Originally published on LinkedIn by Michael Fenlon, Chief People Officer at PwC.
In my last blog post, I discussed how values and purpose can guide our decisions throughout unprecedented times. This pandemic has evoked a wide range of reactions, including feelings of anxiety, loss, isolation, fear, confusion, and concern. That is why no value is more important to embody right now than caring for one another. Beyond the playbooks and tools we need for safely returning to the workplace, I’d like to highlight the importance of providing leadership support for mental health and well-being in three key areas:
- The resources and benefits we provide to our people
- How we sustain a culture of (virtual) support and inclusion
- Removing the stigma from discussions of mental health and accessing help
For years PwC has offered a comprehensive set of benefits around mental health and well-being through what we call Be well, work well, which helps employees focus on different dimensions of well-being across physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental energy. In the current environment, these investments are allowing us to help our people access benefits that we already offer, while also enabling us to expand our offerings to address a new set of needs.
Resources and benefits
Now is a good time for leaders to take a look at existing benefits and innovate to meet people’s needs. Rather than seeing enhanced mental health benefits as added costs, leaders should view them as investments that build resilience and agility, and that support productivity and overall well-being in the long-term. In fact, in our research, teams that adopted well-being habits — including a focus on mental health — reported improved team collaboration, relationships with clients, and performance. One way that we’ve opened the door for these important conversations around mental health and well-being is by giving employees free 24/7 access to connect with a coach or therapist through a mental health app. We’ve introduced new benefits that specifically address the needs of our people during COVID-19, by quickly redeploying executive coaches to provide 1:1 and group well-being coaching sessions. We’ve also expanded our crisis child care reimbursement, allowing employees to secure child care using their personal network and receive reimbursement for over two weeks of back-up assistance, a portion of which can also be used for elder care reimbursement.
Sustaining a culture of (virtual) support and inclusion
While benefits are important, we also need to build cultures that reflect our values of caring and mutual support. We’ve learned that our people value virtual communities around different topics like parenting, homeschooling, living alone, caring for aging family members, managing anxiety, how to work effectively in a virtual environment, and much more, to bring our people closer together and help build deeper connections during such a difficult time. For example, some groups have formed around the unique challenges being faced by parents who are juggling work-life with home schooling and childcare amidst school closures. These were established in response to our people telling us very early on that they were yearning for connection, particularly around common challenges they were facing. For those teams now working remotely, creating a sense of belonging for everyone poses some unique challenges and requires new ways of leading. Our own team research found that a sense of belonging was a driver of overall well being. “Virtual leadership” requires increased self awareness in recognizing blindspots that can get in the way of enabling everyone to feel heard in video meetings, and encouraging the full contribution of each team member. I encourage you to explore the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ database that includes best practices for building a virtual inclusive culture, including specific actions related to COVID-19. And as our US Chairman Tim Ryan shared, now is the time for business leaders to prioritize diversity and inclusion as we rebuild from COVID-19.
Removing stigma through storytelling
We know conversations about mental health may often be associated with stigma or shame. At PwC, we encourage our people to give each other the ‘green light to talk’ — to feel comfortable sharing with trusted colleagues whether they are feeling overwhelmed on a particular day, need some help designing a more flexible schedule, or could benefit from expert help. Many of our people, including our senior leaders, have come forward to share their personal experiences with mental health, and we have launched an e-learning series to help employees navigate conversations around mental health and identify when expert help may be beneficial. Well-being is not a solitary journey — we’ve learned that in the workplace, teams are a big part of creating a culture that supports and enables well-being at scale. For this reason, we’ve encouraged all of our teams across the firm to commit to well-being plans, since the simple act of committing to specific actions and sharing these actions with colleagues can result in a heightened sense of well-being and improved mental health. Ultimately, our goal is to normalize these conversations day-to-day so that discussing mental health might one day become no different from discussing physical health.
While we recognize that some organizations may not be able to offer a broad suite of benefits, it’s important to start by simply having open conversations about employee needs around mental health and well-being. Meet your people where they are and show them that you are listening by adapting your benefits to address their needs, especially during times of uncertainty.
- Our experience points to what’s possible, and the importance of evolving benefits and resources for virtual workforces
- Flexibility and empathy are key: this pandemic has evoked a wide range of emotional reactions in people, and it’s important to champion mental health efforts now more than ever
- Reinforce respect and inclusion, and realize that no two experiences are the same. We are all facing our own unique challenges related to this crisis across physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. Team plans are a key to driving well being at scale!