Driving the mental health and wellbeing agenda in 2020 and beyond
14th January, 2020
Sally Evans interviewed by Claire Farrow
Sally Evans is UK Wellbeing Lead with professional services
firm PwC. Her job title only hints at her huge influence. For almost a decade
Sally has been at the forefront of driving forward the workplace mental health
and wellbeing agenda in the UK and now globally too. Alongside her work within
PwC, Sally represents the firm on the leadership group of the This is Me campaign
and the City Mental Health Alliance.
Sally kindly took time to share with me insights into how
PwC’s approach to supporting workplace mental health and wellbeing have
evolved, as well as lessons learned along the way and her vision for 2020 and
Sally joined PwC nine years ago, from Lloyds Banking Group, initially to
run a portfolio of diversity and inclusion activities. She was then asked to review the firm’s
wellbeing approach and consider where it might go next. At the time, this wasn’t being run as a
behaviour change programme – it was a series of initiatives which centred more
on supporting people with ill-health.
Early work focused on resilience, providing a platform for Sally and
colleagues to start to look at what they could do to help people manage their
wellbeing by taking a preventative, proactive approach. In 2015-16 this was supplemented
with a discreet mental health programme, as part of the overall wellbeing
strategy, which PwC has been adding to year on year since.
The wellbeing programme at PwC has evolved to become a globally applied ‘brand’
called ‘Be Well Work Well’, with wellbeing having been established as a ‘people
priority’ across the global network of over 276,000 people. Now wherever in the world you work at PwC, you
will experience Be Well, Work Well.
Once upon a time
Storytelling is a place where many employers start their mental health
and wellbeing journey. Sally agrees that storytelling has a vital role in
breaking stigma and shifting culture - and that at PwC it has massively opened
up the agenda, and the wellbeing conversation.
However, she cautions that storytelling needs to be part of a bigger
picture. There are confidence and skill issues which need to be taken into consideration
to truly create an environment where wellbeing conversations become the norm,
people can speak up when they are struggling, and a community of support is
created. So mental health literacy
training has been an important part of the programme. Leadership at all levels is also essential,
such as the network of Partner and Director Mental Health Advocates PwC has
across the UK. These are leaders who
have shared their own mental wellbeing journeys and are available to anyone
across the business who has concerns about themselves or someone else. They will listen in confidence and without
judgement and signpost to appropriate help.
I asked Sally whether storytelling can help maintain momentum once
interest has been sparked?
She explained that PwC’s storytelling has been instrumental and grown
consistently since they started in 2015.
It is a key element in PwC’s ‘Green Light to
Talk’ (about mental health) campaign, where since 2015 at least one person each month
has shared their mental health experience, making an iPhone video which is then distributed
across the firm via its intranet news channel.
Having a regular feed-in of stories shows that mental health and
wellbeing aren’t only important during Mental Health Awareness Week and World
Mental Health Day each year: they are embedded and engrained into the workplace
In 2017, PwC’s approach to storytelling moved to a different level, as
people came forward to address some of the tougher taboos that hadn’t been
tackled yet, such as domestic and sexual violence and abuse, addiction and
The mental health programme at PwC has further evolved to focus on
reaching the ‘harder to reach’ groups, and to ensure inclusivity stays at the
forefront of their thinking. For instance, they recently created a faith and culture
video which has enabled colleagues from their five faith networks to share
how mental health plays out in different cultures and communities.
Connecting wellbeing with D&I
Sitting within the Diversity, Inclusion and Community team at PwC, Sally
is very aware of the crossover and intersectionality between different areas of
the firm’s people strategies.
PwC’s wellbeing strategy is created around the understanding that people
will be at different stages and need different things at varying points of
their life and career. And that
wellbeing also means different things to different people.
In practical terms, the team has started identifying specific needs, for
instance for the ethnic minority community, men, and around aspects of health
still not often talked about in the workplace, such as financial wellbeing, the
menopause, fertility and period problems.
To bring this to life they launched a menopause toolkit in 2019 which
recognised the impact of menopause on mental health. They also ran a series of
webinars in partnership with Wellbeing of Women, which were promoted widely through
the Be Well Work Well Activation groups across the business and through the
Wellbeing Champions and various firmwide people networks.
A series of financial wellbeing education resources followed, focussed
on early careers, family and general financial health.
A measured approach
Sally explained that measurement of the impact of mental health and
wellbeing strategies is important but that the challenge is attributing cause
and effect. It can be hard to attribute
progress to a specific strategy or intervention, when there are so many
factors, both inside and outside work, that impact people’s wellbeing.
PwC has a dashboard with hard measures including:
Sickness absence and reasons for sickness
Utilisation (how much people are deployed on client projects)
Occupational health cases
Time spent volunteering
Time spent on personal development
They are also increasingly getting into the behavioural side of measurement,
with a global people survey which now includes enhanced wellbeing questions
that are more about people’s everyday realities. Questions reflect PwC’s focus
on a definition of wellbeing which revolves around mental, physical, social and
spiritual energy. These ask for responses to statements such as:
The leader I work for enables me to prioritise my wellbeing
I look forward to coming to work
In the US,
PwC conducted a study with the
University of Southern California looking at the impact of Be Well, Work Well
in the US firm. This threw up interesting insights around what works and what
doesn’t work when it comes to a wellbeing strategy.
Back in PwC
in the UK the next step is to undertake research across the business to help
shape the next phase of the wellbeing strategy.
This involves interviews with key stakeholders, focus groups and
behavioural observations, where the wellbeing team spend time with teams to
understand in depth how wellbeing plays out day to day.
Sally is keen to ramp up the sophistication of their approach to the
measurement of impact. To this end she is working on harnessing the streamlining
of personnel systems that’s going on, to get them talking to one another, and
reconfiguring the metrics they use to make them more relevant to the next phase
of the strategy.
the biggest challenge has been trying to coordinate lots of people’s energy and
enthusiasm. It’s essential to let people in the business have the creativity to
come up with suggestions. However, it’s also important, to get maximum impact
and connect the dots for people, to keep aligned to the central strategy and
avoid repetition or overlap of initiatives.
Some of the
best ideas have come from the youngest and most junior people in the
organisation. Sally has found that it works well to try ideas locally then
apply them across the firm.
recognises that it’s important not to have everything tied down as it’s key to
be flexible and in tune with people’s reality. So, she focuses on encouraging
the sharing of best practice and learning experiences. Be Well, Work Well activation
groups across the firm reflect and reinforce the central strategy – giving
oversight of what’s happening locally.
For 2020 and beyond, Sally and her team have developed a new
vision around creating a health promoting workplace. This goes beyond making
sure the work is not detrimental and supporting people when they are unwell, to
work being wellbeing enhancing in itself. In essence, they are getting
more into the ‘work well’ aspects of ‘Be Well Work Well’ and focusing on
Understanding everybody’s reality
As well as hygiene factors: eat well, move
more, detach from digital, take time off etc
The goal is for the wellbeing strategy to affect people’s everyday
reality in a very proactive way. In order to do this, they want to understand
persistent wellbeing issues in the business, unearth good practice and
replicate this more broadly.
As we enter what some are calling the Decade of Mental Health and
Wellbeing, PwC seems well placed to continue to lead on this vital agenda. And
they’re not just hoping other organisations will follow their lead. With a
wellbeing offering being developed for clients based partly on PwC’s own
internal experiences and tools - they are prioritising wellbeing as a
consultancy that can help other organisations on their journey too.
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Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Mad World News.
Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation.
She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times.