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Lessons from pladis’ “Positive Minds” strategy

20th February, 2019

Claire Farrow

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 .

1) 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 this.

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.

2) How 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 market.

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 stakeholder buy-in.

3) 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.

4) 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 support.

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.

5) 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 achieve.

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.

Claire Farrow

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.

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