Driving the Mental Health and Wellbeing Agenda in 2020 and Beyond


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 beyond.

Getting started

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 culture.

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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 self-harm.

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

·         Holidays taken

·         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.

Ultimately, 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.


2020 and beyond

For Sally, 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.

Sally 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 enhancingin itself. In essence, they are getting more into the ‘work well’ aspects of ‘Be Well Work Well’ and focusing on prevention including:

·         Understanding everybody’s reality

·         Leadership behaviour

·         Relationships

·         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.

About the Author:

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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