We’ve been really active in health and wellbeing for at least five years. We made resilience a core business skill, introducing it into the learning and development curriculum and creating a team resilience programme (‘Don’t Be a Boiling Frog’), which has been accredited by the Resilience Institute.
In 2015 our executive board realised that we needed to focus more on mental health as part of our overall approach to Diversity and Inclusion – both because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s a commercial no-brainer. Like most organisations, we are figuring out how best to measure and benchmark how mental health affects our people and our business and the effectiveness of our interventions. Anecdotal evidence indicates that it’s an increasingly important issue – not least among new graduate and school leaver entrants, whose expectations and needs appear very different from previous generations. Research shows, for example, a big increase in anxiety over recent years among people under 25. We needed to equip ourselves to respond accordingly.
The board agreed to commit full-time senior resource to develop a five-year strategy and approach for mental health, and to implement this as a long-term change programme. I was appointed to the new full-time role of mental health leader in January and we upgraded our CMHA status to leader member.
There are three dimensions to our strategy. The first is to shift attitudes so that people value their mental health and understand how to stay well and resilient. People often think they can survive working long hours by staying physically fit. We are also encouraging them to understand the importance of regularly building in time for rest and recovery, understand their personal stress triggers and respond to early warning signs. The second dimension is all about early intervention when people are struggling, and the support we offer when people become unwell.
The third and arguably most important dimension is our culture. We want to make people feel comfortable talking about mental health and asking for help. It’s about raising awareness and normalising conversations about mental health to achieve parity with attitudes towards physical health.
Our main focus in 2016 has been on addressing stigma. In Mental Health Awareness Week we launched an internal campaign called ‘Green Light to Talk’. All our 23 offices had foyer stands where wellbeing champions asked people if they would wear a green ribbon signifying their willingness to have a conversation about mental health. About 12,500 people out of the total 20,000 PwC UK population participated, and we reached a further 3.4 million through social media. That told us we were onto something really important.
We have developed Green Light to Talk and the green ribbon as our internal brand for mental health. We have a ‘spotlight feature’ on our intranet every month, based around either a video or blog from someone in the firm sharing their experience of a particular mental health issue – from panic attacks, to eating disorders, to how to have a good conversation with your GP. This gets discussions going. In October we used the spotlight feature to launch This is Me, and in November we tied in with ‘Movember’ to explore why men find it harder than women to talk about mental health issues.
We are getting very positive feedback. In the PwC UK Annual Report this year, Green Light to Talk was described as the most popular people-related campaign PwC has ever run. Our Global Network colleagues also picked up on this and featured it in our Global Annual Review.
In October 2016 we launched This is Me. We featured two partners, two managers and a secretary, who gave us permission to share their stories internally and externally. We’ve since linked it with the ‘Tea & Talk’ initiative launched by the Mental Health Foundation: staff can use the This is Me video we made (and made available through different channels within the firm) as the basis for conversations inside and outside PwC. Some clients like our Green Light to Talk approach so much that they have asked to adapt it to use in their own organisations.
Eight of our partners have volunteered to become mental health advocates, and this number looks set to increase. We’ve given them Samaritans and Mental Health First Aid training, so as well as championing the mental health agenda and telling their personal stories throughout the firm they also have a confidential listening and signposting role.
In August 2016 we established a Mental Health Governance Panel, chaired by Laura Hinton, our executive board member for people. The panel includes our chief medical officer and a consultant occupational psychiatrist. The purpose is to shape our strategy, review live situations in order to learn from them, and to confront some of the ethical and commercial dilemmas that inevitably arise when you’re trying to sustain good mental health in a high-pressure, high-performance environment. Examples include striking the right balance between encouraging people to take personal responsibility for their mental wellbeing and providing organisational support.
My view is that long hours in themselves don’t inevitably result in poor mental health; it’s more about management style. Managers have to make it feel ok for people talk about how they are feeling, listen to them and build in flexibility. We are exploring how best to train and develop all of our people, and particularly those with management responsibilities who set the tone and culture within a team.
The biggest challenge right now is educating and engaging those who are less naturally interested or invested in mental health. We’ve been overwhelmed by the initial response to what we’re doing, but there’s much more to do if we’re to really engage ‘the passive majority’. We’re in this for the long term, however, and change is happening, one good conversation at a time.