Thames Water uses virtual reality technology in mental health strategy

Gareth Mullen Thames Water

Employee Benefits Live 2017: Thames Water is using virtual reality headsets to help mental health first aiders experience what it feels like to be suffering from mental health issues to aid them in spotting the first signs that a colleague needs help.

Addressing delegates at Employee Benefits Live 2017, in a session titled ‘Managing health and wellbeing at work’, Gareth Mullen (pictured), head of safety, health, wellbeing and security retail and group services at Thames Water, explained that the organisation was removing the stigma around mental health and had set up a health and wellbeing week to actively promote positive mental health in the workplace.

“The key message is to get employees to have a 30 minute conversation that week [UK health and wellbeing week] around their own personal choices because that’s largely what wellbeing is all about: personal choice,” Mullen said.

Mullen explained that Thames Water refreshed its health and wellbeing policy in 2013 after seeing a rising trend in cases of stress, anxiety and depression. The strategy has been evolving ever since.

“We’ve stepped up a gear and created a whole new mental health strategy that recognises the effects of mental health in the workplace, and work related sickness has gone down dramatically from people suffering from mental health issues,” he explained.

“We know it makes a difference; we’ve had testimony time after time. If anything, we’ve changed within the business over the last four years and have given people the ability to stand up, say they are suffering from mental health issues, and know there’s the ability to get support and help, and we’ve had some massive turnarounds.”

Thames Water has seen a decrease in absence since the plan was put in place.

In addition, Thames Water has introduced company-wide medical assessments and in 2014 rolled out prostate cancer checks for its male staff.

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In the first year of testing, Mullen revealed that two employees were diagnosed with prostate cancer which prompted Thames Water to continue screening for the disease. In the last 12 months alone, 30 staff have been referred for further investigation after tests showed abnormal readings.

Thames Water has since introduced thyroid testing for women with a high number of employees testing positive for the condition.