Lessons from pladis’ “Positive Minds” strategy
20th February, 2019
Photo taken by Jillian Edelstein at Mad World 2019
pladis is the global snacking company behind much-loved
brands such as McVitie’s, Jacob’s and Godiva to name a few. Jonny Jacobs is pladis’
dynamic Strategy & Transformation Director for UK & Ireland. With a
background working for global corporations in Finance, Investor Relations and
Corporate Strategy, he has a keen interest in organisation design and people
development. Jonny leads the mental health initiative at pladis. He was a
speaker at the inaugural Mad World Forum and is a member of the Advisory Board
for the 2019 event. He kindly took some time to share some of the lessons
learned so far from devising and implementing pladis’ mental health initiative,
branded internally as Positive Minds .
Your article on the Mental Health @ Work Gateway mentions that mental
health started off as a grassroots initiative at pladis and has now become a
business priority. Can you tell us what sparked the grassroots interest?
From a broader level, pladis has always been quite
a caring company. We have a thoughtful culture, so mental health sits well with
However, it was one specific event that raised the
issue of mental health to the surface. A colleague sadly took their own life.
This had a big impact. Colleagues were deeply affected. They wondered what they
could have done differently. Through this, a small group of Mental Health &
Wellbeing voluntary Ambassadors was formed. They came together to encourage the
business to sign the Time to Change Employer pledge and began recruiting more
people to join the cause. What started as just five people has now grown to a
group of over 100 Ambassadors across all
pladis sites in the UK – from head office to manufacturing.
did you get senior stakeholders to buy-in?
The energy of our Ambassadors makes a real impact
but senior stakeholder buy-in is still key. It gives people the sense that they
are empowered to get involved. The hardest part is turning goodwill into an
action plan that’s affordable, fit for purpose and within reach. We decided to
move forward with a UK specific plan – with 4,500 employees in 10 sites in the
UK. This enabled us to create a more compelling story that was fit for our
In particular, senior stakeholders found it useful
to see that we had planned. It helped them realise that what we had proposed was
realistic. For instance, we have multiple shifts, so we showed how we could
apply our plan to shifts. Being able to demonstrate that we had considered every
detail around the complexities of the business really helped to get senior
What metrics are you using to indicate the effectiveness of initiatives? How do
you track these?
There has been investment of time and budget into
the training of line managers however we’ve managed to implement strategies
relatively economically. We’re working with a mix of local providers. We’ve
also partnered with Unions, charities such as MIND and organisations such as
MHFA. The mix of solutions you provide has to be tailored to your organisation
but sharing best practice is key and this is something we are focusing on.
Measuring the effectiveness of initiatives is very
challenging. I don’t think there is a consistent silver bullet measure. Our
goal at this stage is to create an environment where people can have
conversations around mental health without the stigma. But how do you track
conversations? We’re focused on delivering our commitment to train all line
managers and educate colleagues to help kick-start these conversations. We use
our engagement scores as an indicator. We have a regular pulse survey and can
ask specific questions in this. Interestingly, the highest trending talks on
our internal social media platform have been those focused on mental health.
This shows that people are highly engaged.
Top level Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) usage
statistics could be another measure of effectiveness. If more people are
accessing the EAP for instance, that shows we are having an impact because
people are reaching out for help rather than suffering in silence.
Ultimately, we know that this is the right thing to
do. Our plan is to deliver on our commitments and seek quality feedback.
Are there any learning experiences you can share or pitfalls you'd suggest
others can avoid?
For us it was key to get the language right for our
organisation so that it resonated. Recognising that the words “mental health”
came with a stigma for example, our group of ambassadors came up with a name
for the initiative that we felt would empower our colleagues, rather than shy them
away. That’s where the name Positive Minds came from.
I’d also say it’s important to build a holistic
plan that fits in with business priorities and incorporates HR policies and
engagement. Then it is much more authentic. Similarly, it’s important to get
support from all functions; supply chains, HR etc. You also need grassroots
One of our key learnings has to be that one size does not fit all. That’s where our Ambassadors
have been absolutely key. Pulling off an initiative like this on a scale so
big, with such a diverse workforce has been no mean feat, but it’s truly the
work our growing group of ambassadors at each site has done that has brought
everything to life in a way that’s compelling, genuine and engaging. While the
leads align on the broader message that we want to get across, each site actually
has its own bespoke activities to help deliver this. We’ve found that this model has worked really
successfully for us.
What's next when it comes to mental health and wellbeing at pladis?
We want to consolidate and embed. We want to deliver our
commitment to training and activating engaging campaigns, build on storytelling
and most important, listen. Listen to what our colleagues are saying and grow
the initiative based on their wellbeing needs. That’s what we think will truly
bring around the culture of openness and honesty that we have set out to
We also want to support other organisations with their journeys
with mental health support in the workplace. We see this as a year of sharing
and continuing to learn, because we recognise that this isn’t a perfect linear
journey and if we all come together we can make a much bigger impact, beyond
our own circles.
We’re committed to delivering
award-winning strategies and campaigns for Positive Minds, laying the
foundations for the future.
Thank you Jonny for sharing your insights and also for your
continuing support of this vital agenda. We look forward to hearing how your
plans progress across the year.
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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.