Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, talks exclusively to HRreview on how and why short, regular art gallery visits can have a significant impact on worker wellbeing and productivity and on the Art Fund’s work to date to help employers address the future of anxious Britain. Stephen has been Director of Art Fund since January 2010 and has led the organisation through a significant period of development and modernisation, Prior to joining Art Fund, Stephen was the first director of Tate Britain (from March 1998 to December 2009).
You have recently overseen a fascinating report about how visiting art galleries can massively improve workers’ wellbeing. Why do you feel a re-examination of the relationship between mental health and art, specifically with regards to worker wellbeing, is so important at this point in time?
The real scale of the anxiety issue in the UK has only recently been uncovered and openly discussed. In relation to UK workers, an increasing number of employers are re-evaluating how workload, stress and anxiety relate to workplace performance and talent retention. The research we conducted for our Calm and Collected report was broader than just the benefits of art on wellbeing. We wanted to investigate how regularly engaging with museums and galleries could contribute to an individual’s sense of wellbeing, and one focus in particular was how this related to UK workers. The primary take away was that a 30 minute daily allowance for a leisure activity would tangibly help manage the stresses of modern, working life – over half of workers say that having more ‘me time’ would help them perform better at their jobs
How highly would you rate anxiety as a problem in the British workplace?
We found that workplace stress and anxiety come from a variety of sources – 35 per cent of respondents said they felt overwhelmed by their workload and 26 per cent said they do not feel in control of their career. Responses to this stress range from skipping lunch to working well over 40 hours a week, and – one of the more striking findings from our research – just under a third of workers (31per cent) say they have left a job because of the stress it caused them. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show that between 2017 and 2018, stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 15.4 million lost working days.
The report finds that over a quarter of workers feel guilty about taking time out for themselves. What steps can both employers and employees take to change this culture?
Each organisation should identify and implement the steps most appropriate to its own culture. Sixty-seven per cent of workers noted in our report that taking time for themselves is beneficial to their wellbeing, while others cited that leisure time helps them deal with work pressure and inspires them in their work.
Describe how 30 minutes a day can paint a brighter future for anxious Britain.
We worked with Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioral science at the London School of Economics and an expert on human behavior and happiness, and he advised a ‘wellbeing allowance’ of 30 minutes each day to be spent engaging in activities such as visiting a museum or gallery. And our research supports this – people who say they regularly visit museums and galleries report a greater sense of satisfaction with their lives than those who have never visited.
When did you decide to launch the corporate National Art Pass and how can it be used as a tangible employee benefit by businesses?
Art Fund launched the National Art Pass for Companies in 2016 following conversations with a wide range of businesses from various industries, understanding their need for a flexible cultural benefit for their employees. As opposed to offering a private view at a certain time slot or free tickets to a particular exhibition, the National Art Pass offers free entry to over 240 museum, galleries and historic homes around the UK, as well as 50 per cent off major exhibitions like the upcoming Christian Dior show at the V&A or Tate Liverpool’s Keith Haring retrospective.
What is the strategy of improving the wellbeing of your staff at Art Fund?
We provide a range of benefits to our own staff at Art Fund. From an annual individual ‘Art Allowance’ for everyone to spend on something cultural that they otherwise wouldn’t do (such going to an art class or covering travel to see an exhibition in another city) to a monthly ‘Art Afternoon’ where staff can take a half-day outside of their holiday allowance to go out and do something cultural – explore a museum collection, see an art exhibition or wander around a historic home. Coupled with the free National Art Pass we offer our staff, the options are almost endless as to what they might do.
Location is surely important. Do London workers have the most opportunities to nurture their wellbeing with art, compared to the rest or the UK? What are the opportunities outside the big UK cities?
We are never very far from art – according to the Mendoza Review, published by DCMS in 2017, 55 per cent of the English public live within walking distance of at least one museum. At Art Fund, we’re very proud of the fact that 75 per cent of our National Art Pass network is outside of London, and our extensive network is one of the biggest draws for our corporate members who have offices throughout the country. With destinations like the Whitworth in Manchester or the Tate satellite galleries in Liverpool or St Ives, there are plenty of museums and galleries that are readily available for workers outside the capital. And they also have access to some fantastic other venues like Yorkshire Sculpture Park or the Holburne Museum in Bath.
You are a leading and extremely valued worker in the promotion of art in the UK. How has art improved your personal wellbeing and productivity over the years?
Great art can have transformative effect on your life, immersing you in worlds and ideas far beyond the every day. But museum visiting can also be simply fun and sociable, and I always work better when I find myself in a good mood!
What does the future hold for Art Fund, specifically with regards to workplace initiatives?
Our main focus regarding the National Art Pass for Companies is growing our toolkit and capacity for advising companies who offer the pass as a benefit to their employees and who want to implement a culture change within their organisation.
Is there anything else you might like to add?
Art Fund has always believed that art can help us see, think and feel differently. We know the varied pressures of modern life can contribute to a heightened sense of worry, stress and anxiety for many. More than ever people need places where they can relax, learn, contemplate and wonder. Since launching the National Art Pass for Companies three years ago, we now have over 25 businesses providing this benefit to their workers, with a range of options available in terms of how it is administered.