We speak to Bank of Ireland’s Chief People Officer, Matt Elliott, ahead of his appearance at The Watercooler Event on April 23-24 in London about all things Workplace Wellbeing. Embracing neurodiversity, he says, is going to be one of the biggest intentions for 2024, which he will talk about more at the event, particularly innovations currently in the planning.
In this chat he tells us about the key role of engaging content, especially via the retail bank’s popular Instagram feed, the focus on financial wellbeing and working with specialist neurodiversity consultancy auticon.
What has changed for you on the Wellbeing front since we came out of the global pandemic?
The big learning for us was the appetite for colleague connection through wellbeing. Colleagues need social connection in their lives, and looked to their employer for more of it.
The key bit through pandemic for me was that we started to do social events, virtually of course. At this time society shut down from an access and connection perspective, and people were looking to us. For some people, work was one of the only things that functioned, which it did largely remotely. There is more balance now of course, but I feel expectations, and appreciation, of connection and wellbeing through work have changed.
Do you think there is a higher level of financial literacy, and therefore wellbeing, because your employees work for a bank?
In certain roles the level of financial literacy will naturally be stronger, as is necessary for their role. But that’s not necessarily true for everyone, and it also doesn’t mean that colleagues won’t run into difficulty and need support. So, on that basis, as an employer we want to be there for them if they need our support on financial wellbeing.
We think about colleague wellbeing from a physical, financial and mental point of view and we don’t assume that, because we’re a bank, people don’t need support around financial wellbeing. Financial literacy is one of a number of steps on the journey to financial health. Our focus is on supporting colleagues’ overall financial wellbeing with financial literacy is a key part of that.
Tell me more about how you help colleagues with their financial wellbeing...
We ran a colleague campaign recently to make sure everybody feels supported, but also makes clear where support and help can be found. To learn and build awareness we ran podcast sessions and webinars, with experts talking about financial planning.
On a monthly basis we run ‘Your Finance Friday’ for colleagues which is focused on supporting financial wellbeing and financial literacy across the pillars of spend, save, borrow and plan.
And, a theme of our work, is to use someone who is known in Ireland to talk about the topic. So for this we used a public entertainment figure, Baz Ashmawy (Irish radio and TV personality, to see him having a ‘Mega Financial Wellbeing Chat’ with his mum, see this YouTube short video) supported our approach internally, which he has also done with customers where he fronts our adverts. We find that supports colleague interest.
This content is available online, and via our wellbeing app, so people can watch it on demand. We also tell people about it on our Instagram account.
Do you find Instagram is a good channel for wellbeing content from the bank?
Our private colleague Wellbeing Instagram account has really picked up strength over the last few years. Around a third (3,300) follow our account, dedicated to wellbeing.
It’s a sign of how much things have changed. I don’t feel Wellbeing is in any way a niche thing now; it’s mainstream. For us it’s how we come together in lots of ways with our people. A few years ago if you’d told me so many people would choose to follow our internal social media account in their own time, I’d have been amazed!
What have you learnt so far about making Wellbeing content work?
The key is not just to provide content. Whether it be mental or physical or financial health, we’ve provided appropriate content but done so via a series of programmes and, often, some form of activity to get people involved. We plan these programmes throughout the year.
I think colleagues are more prepared to talk to us now to receive support, in a way they weren’t a few years ago because of stigma. I joined the bank five years ago and I noticed work was needed to be able to discuss mental health. So, since then, we have ensured BOI is a safe place to be open and receive support.
Tell me about your special interest in neurodiversity...
I feel a sense of responsibility, in the job role and position I’m in, to make a difference when it comes to neurodiversity at work. I do have a family interest in neurodiversity, but at BOI this is about being welcoming to all, and given 15-20% of the global population is neurodivergent, we recognised we had work to do in this regard. We want everyone to thrive, so are working on enhancing our awareness around neurodiversity to be able to appreciate everyone’s contribution and difference.
Luckily understanding is growing and difference is increasingly being seen as a positive thing, whereas when I was young that wasn’t the case. I think of many brilliant people I’ve met along the way who maybe could have been even more brilliant if better supported with their difference appreciated and celebrated, versus being viewed as not fitting the norm. The result is exclusion, and a waste of potential.
While society has recognised diversity such as gender, we have had a lack of awareness around neurodiversity. I am sure understanding of neurodiversity will increase, and I’m very intrigued as to what that this will positively mean for society – at BOI we are working hard to hopefully set a good example.
What are you doing to support your neurodivergent colleagues?
We had a manager conference where we talked about appreciating everyone’s difference and being truly welcome to all, where you could sense the huge appetite to be more inclusive in the broadest sense of the word.
We are delivering training to build awareness, making changes to our hiring approach, and being readier to make adjustments. We’re working with a company called auticon to help us get this right, and 2024 will be a big year for us in this regard.
Tell me about your work supporting neurodiverse colleagues through auticon...
We have two people placed through auticon in our organisation working on project work as consultants, with three more consultants joining us by end of the first quarter. auticon coach and mentor that person, but also their line manager in BOI, which I think is a really strong model.
The individuals can then go to the coach as a third party if they require support, as well as their manager. We are considering how this mentor/coaching model could be formalised and trained throughout BOI to enhance our colleagues expertise.
What are the biggest learnings you’ve had so far about how to better support neurodivergent colleagues?
auticon has done an assessment of our readiness to enable neurodivergent colleagues to thrive, conducted with colleagues who currently work for us. The findings report was a tough read as we aren’t getting everything right.
A group of neurodivergent colleagues are helping us progress, working in a private group facilitated by auticon. They give their insight to auticon and the hardest bit for me was to see the comments from those current employees as to our gaps, which we’re now addressing.
What areas are you looking at?
How to make ourselves more attractive to neurodivergent people as an employer, and more welcoming from the moment they arrive. So, if someone discloses they are neurodivergent, we will have an assessment of what adjustments we need to take as part of their joining process.
Additionally, we are building awareness amongst all colleagues, with a campaign planned for Neurodiversity Celebration Week on 13th-19th March.
Again, we’ll package our content together with role model leadership. Off the back of it, there will be online learning and manager training available, which won’t be mandatory, but I’m confident our colleagues will fully engage with.
Why don’t you want to mandate this content around neurodiversity?
We find this is the best with content for learning and adopting. As a bank we have a good amount of required learning every year. When we present the reasons for optional learning, we see high levels of participation for all the right reasons.
Time and again our colleagues demonstrate their appetite for learning and helping create a caring company. We have ideas about how to further colleague involvement as the year progresses, as we are sure many will wish to develop more expertise which will be valuable locally in getting our approach right.
You said earlier you believe you have the opportunity in your position as wellbeing lead to make a difference to people’s lives. Why?
I 100% believe that people are looking to workplaces now to build a sense of community and meaningful connection.
So I think I’ve got a really unique responsibility. The workplace has a significant opportunity to make more of a difference in people’s lives than it ever has. Why wouldn’t we want to do that for our people?