Simplyhealth tackles how to deal with adversity at work at senior leadership and HR event

  • Leading speakers from Royal Mail Group and CIPD led panel event
  • England Rugby Sevens Heather Fisher and ex-England Rugby player Dylan Hartley shared their experiences before the Guinness Six Nations match

Simplyhealth hosted a senior leadership panel debate on Sunday 23 February ahead of England Rugby’s Guinness Six Nations match as part of their work with the CIPD to raise awareness of how companies can help their employees to deal with adversity and mental health issues at work.

The event was facilitated by well-known sports presenter, Gabby Logan, who introduced the key speakers: Dr Shaun Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability at Royal Mail Group; Peter Cheese, Chief Executive at CIPD; and Richard Gillies, Chief Operating Officer at Simplyhealth.

The panel were supported by England Rugby Sevens player, Heather Fisher, and Dylan Hartley, ex-England Rugby Captain, who have both openly shared their experiences of dealing with stress and negative public perception and prejudice. Heather and Dylan are ambassadors for Simplyhealth.

Attendees of the event ranged from Chief Executives, Managing Directors, and HR leaders from a wide-range of industries including finance, travel, FMCG and automotive.

Peter Cheese, Chief Executive at the CIPD, set the scene for the event by underlining how economic output by companies is not the only important factor for successful companies.

Wellbeing is at the core of our work at the CIPD. Companies need to look after their people and think about the environment that they work in. Leadership teams should be creating a culture where they understand their employees and they create a safe work environment where people can be themselves so that they perform at their best. Employees shouldn’t have to mask issues for fear of being judged.
Peter Cheese, Chief Executive at the CIPD

Research by the CIPD and Simplyhealth has shown that mental ill health and stress account for more than half of the reasons for long-term absence at work. Stress-related absence has increased over the last year in nearly two-fifths of organisations with heavy workloads remaining the most common cause of stress (62%). However in 2019 an increased proportion blamed management style (43%).*

Our research with the CIPD has shown that compassionate leadership leads to enhanced performance and productivity as it encourages trust and openness amongst teams. It is so important that we understand the whole person so that they can bring themselves to work and not be afraid to ask for help. Every business is going through rapid change and people need to be resilient to cope with these changes. In the past, work was your one constant and it was your personal life that changed, but this is not the case now.
Richard Gillies, Chief Operating Officer at Simplyhealth

Building resilience to cope with adversity in the workplace

Gabby Logan chaired the panel discussion and linked the theme of building resilience in the workplace to both sports and business. She explained that the panel would cover best practice, their own experiences, the importance of having the right mind-set, and how this all helps build resilience.

The first panel member to speak was Dr Shaun Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability at Royal Mail Group. He has helped to lead the way in providing effective employee mental health support while at Royal Mail Group. The company has successfully designed and implemented a mental health strategy, Because Healthy Minds Matters, for their whole business to improve attendance and support for those to stay in work when facing mental health challenges.

This was a challenge in an organisation that has an older male dominated workforce - the average age is 45 years old and 88% male - and also a group which is typically resistant to talking about mental health.

We have a really diverse culture at the Royal Mail. We have a workforce of 143,000 employees and 20,000 temporary staff at Christmas; as such, there are wide differences in numeracy and literacy skills. One of my biggest bug-bears is people saying, “It’s on the intranet”, as many people within my industry or construction and utilities, for example, don’t use an intranet. So how do you take your key messages and communicate them to your people? We have learnt that if we provide people with the tools to talk about wellbeing, mental health, resilience and sustainability, they can use their connections in the community to speak to others and act as ambassadors, which is far more powerful. Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and positions.
Dr Shaun Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability at Royal Mail Group

Why rugby? Simplyhealth’s sponsorship of Rugby Football Union

Simplyhealth is in its first year of sponsorship of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and through this partnership is promoting the importance of looking after your health and wellbeing through sport and wellness activities combined with regular appointments with healthcare professionals to manage any day to day health issues.

The event took place in the prestigious grounds of Twickenham Rugby ahead of the Guinness Six Nations match between England and Ireland, where England went on to win 24-12.

