Spotlight Series: Insight from Deloitte on tackling the GBC Pledge

The Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health (GBC) aims to help organizations all over the world – large or small – to prioritize employee mental health. As a business-led initiative, the insights and best practice that the GBC will share will be heavily informed by the Founding Partners and the visionary leaders and companies who sign our six-point Pledge.

In the article that follows, Emma Codd, Deloitte Global Inclusion Leader– one of the GBC’s Founding Partners – shares her organization’s approach to tackling the areas outlined in the GBC Pledge.


Emma, who for many years was a Partner in Deloitte UK’s Financial Advisory business, served as Managing Partner for Talent for Deloitte UK (and latterly Deloitte North West Europe) from 2013-2019.  During her time in this role Emma oversaw an increased focus on inclusion and mental health for the firm. In early 2020 Emma was appointed as Deloitte Global Inclusion Leader and one of her first tasks in this role was designing the next stage of the organization’s global inclusion strategy – including expanding it to include a pillar focused on mental health.  


Reaching a consistent level globally 

Deloitte operates in more than 150 countries and territories around the world – its approximately 330,000 people provide services in audit and assurance, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax and related services. In January 2021, Deloitte became a Founding Partner of the GBC, with the Deloitte Global CEO – Punit Renjen – signing and committing to the pledge. 


Although mental health had become one of the organization’s global inclusion priorities in 2020, the first building blocks had been laid by the progress that had already been made by Deloitte in the UK, US and Australia amongst others. Emma explained that this formal global focus is now enabling the organization to learn from those Deloitte firms that have made progress and to develop a globally consistent approach. She added that the GBC pledge has also given them a clear framework on which to build their approach – with their strategy aiming to deliver on all six pledge commitments.  


The foundation for this global consistency is a mental health baseline developed by Deloitte which launched in January 2021, a few days after the GBC pledge was signed. The baseline sets clear expectations for the components that it sees as critical in its focus on mental health in each of the 150 countries and territories in which Deloitte operates – it seeks to deliver on elements of the GBC pledge and has been informed by the success of actions in countries that had already started down the road.  


The baseline has four key elements – all of which are accompanied by detailed guidance:

  1. Leadership, education, and raising awareness: Change needs to start from the top, so Deloitte is educating its leaders through awareness raising – this incorporates the business case for supporting mental health, and how to enable good mental health at work.
  2. Reducing and eliminating stigma: This focuses on how people are talking about mental health, and how frequently. Deloitte is encouraging its leaders to share their own experiences in an effort to normalize the conversation. And it wants them to use the words ‘mental health’, in the view that even just using these words regularly may help to eliminate stigma. 
  3. Providing learning and support to all: this includes Deloitte Global’s mental health podcast series, ‘how to’ guides (including ‘how to talk about mental health’), and a curated learning channel focused on mental health. The organization wants Deloitte people, wherever they are in the world, to know how to access support. 
  4. Identifying and evaluating causes of mental ill health: Deloitte has incorporated specific questions around mental health into its annual global people survey – allowing them to measure progress and impact against every action. It has also set out expectations in terms of local evaluation of data and the use of that data to identify relevant solutions at a local level. 


While each Deloitte firm has committed to meeting this set of minimum requirements and is being supported by Deloitte Global on the journey, there is also a focus on working with those Deloitte firms already meeting the baseline to help them progress even further.  


Deloitte’s focus includes embedding messaging around mental health throughout the career life cycle. As part of this, Deloitte will be rolling out a global digital training for their people to develop the skills they need in order to feel confident in starting conversations about mental health. This virtual training complements learning provided at Deloitte University facilities, which have started to incorporate sessions on mental health within their milestone programming.  Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions, mental health sessions have been running online that people can also simply drop into.


Learning from its own thought leadership

Deloitte’s external thought leadership is also a key aspect considered by the organization both in the design of its strategy and the ongoing delivery against it – for example, in 2017 Deloitte UK supported the British government’s independent Stevenson-Farmer Review of Mental Health and Employers; this was followed by a Deloitte UK 2020 report, Mental health and employers: refreshing the case for investment, published with the UK mental health charity, Mind, which focused on the cost to business of not addressing mental health at work and gave recommendations on how employers can tackle poor mental health in the workplace.  Deloitte Canada was similarly able to demonstrate how investment in workplace mental health programs can mitigate the costs of doing nothing.


Deloitte Global’s annual Millennial Survey has also enabled Deloitte to gain an insight into the mental health of two generations – millennials and generation Z – who together comprise a significant part of the organization’s workforce globally. In 2020, Deloitte Global for the first time included a number of questions on mental health in this survey (of 18,000 millennials and Generation Zs globally), with the findings set out in a white paper, Millennials, Gen Z and mental health: managing mental health in the workplace.  These findings not only highlighted the significant number of people suffering from stress and anxiety, but also the workplace stressors that contribute to this – namely a lack of work/life balance and the inability to be one’s true authentic self at work. Most recently, Deloitte Global published the mental health findings from its 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey, again in a white paper Millennials and Generation Z – making mental health at work a priority.  


