With this in mind, it’s important to remember that healthy organisations build healthy, informed, receptive workplaces and that the Inspire Support Hub is the go-to destination for workplace wellbeing. It hosts lots of information on key topics, including work-life balance, as well as an extensive digest of learning programmes, mental health guides and self-help programmes. In addition, the Take 5 Steps to Wellbeing database is home to lots of ideas and activities centred on creating and sustaining positive mental health.

In addition, people can self-refer through the Hub, over the phone or by email.

If you would like to find out more about the Inspire Support Hub, as well as the other services offered by Inspire, please feel free to contact I would be happy to talk to you.

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