Born a European (my mother is Belgian), it’s always been second nature for me to look and learn from what others are doing beyond the UK’s borders. So, I was delighted that for our inaugural MAD World event back in 2018, we were joined by Jan Gerding, Bosch Nordics’ HR Director, based in Denmark.
In advance of the event, we took the opportunity to find out a bit more about Jan Gerding’s work with Bosch Nordics’ proactive approach to supporting and promoting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
Even though this case study is a couple of years old, it’s still a great example of how HR can drive forward the mental health and wellbeing agenda within an organisation, collaboratively working with a range of stakeholders across the business.
Jan, first, can you tell us a bit about your role at Bosch? What does this encompass?
I have been responsible for the coordination of Nordic HR activities for all Bosch entities since 2004. This includes our sales organisation with presence in seven countries, where I have functional responsibility. I am located at Bosch’s headquarters in Denmark close to Copenhagen, and it is at this location that I have primarily had my focus on mental wellbeing.
Here, I have had good connection and contact with the organisation and I have been able to work with this topic as a project. Our experiences and best practices have since been shared with the rest of the departments in the region.
How does your responsibility for mental health and wellbeing fit with other functions such as health & safety, communications and learning and development?
Being responsible for HR, I have also been responsible for health and safety. Today this responsibility is shared. I am responsible for the health part and a dedicated manager is responsible for safety and environment. An important part of our project is communication – both internal and external.
The internal communication is important to ensure that our organisation is aware of what we can do to support people when they have a need and to promote that we are caring for our associates. External communication is important as well, to strengthen our employer brand, in our fight for the best candidates in the labour market.
You have had a stress strategy in place for more than 10 years. You mentioned to me that when implementing this, the first step was to get rid of the taboo around talking about mental health. How did you approach this?
In general, there are a lot of taboos around mental health. This is better today than when we started in 2006, but I believe that it is still an issue.
When we started our project, our mission was to change our approach from being reactive to being proactive. Our problem was that we could not be proactive when people tried to hide that they did not feel well. Openness and transparency did not exist in our organisation when it came to stress. When people became ill, we did not communicate the real reason for them being absent. Not being open just fed the sentiment that stress is something to be ashamed of. That was the perception in the organisation.
People felt weak and incompetent when they had stress. They also felt guilty, leaving colleagues to cover for them, when they were off sick. Then they also felt insecure about their job security – wondering for instance if the company would terminate their employment if they had let the company down.
We needed to change this so we started a campaign. First and foremost, I wanted to be open and transparent when people were stressed – to show respect and understanding for the person affected.
We also started training and communication about what stress was all about. That stress is natural and not necessarily dangerous in small doses. That anyone can get this and that the company does not perceive this as a sign of weakness.
We also taught them that the earlier interventions are made, the less damage will appear and the faster you can get back in good shape. We had ‘After working hour’s meetings’, where we invited colleagues’ partners as well, to spread the word. Inclusion of the partners at the meetings was also to bring the topic into the private/home domain.
However, these were only words. Afterwards we needed to prove that we also supported these words – and we have proved it. When our associates are willing to accept our interventions, we have not terminated a contract. We respect confidentiality and my mantra is that in my HR organisation, our most important asset is the trust of HR.
You have recently devised and implemented an updated stress policy. Why did you feel it was necessary to update this and what is different about your new strategy?
Things have changed since the implementation of our policy in 2006. People are working in a different way today – they are always online. We see that the trend continues with increasing numbers of cases of stress, depression and other mental illnesses. I read that in 2017, in the UK, 37% of all notices of sick leave and 45% of all sick absences were due to stress.
We also saw in our regular health checks that even though our absence due to stress is still relatively low, there are indications that mentally wellbeing could be improved in our company.
From studies and also from our own experiences when working with a stress coach, we have learned that there are different sources of stress. There is the organisation (company, colleagues etc.) and there is the private life (family, friends, work-life balance etc.). We have focused on these sources, with our use of coaching.
A third source of stress is the individual (inner convictions, own expectations etc.). What are the reasons for this inner pressure? Why am I never satisfied with my job, when everyone else is? Why do I always end up in the same kind of conflicts? We can’t find the answers to these questions with a coach, but we hope to be able to help the associates to find these answers with a psychotherapist.
For this reason, we started to offer our associates therapy in April this year. Leadership@Bosch has three perspectives: Leading my business, Leading my Self, Leading others. I believe, that having good self-understanding can only help me being better in Leading my Self, and self-understanding is what we aim for by offering psychotherapy.
What is your personal vision for the next generation of workplace wellbeing?
My personal vision has two parts. First is to lead the way in helping our associates to get better self-understanding. We want our associates to be passionate and I believe that when you dare to look inside it is easier to find your passion. With self-understanding, courage and respect we can have better contact with supervisors, peers and those who report to us. This in turn benefits the business and overall mental wellbeing in the workplace.
The second part of my vision is to make mental wellbeing a joint responsibility for associates and management.
What are the key takeaways you would like to gain from being part of MAD World on 8 October?
In general, we have been very autonomous working with mental wellbeing in my company. We have been first movers – introducing stress coach in 2006 and psychotherapy in 2018. I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s happening concerning mental wellbeing outside of my company and outside of Denmark.