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Mental Health Leadership: “No-one’s exempt from life events” – Matt Thorogood

Mental Health Leadership: “No-one’s exempt from life events” – Matt Thorogood
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We caught up with Matt Thorogood, Head of Partner Office, to hear about their journey towards a mentally healthy culture at PwC.

“When I began in this role in 2015, I think we were very good at observing mental health issues. I’d talk to partners and they’d say things like, ‘I’d noticed that X was behaving out of character.’ And we were good at dealing with the fallout, with support and medical interventions but we weren’t so good at doing anything to stop that person going downhill in the fist place.

“Now, what we’re really trying to do is to move into that preventative space. Prevent mental health issues before they become a problem. Over the last two years – with help from the Alliance – I think we’ve really come a long way with this.”

How does that shift into prevention manifest in the workplace?

“So, now we’re having earlier conversations with partners and then actually giving them some support. I’ve had an increase in referrals. Partners now come to me and they say ‘I’m worried about X.’ From there I can put support in place to help that person. With help from the Alliance, we now have an infrastructure; a support team behind us: psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors and mentors.

“We’ve also made it okay for people to share their concerns if they’re upset about something. People know it’s good to go and talk to somebody about that.  Partly that’s come from leaders being brave enough to show their vulnerabilities at times, especially during the covid pandemic.”

How has the pandemic changed things?

 “We’ve all seen the challenges that the pandemic and working from home has created. Being a long-term member of the Alliance meant that we were quite well-equipped and prepared for the interventions that we had to make.

“We’ve held live web streams with our psychiatrists, giving very practical help around coping with working from home and the stresses and strains that brings. The streams were attended by more than 15,000 partners and staff at a time. This is massive engagement in a topic that people were struggling with. It creates a conversation and people see that the firm cares about their wellbeing and is willing to put the support in place to get through it.

“In my team, we had regular conversations, once a week, as a group, just talking about how everyone was feeling. There’s no agenda, people just want to talk – it’s hugely cathartic. I feel much more closely connected to my team now; I know much more about them as individuals than I would have done otherwise. Now, when we’re working together on projects, the teamwork is so much better.”

What would you say to other businesses considering investing in mental health?

“I’ll put it this way, if you get this right, it’s a competitive advantage. If you get this right, you become very attractive. It’s a key reason for your people to stay with you.

“No one’s exempt from the life events that are thrown at you, and things can go downhill very quickly. Spotting those signs early is key, because we all know the cost. Not just the personal cost, but the business cost of getting it wrong is huge.

“I absolutely think that this work will make our workforce more mentally healthy, but there’s still a lot for us still to do. We’re on a journey and I don’t know where it will take us, but by sharing it with other organisations in the Alliance, the journey will be accelerated.”

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