MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

Stephanie Fitzgerald, Rolls-Royce: Practical, Evidence-based, Low-cost Workplace Wellbeing

Dr Stephanie Fitzgerald is Senior Business Partner – Mental Health at British multinational engineering company Rolls-Royce. She is also a speaker at the digital MAD World Summit.

MAD stands for Make A Difference. The MAD World Summit is the global go-to solutions-focused event for employers dedicated to accelerating the shift from stigma to solutions, turning talk into action and moving workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing mainstream.      

In this interview Stephanie gives a sneak peek of the perspective she’ll be bringing to the digital MAD World Summit agenda on 8 October.

Please tell us a bit about your professional background at Rolls- Royce. How did you come into your role looking after workplace mental health and wellbeing?

I’m a Chartered Clinical Psychologist by background, specialising in neuropsychology, trauma and anxiety disorders. When I worked in the National Health Service (NHS) I became very interested in staff wellbeing and piloted a programme looking at the impact of improving staff wellbeing on patient outcomes.

Unsurprisingly, I found that when your doctors and nurses are happy and healthy, your care is more consistent and of a better standard, and you heal faster and are able to leave hospital/ return home more quickly. This combined with the high pressure environment of working in the NHS ignited a passion for health and wellbeing at work, and the positive outcomes that healthy staff can have both for themselves and others.

Alongside various consultancy contracts I worked for the Rail Safety Standards Board (RSSB) as their Health and Wellbeing Lead and I was responsible for developing and delivering their wellbeing strategy. I began to realise how powerful health and wellbeing interventions could be in a corporate environment, and the impact of health issues on safety critical work. I was hooked! I love supporting people to be happier and healthier at work.

I took the role at Rolls-Royce because I was impressed that they were taking Mental Health so seriously and addressing the issue by recruiting at a senior level. I saw opportunities to make a real difference in a company that truly cares, and I have not been disappointed.

My NHS background has never left me and I specialise in a low cost or no cost approach. Health and wellbeing at work doesn’t need to be expensive and it doesn’t serve anyone well to throw money at a problem, but not address it – research supports the notion that you cannot buy solutions to health and wellbeing problems. This means my approach is always practical, evidence based – and cheap!

How long has Rolls Royce had a support programme for staff mental health and wellbeing? Is this a national or international programme?

Rolls-Royce has an externally reportable global accreditation programme called LiveWell which has been running for several years now. I joined the organisation just over a year ago in 2019.

What would you say has been the most effective aspect of your workplace mental health and wellbeing programme (in general)?

I am extremely comfortable in talking directly about mental health. This means I don’t use euphemisms or keep the subject ‘fluffy’ and people really respond to that direct approach – it gives them permission to talk openly and say how it is. I specialise in making the complex simple and tangible for people.

Mental health can be uncomfortable for a lot of people because they can’t see it and so that raises complications. Therefore rather than talk about stress as something abstract and that is being done to us, I explain the stress response, let people know what happens in their brains and bodies when they are stressed, guide them to connect with that and understand it in a work context, and then offer practical and straightforward practices to address it. The complicated made simple- it truly works.

Since COVID-19 what has been the most effective aspect of your workplace mental health and wellbeing programme?

The Rolls-Royce response has been fantastic. We immediately worked to get clear, concise and practical advice and support to people. We have been communicating guidance and support for people since January/February and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

We have been extremely responsive and openly asked people ‘what do you need help with?’. I went out to the businesses and asked ‘what are you struggling with?’. For example, people said ‘I’m struggling with home-schooling’ and so we immediately put out guidance, advice and support for parents and those who were struggling with school closures.

We also briefed our managers and made sure that the messages right from the top were ‘family first, health first, everything else can wait’ so that people felt supported. Our senior leaders took important Webex and Teams meetings with their children on their laps or running around the room, showing that we meant what we were saying and that we understood the very real pressures.

Our CEO and his team have been visible and accessible from the start which has also made a huge difference.

The pandemic has forced mental and physical health to the top of organisations’ agendas. Our goal is to make sure it remains a priority and becomes embedded as business as usual post-COVID-19. What do you think is the biggest obstacle that might stop this vision from becoming a reality and how can people driving this agenda within their workplaces overcome this?

I think a perceived obstacle will be lack of funds. People assume health and wellbeing is expensive because they associate it with gym memberships and fancy food in the canteen and so that puts people off. The reality is money can’t buy you healthy and happy employees, for so many reasons this simply won’t work.

We need people to understand the real priorities and focus on them – this isn’t about expensive training for people, or throwing money at one-off initiatives. This is about simple, straightforward and tangible approaches that people can relate to and implement.

Is there anything you’d like to share about your participation in the session “Future proof strategies and navigate the new supplier landscape” at the digital MAD World Summit on 8th October?

I’m so excited to be part of this amazing event. MAD World brings together the best in forward-thinkers in this area and I am excited to be joining the debate. I will be sharing what I have learnt in my experience and what we have learnt at Rolls-Royce – the good, the bad and the ugly! I look forward to virtually meeting everyone there, it’s going to be a great day! 

Dr Stephanie Fitzgerald will be joining us as a speaker at the MAD World Summit – the global go-to digital event for employers who want to Make A Difference to workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing – taking place 8 October. We are also running Make a Difference Summit US in Association with Mind Share Partners on 15 October and Make a Difference Summit Asia on 11 November, 2020. Pick and choose the content most relevant to you or attend all the digital events with our Global Pass. You can find out more and register here.