Monday, December 04
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‘Employee mental health is critical to business success during pandemic’

20 Jan 2021

Kate Hesk is the co-founder and global head of coaching for Cognomie. The UK-based Cognomie works to develop a foundation of mental fitness and wellbeing within large organisations across the globe. The firm measures the link between mental fitness and performance in companies and, via cutting edge technology, provides accredited coaching to allow people to perform at their best. Prior to founding Cognomie, Kate built a number of leadership development and coaching consultancies following a successful leadership career in global pharmaceutical and healthcare organisations. She will be speaking at the Wellbeing @ Work Middle East Summit that will take place between February 22-24, 2021.

Can you tell briefly about yourself and Cognomie that you co-founded?

Over the last twenty years I have founded, built and sold a number of businesses in the coaching and leadership arena. My background leading up to this was sales, marketing, leadership and general management across the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors. Cognomie was founded with a vision to develop mental fitness across the globe. Mental fitness is another term for psychological and emotional wellbeing and is the foundation of personal effectiveness, impact and sense of wellbeing.

Cognomie offers individuals and organisations the opportunity to evaluate, track and develop mental fitness in order to reach potential and be at one’s best. Our proprietary technology platform supports the data capture, benchmarking, analysis and tracking as well as managing and reporting on the impact of our mental fitness development solutions. Our global community of accredited coaches and practitioners are matched to individuals and projects to provide personalised mental fitness development support.

How important is mental health and wellbeing to the success of any organisation? Is it really an area that companies need to take seriously and invest in?

Mental fitness (i.e. mental health and wellbeing) is critical to the success of any individual and therefore every organisation. Increasingly, and particularly in the current pandemic, organisations are seeing their duty of care to employees to support them to become aware if their mental fitness is slipping and to offer development support to enable them to stay at the peak of their emotional and psychological performance. Without this, organisations will start to see more lost days to work-related stress, greater strain on internal resources to manage through absence and reduction in productivity and engagement.

COVID-19 has significantly changed the way we work and do business. Do you think the pandemic has accelerated the problems of workplace stress/anxiety and mental health? If so, how do these changes affect overall wellbeing for employees and employers?

The exponential growth in stress and anxiety in the workplace and the staggering rise in absenteeism from mental health challenges makes it clear that organisations should be taking a more proactive and preventative approach to supporting employees to stay well.

At Cognomie we capture data on global trends through our Global Mental Fitness Index. What’s interesting is that, whilst, yes, there is a greater degree of anxiety, lack of work-life balance and stress reported increasingly over the last year of the pandemic. The organisationswho are taking a proactive approach to caring for the mental fitness of their employees are those who are showing lower levels of stress and anxiety and increased levels of confidence, optimism and happiness.

How do you advise businesses to provide a mentally healthy work environment, to make sure everyone stays physically and mentally healthy during the pandemic? What measures do you recommend?

It starts with generating awareness of the current levels of mental fitness, through surveys, through individual and collective questionnaires and data analysis. Taking a pulse check at an individual or organisational levels shows you care and also provides insight into areas of strengths and areas which require further development. Encouraging conversations and developing supportive solutions are the key. A mentally healthy, or mentally fit working environment is developed by building on the individual and collective awareness of these areas of strength and areas of development and offering self-development solutions (one-on-one coaching, group coaching and training events and programmes and access to relevant, tailored resources) to enable transformational and sustained change. 


Most businesses have faced disruption, slowdown and loss of revenues amid the COVID-19 crisis. As the pandemic drags on, do you think companies can still thrive by adopting a positive approach to employee wellbeing?

I think it is essential and the best way for an organisation to survive. It is already clear that the organisations with wellbeing and positive mental health strategies, which are embedded into the leadership, HR, talent development and organisational development strategies, are the ones who are thriving and will be able to maintain engagement, loyalty and motivation.

The public interest in workplace wellbeing has been on the rise in the western countries in recent years. How do you see this interest in workplace wellbeing picking up in the Gulf region?

Over the past couple of years, workplace wellbeing in the Gulf and the UAE in particular has become a topic of interest, although more attention is needed in that area. In 2019, right before the COVID-19 pandemic ensued, a survey conducted by AETNA, which included businesses and employees in the UAE, revealed important insights. Despite the vast majority of businesses (94 per cent) agreeing that they want employees to prioritise physical and mental health over work, most employees don’t believe the support they are offered is good enough. As many as 51 per cent of workers rated their company’s support for stress in the workplace as poor, compared to just 16 per cent of bosses. Over half (56 per cent) of workers feel like they don’t get enough sleep and this impacts their productivity at work. Stress was the main reason people were struggling to sleep. As we collectively move through the pandemic and plan a return to the ‘new normal’ there needs to be more openness, discussion and focus on these topics and to provide the tools to employees. This is where the Wellbeing @ Work Summit Middle East 2021 is a great initiative to stimulate and provide a forum for discussion.

The pandemic has brought challenges in every corner of every business. How is the field of coaching on mental health and wellbeing being shaped?

The field of coaching is definitely expanding into the area of wellbeing and positive mental health. The global coaching community at Cognomie has developed in recognition of this and constitutes traditional, accredited coaches as well as psychologists and therapists. More and more organisationsare understanding that the historical model of executive coaching, offering coaching only to C-Suite members and supporting conversations about strategy and tactical implementation is coaching in the past. Coaching increasingly offers a more holistic and whole-person approach. Enabling individuals to explore their self-awareness and individual performance to a new depth and with greater possibility of significant personal, behavioural and performance shifts. 

Now is the time for organisations to wake up to the need for a strategic approach to developing mental fitness in order to thrive and survive.

(For further details and to register for Wellbeing @ Work Middle East Summit go to

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