In honor of World Mental Health Day, I spoke with Mary Alice Vuicic, chief people officer at Thomson Reuters. Vuicic has been a longtime advocate for “hybrid work, a value-based workplace and prioritizing well-being and mental health over productivity at any cost.”
In a competitive job market, companies need a smart strategy to attract, hire and retain top talent. “Employees are looking beyond compensation, in favor of employers that embrace diversity and inclusion, flexibility, overall well-being and represent a higher purpose. People are looking to fit their job around their life, not their life around the job,” Vuicic said.
She added, “The pandemic has accelerated people’s focus on how they want to live their lives and how work can fit into their ideal life and work from anywhere. Flexible work, primarily, gives them more opportunity to do that.” This includes offering a two or three-day, in-office hybrid work model.
Vuicic shared some of the exciting developments at Thomson Reuters, which are being implemented to enhance the work lives of its people. The company’s investment in wellness has become a fundamental building block. Employee surveys have indicated the toll the pandemic has taken on the mental health and well-being of its workers. Thomson Reuters is “purposefully investing” in its people with mental health resources and other benefits, as the company transitions into its hybrid work model.
The organization’s approach to mental health includes the following:
- Executives and people leaders are encouraged to speak out on issues of wellness and mental health to break the stigma. By sharing personal stories of mental health challenges or committing to simple acts, like changing the messages on their “out-of-office” alerts to say that they are taking time off, they would be leading by example.
- All employees are entitled to two mental health days off—one in May and one in October. This initiative was introduced in October 2020, during the pandemic, and the company has now decided to make it permanent.
- During October 2021, in honor of Mental Health Day, Thomson Reuters is running a month-long campaign, including:
- Individualized and anonymous psychological self-assessment tools to help employees identify their strengths, risks and develop individualized strategies
- A 14-day mindfulness challenge using the Headspace app. which can include activities ranging from mini meditation in the morning to breathing exercises before bed
- The launch of a Mental Health Playbook for people leaders to support them in creating safe spaces to talk about mental health
- In May 2021, Thomson Reuters became a signatory of the Mindful Business Charter, a group dedicated to helping organizations embed mindful business practices into their organizations.
- In 2020, Thomson Reuters launched the Headspace app for practicing mindfulness and meditation and expanded its ACCELERATE well-being platform, powered by Virgin Pulse, to all employees in 2021.
- In 2020, the company introduced shortened meetings to ensure scheduled breaks between back-to-back virtual meetings and added online collaboration tools (virtual whiteboards).
According to Vuicic, diversity and inclusion must be a top priority of the executive team and the board of directors. Attracting diverse candidates means nothing, in the long run, if they don’t stay. Companies need to develop a culture that supports and cultivates diverse talent. This means implementing programs that help women and other diverse talents not only stay, but thrive in the workforce.
The chief people officer said her company has expanded its mental health and well-being resources. She wants to make access easier for people around the globe. The last year has impacted us all. In the U.S. alone, where its largest employee population is based, four in 10 adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression, a surge in alcohol and tobacco use, problems sleeping and more than 60% have reported weight changes. Within Thomson Reuters, employee surveys have found anxiety is one of the top-cited emotions over the past year.
It’s also important to pay attention to the impact of everyday influences. For example, Viucic said, “On a Zoom call or a Teams call, everybody is the same-sized square and it forces democratization and empowerment. Everybody has an equal voice.”
However, there are considerations to keep in mind. From the strain of excessive close-up eye contact to dwelling on the unnatural size of our features in the video display, virtual meetings are taking a mental toll on people—leaving them more tired than in-person interactions.
She admitted, “It is far more taxing to be on Zoom calls or Teams calls than it is to be in person, where many people get energy from being physically with other people.”
Despite all of the darkness of the past nearly two years, the pandemic has brought out bright spots. Vuicic said that she’s seeing the human side of Thomson Reuters and she loves it.
“As many of us have shifted to working virtually, we have been invited into each other’s homes and lives in an unprecedented way. Throughout my day, I meet my teammates and see them without makeup, without hair done and with beards growing out. I see children studying, playing, interrupting, laughing and crying. I see dinner being made and snacks eaten. I see pets sauntering by in the background—and sometimes in front. I hear dogs barking, timers going, online lessons and the occasional toilet flush. There is no judgment. We are all in this together,” said Vuicic.
The chief people officer remains hopeful that the world will emerge from this pandemic more “thoughtful, more caring and with more humility.” As she beautifully puts it, “Welcoming my Thomson Reuters family into my home and my life is more human and humbling and I love it. Let’s not lose this when we get to the other side.”