#3: Geoff MacDonald, Co-founder Minds@Work & former Global Vice President HR at Unilever
As a HR leader whose influence creates social change, what do you feel has been your most impactful action to date?
My most impactful action stems from getting clear on my own sense of purpose, which came from my lived experience of anxiety fuelled depression, which I was able to have a conversation about at work. A friend of mine, in 2012, couldn't ask for help, and he died by suicide. His death was my catalyst. We must be able to bring our whole selves to work. There are workplaces all over the world where people do not feel they can ask for help if they're struggling with any aspect of mental health. This is true across senior leadership and in teams. My most impactful action has been as a catalyst for getting the conversation on mental health going. When you get a conversation going, anything can happen - take President Kennedy for example - he began a conversation about sending a man to the moon, and low and behold, it happened.
At the moment, in your industry, what do you think is the most exciting opportunity for HR to change the world?HR leaders have been saying for years that people are an organisation's most important asset. I would like to change that - the health and energy of their people is the most important asset. Covid is a tragedy. Something positive from it, is that it has opened a window, an exciting opportunity, for HR leaders to truly lead organisations that enhance people's lives. Jeffrey Pfeffer did the research and is the author of Dying For A Paycheck. In many places in the world, this is the reality. If people are not healthy, if we have no energy, we can't produce, we can't show up. So we must take this opportunity. It's important for individuals', for teams' and for organisations' performance. We've done it in safety for years, now we need to make the health of people a strategic priority. Going to work should enhance your life.
Which particular areas of social and environmental injustice are you most passionate about, and see that your role gives you the chance to create change?
There is an injustice in the stigma of mental ill health - there are billions of people who are ashamed and think it is career limiting to talk about mental health. Anyone in the world who has physical Covid symptoms would talk about it at work and get help. But what about the mental health impact of Covid? If there is even a tiny chance that talking about it could lead to a recovery, could avoid a tragedy, it is worth fighting to correct this injustice. How can it be that organisations invest billions in Health & Safety, but most of it goes on safety? It's not as if I leave my emotional health or cognitive health at the door when I come in. I am a whole human being. Companies are investing in physical health at the moment - protective equipment and the like. What about mental health?
How have you best used your position to create a more equitable and inclusive environment in ways that deliver your business goals?
May I first note that I'm not taking the credit for all the work done at Unilever. Back in 2012, at Unilever, I was a catalyst for getting the conversation going on mental health at work. Tim Munden, the UK Head of HR and I co-led a programme, a pilot for how to break down the stigma around mental health and making health and welling a strategic HR priority. The RoI has been $2-$4 for every $1 spent - looking across measures such as attractiveness as a place to work, such as engagement - the current CHRO at Unilever mentioned to me recently that engagement scores are through the roof - over 90%. From catalysing conversations, we rolled out a programme and now the RoI is completely clear. In the Unilever case, why do it? Yes there is the business case, but also it's the right thing to do. Organisations have to have a duty of care for the physical and emotional safety of their people. Organisations can't run well without happy people.
What is the one specific action you would like to see all HR Leaders take to make a positive change for the world?
I would like every HR leader to relook at their HR strategy and insert, as a key point, enhancing the health of their people. I'd like to have another conversation about what this strategy looks like. No other HR priorities - talent management, culture change, recruitment - nothing can happen without physically and mentally healthy people. Specifically to address the stigma around mental health, I have three actions: 1) reflect on your relationship with mental health - is it compassion and empathy? Or is it intolerance? If it's intolerance, do some research, do some reading. 2) Start a conversation - as I've mentioned, once you begin a conversation, anything is possible. 3) When ready, share stories - stories are lifeboats out in the ocean - people listening will cling on to them and realise they're not alone. management, culture change, recruitment - nothing can happen without physically and mentally healthy people. Specifically to address the stigma around mental health, I have three actions: 1) reflect on your relationship with mental health - is it compassion and empathy? Or is it intolerance? If it's intolerance, do some research, do some reading. 2) Start a conversation - as I've mentioned, once you begin a conversation, anything is possible. 3) When ready, share stories - stories are lifeboats out in the ocean - people listening will cling on to them and realise they're not alone.