Deloitte’s own thought leadership has thus provided critical insights when building out its strategy and continues to play a part in the actions they take. 


The power of storytelling 

Its focus on elimination of stigma has seen Deloitte use – and continue to use – the power of storytelling, with its people sharing their lived experience through written or filmed stories. Firms have developed their own approaches, each one designed to be impactful. Deloitte Asia Pacific’s ‘Courageous Conversations’ series is a way for people to share their life stories, including when it comes to mental health, while the Deloitte Global Mental Health Podcast series features stories from Deloitte people from all over the world – sharing their experiences and their well-being tips. Other campaigns such as Deloitte UK’s ‘This is me’ and ‘Are you okay?’ are focused on encouraging mental health conversations at all levels of the organization. 


Having a range of perspectives from a diverse group is essential. No one, Emma tells us, has ever said no to speaking out and those who have shared their stories range from junior staff members to senior leaders. Some have shared stories that go beyond their mental health and others have focused solely on their experience of mental ill health and their journey to good mental health. Each time a story is shared it helps to normalize the conversation, Emma says. 


Listen to your employees – make a plan and be prepared to flex it

Emma advises companies to start by listening to their people (listening groups and employee pulse surveys can be invaluable here). This is alongside looking at the data (such as sickness absence and engagement survey data) and – as you progress – using external benchmarking to help validate your approach or identify areas for improvement (whether this focuses solely on mental health, or wider employee engagement with a mental health component).


And this listening needs to be ongoing. To illustrate this Emma talks about her former role in Deloitte UK where employee feedback through an external benchmark showed that, despite a significant focus on mental health (including delivering against an agreed plan) and normalizing the conversation, people still felt that their leaders would not be able to either spot when they were experiencing mental ill health or know how to respond. This was identified through two means – listening groups and an external benchmark. So they set about addressing this feedback. Working with Mental Health First Aid England, Deloitte UK gave training to 500 of its most senior leaders on how spot the signs of poor mental health and initiate safe conversations. Deloitte UK also further built out and embedded people leadership expectations when it came to its leaders. The positive difference in benchmark scores the following year was significant and Emma believes that it was listening to people – and responding – that enabled this improvement.


Deloitte is applying this same approach globally. The mental health baseline asks Deloitte firms to listen and to use data and to devise solutions based on what you see and hear. You need to know if what you are doing is having an impact, she says, and you can only do that if you are continuously listening. 


Don’t neglect to focus on the contributors 

Emma is clear that, while access to support for those who need it is critical, it is not enough on its own. Organizations also need to be prepared to look at ‘prevention’ – including the way they work – and its impact on mental health. This is again where learning from Deloitte’s thought leadership comes in.  For example, Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2021 special report emphasized the importance of designing work for well-being to support remote work arrangements – and integrating well-being into the design of work at the individual, team, and organizational levels. 


In recognition of the importance of work/life balance when it comes to mental health and well-being, Deloitte Global created ‘Agile for All’, best practice in-depth guidance on agile working (its name for flexible working) which not only looks at policies but also at the workplace culture that is most helpful for agile working to be embedded.  Emma talks about going beyond policies – to the lived experience and culture – as being critical for success; it’s one thing to have a policy that says you can work in a way that is not seen as the ‘norm’, but it’s another thing for you to know that working in this way will not impact your career progression. And this, she says, comes down in large part to leadership behaviours. 


The same applies to inclusion; Emma’s role also sees her leading on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) for Deloitte globally and she is clear the need for what she describes as an inclusive ‘everyday culture’ when it comes to making meaningful and sustained culture on all aspects of diversity. And she is also clear that this ‘everyday culture’ is in large part down to leadership skills. There is one thing to say DE&I is a priority and there is another thing to live that, Emma says – it is lived and experienced through the way you lead and the way you are led. Emma again points to data – from the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey and from other external research – that shows that being unable to be who you really are at work is detrimental to your mental health and well-being. 


Deloitte knows these are two key factors when it comes to mental health at work and it knows that ‘everyday’ culture is key to success on both, says Emma – she believes that focusing on these pays off both from a wider employee engagement and mental health perspective. She believes that those organizations that have a deeply engrained respectful and inclusive culture will reap the benefit from greater engagement and, ultimately, well-being. 


On a journey 

While Emma believes that Deloitte has much to be proud of when it comes to its focus on mental health, she also knows that there is a lot to do. Delivering on the baseline is critical, as is enabling those who are already there to progress further. And this is where learning from others comes in – and, in particular, the GBC. Working alongside organizations who are equally focused on mental health at work on a global basis will enable Deloitte not only to access best practice but will also enable them to share what they have learned with others. 


Emma insists that none of their approaches come with a big price tag. Ultimately, she says, it’s about a focus on ‘everyday culture’ and a combination of actions that are trying to normalize the conversation – to allow people to know that it’s okay not to be okay and to be signposted to support. 

Find out more about signing the GBC Pledge.