It is fantastic when leaders such as Heather and Dylan can talk personally and openly about dealing with issues as it gives others permission to talk openly about their problems.
Peter Cheese, Chief Executive at the CIPD

Heather Fisher, England Rugby Sevens player and former England Rugby Red Rose, shared her personal experiences of coming to terms with alopecia and people’s perceptions of her while coping in an international spotlight.

People base opinions of you from what they see on the pitch and it’s difficult to change these perceptions but I make sure I challenge these opinions wherever I go. The England Rugby environment and team spirit helps me to be who I am on and off the pitch without being judged. I’ve had to learn to adapt to different teams and personalities and approaches. Resilience is all about your ability to adapt to change but stay true to yourself.
Heather Fisher, England Rugby Sevens player and former England Rugby Red Rose

Dylan Hartley, ex-England International Captain, shared his views of how to cope with adversity. He suffered an injury that ended his playing career and had to deal with negative perceptions and judgements following his colourful disciplinary record.

I have had to overcome negative perceptions in every room I have walked into but I changed my mind-set early on and challenged myself to get people to leave the room thinking differently.
Dylan Hartley, ex-England International Captain

Top tips from the panel

Gabby Logan asked the panel for their top tips and explained that it is important to have different energies and skills depending on who you are dealing with and to bring out the best in people. Senior leaders need to demonstrate and live the right values, as this gives employees a sense of purpose and understanding about what the company believes in and is trying to achieve.


Being a leader can be a lonely space and you need to set an example. I believe in earning credit with a team or workforce every day so that you develop trust and a solid relationship. It doesn’t have to be a friendship but you do need to have a relationship. I was lucky that I had a good mentor who gave me regular tips and feedback on how to improve my leadership style. I would also recommend that you look for your key influencers who control the majority of the group and can help you with what you are trying to achieve.
Dylan Hartley, ex-England International Captain

The panel discussed how the workplace can take some lessons from sport and develop the resilience to handle feedback and also have these conversations more regularly – not just in a traditional once a year performance review. In high-performance sport you have to give direct feedback straight away without it being personal. For the person receiving that feedback, you need to have resilience to cope with difficult or negative feedback.

Heather Fisher’s advice for resilience was having a strong purpose.

If you have a purpose and are brave with where you are going you can then handle uncomfortable situations but feel comfortable with your decisions. For me to be resilient I have to be comfortable in myself and feel brave to take risks.
Heather Fisher, England Rugby Sevens player and former England Rugby Red Rose
For today’s workforce, we need to create an environment where that sense of purpose and belief is reflected in our teams so they believe in what they are doing. We also want to create a trustworthy environment where it is okay to ask for help and empower colleagues to know they aren’t alone. At Simplyhealth, we are working hard to create a work culture where feedback isn’t uncomfortable and that we learn what our teams want and need. We engage our employees through a monthly survey called ‘Chatterbox’ where we encourage our people to give honest feedback and comments. Organisational changes aren’t always quick fixes but we are doing our best to take these insights and learn from them so that we can improve our culture, link to our purpose to ‘improve access to healthcare’, and build resilience in our people.
Richard Gillies, Chief Operating Officer at Simplyhealth
For anyone who is trying to implement change, it is important to hold your nerve and not get thrown if things get worse before they get better. Remember to co-create feedback so that employees don’t feel that change is being ‘done to them’ by head office or it can be seen as a demand rather than a positive action. This is where business partnering and educating employees as to why you are implementing change are key. We use a range of tactics at Royal Mail from feedback and focus groups to find out exactly what the issues and blockers are.
Dr Shaun Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability at Royal Mail Group

*Figures taken from Simplyhealth and CIPD’s 2019 Health and Well-being in the workplace survey.

About Simplyhealth

Since 1872 we’ve been helping people get healthcare through our health plans, charity partnerships and by being a voice in healthcare. Today we’re delighted to be the UK’s leading provider of health plans, dental plans and pet health plans, which help individuals, families, employees and pets to get support with their health when they need it.

We don’t have shareholders which means we are totally focused on making sure no one goes without the healthcare support they need, and why we are passionate about being a voice in healthcare and partnering with charities to reduce health inequality. We have a commitment to donate part of our pre-tax profits to charities or community projects each year and spread our donations across a wide range of healthcare-related charities.

In 2019 we became Official Healthcare Partner of England Rugby, a partnership that will help us deliver on our purpose and improve access to healthcare for the rugby community.