Pearson WELL wins the Allan Fels Mental Health Award for 2018

Pearson’s approach to mental health pays off – in more ways than one. In just one year Pearson WELL reduced workplace depression by 17 per cent, anxiety by 27.3 per cent and stress by 13.3 per cent and saved the organisation more than $1 million. In light of these achievements, Pearson has received the Allan Fels Mental Health Award for 2018, beating Australia Post and Energy Queensland to secure the coveted title.

The catalyst.

In 2016 the engagement scores of Pearson employees dropped significantly, which, needless to say, was alarming for senior management. It suggested that:

  1. Discretionary effort was at an all-time low

  2. Employees did not feel valued.

At the same time, there was a rise in stress claims.

A dip in engagement and increase in stress? A result that no business would ever want – but one that became the catalyst for change. The challenge for Pearson leaders was clear: address engagement and focus on people.

It starts at the top.

It was then that Pearson’s Managing Director, David Barnett, chose to share a personal story about his own struggles and how he keeps himself well. His story set the tone for Pearson’s new culture of supporting open, safe conversations.

It also inspired the leadership team. They wanted to create a strategy that would go beyond the management of stress claims; one that would optimise the health of each employee so that they could bring their best selves to work every single day. And so, Pearson WELL was born.

Pearson WELL: in a nutshell.

This is a scaleable, research-based, three-tier approach designed to:

  • Maintain a sustainable workforce

  • Reach everyone

  • Build trusting partnerships

Primary tier: sustain

Focus: prevention of illness
How: by building a healthy and safe culture to protect all employees

How Pearson did it.

A Domestic Violence Policy was introduced. The ‘Return to Work and Rehabilitation’ and ‘Equal Employment Opportunity’ policies were refined. Senior leaders observed their teams in action and focused on early intervention.

Perhaps the most ‘visible’ change was to company-wide meetings. After the adoption of Pearson WELL, each one began with the ‘People Agenda’ to signal the importance of employees to the organisation. The order of agenda items became (and still is):

  1. People

  2. Customers

  3. Results

This meeting structure lines up with Pearson’s overall business model: employees first. When employees come first, they are then equipped to look after customers and results will follow.

Secondary tier: reach

Focus: reduce the occurrence and impact of injury or illness among employees

How: by encouraging participation and self-care to build resilience and reduce susceptibility to mental health episodes

How Pearson did it.

An annual calendar of events was put together and heavily communicated on the company’s internal intranet site. Two events gained a lot of traction: Stepathalon and RU OK? Day.

Stepathalon was available to all employees: remote and in-house. It provided a way for Pearson to effectively measure positive changes to mental health in the workplace – one of the first organisations in Australia to do so.

“This program reaches all our people all over the country, our region and our global colleagues, suits people of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels and is not focused on competition, despite many of our better natures, but on habit forming. We’re definitely doing it again this year and recommend it to others.” - Mr Barnett

Pearson Australia is one of three companies in the nation to have run the program two years in a row, and saw an 18 per cent reduction in depression averaged from 2016 and 2017 results. This is compared to a seven per cent decrease in depression achieved by taking antidepressants, other studies show.

RU Okay? Day gave employees the opportunity to amplify the messages of a growing global movement in order to promote and de-stigmatise conversations about mental health. Pearson leaders wore RU Okay? Day t-shirts in the office to visibly show their support for the event, while the director of RU Okay? Day led a presentation on how to build resilience, mood and performance.

Tertiary tier: trust

Focus: to support employees recovering from mental illness

How: by putting trusting relationships in place

How Pearson did it.

To build trust, Pearson WELL connected with the community to help raise awareness of mental illness. Programs that aligned with Pearson values and the Pearson WELL strategy were chosen, promoted, and supported.

One of them was The Mental Health First Aid program, which is an Australian government initiative that helps people recovering from physical or mental illness.

Informed by personal journeys, for personal journeys

The impact of Pearson WELL has been nothing short of phenomenal, but the reason behind its success is simple: Pearson adopted a human approach to a human problem. At the end of the day though, it’s like any system – fine-tuning needs to be ongoing for best results. Pearson is committed to that.

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