Sandy Torchia is vice chair of talent and culture at KPMG U.S. Views are the author’s own.
Early in my career, I traveled back and forth between California and Washington, D.C., week after week, exhausted after tough days at work and lacking time to unplug. There were days where I was the only woman or the only person of color in various meetings, and I began to understand how feelings of imposter syndrome or burnout could set in.
I was fortunate to have a strong support system, but without it, I can imagine how difficult it would have been to actively manage my own mental and emotional health — whether it was as simple as finding time to call a family member or friend, go for a run or read a book. Ultimately, these small acts meaningfully improve well-being, but they take purposeful, focused effort and oftentimes, the demands of work and life can get in the way.
How do a company and its leaders assess the roles they play in supporting the emotional and mental well-being of their people? It’s a question I ask myself often in my current role as head of talent and culture at KPMG U.S. It’s not as simple as creating a good benefits package. Normalizing the conversation around this topic is as critical as developing preventative actions and programs that can help people find ways to manage their energy, set healthy boundaries and meaningfully connect with each other.
For Mental Health Awareness Month, our firm planned events and awareness campaigns to help our people prioritize their well-being and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. We also reflected on where we are in our journey towards equipping everyone at our firm with the tools and resources they need to proactively manage their own mental well-being and that of their teams. Three pillars are important in this journey:
1. Seek employee feedback and act on it. In February, we conducted a mental well-being experience survey of our people to get a better understanding of their day-to-day experience. This survey indicated bright spots that signal people feel a sense of camaraderie within their teams, feel respected and cared for by their team leaders, and feel positive about the work itself. However, key challenges remain around work and life pressures, including the ability to maintain a reasonable balance. As a result, we are currently conducting digital focus groups with thousands of our people to dive more deeply into the findings from the survey and identify areas where we can make the most impact, including in the preventative and responsive offerings we provide. This will ensure we have the right benefits for what our people need, both now and in the future.
We also launched two virtual trainings — “Psychological Safety” and “Mental Health Matters”— that address how people can take care of themselves and others and create a psychologically safe work environment. The former is mandatory, and all partners and employees will have taken the training by August. Although our Mental Health Matters training isn’t mandatory, over one-third of our people have voluntarily taken the course to date, reflecting the importance of this topic to our community.
2. Focus on team leaders. Individuals manage their own mental health and encounter the mental health of the people they work with daily. Therefore, it is critical for us to make sure that our leaders have the resources that they need to not only support their own mental-being but to also have meaningful conversations with their teams and counselees. This includes actions like:
- Assessing managers’ existing workload — considering what can be streamlined and automated — so they’re not overburdened or overwhelmed and can effectively support those that they manage.
- Working with leaders and managers to understand the ripple effects of their own well-being — whether positive or negative — with recommendations and resources on how to manage their feelings even when they are not at peak health to provide situational consistency for their teams.
- Best-practice sharing around successful approaches and techniques for 1:1 and group check-ins to avoid potential pitfalls such as invasive questions or unnecessary oversharing.
- A new pilot program called “EAP test drive” among managers, where they are asked to personally test and experience how the confidential service connects employees to mental-health resources. This gives managers a better understanding of how the process works when an employee seeks help, while also giving them insight into the many services that the EAP provides for employees and their families.
Although specific resources and tools may be necessary for acute mental health issues, by equipping all our people from the top-down with effective approaches to managing mental well-being for themselves and others, we can create an environment where we openly discuss mental health the same way we do physical health.
3. Reimagine work to reduce pressures in the system. I mentioned earlier what it was like to be traveling week after week early in my career. One goal of our hybrid work model, Flex with Purpose, is to alleviate some of that pressure by empowering our employees to partner with their clients and colleagues and decide when connecting in person makes sense. Balancing the benefits of being in person with the flexibility that helps alleviate burnout is important. These purposeful in-person gatherings include meetings and trainings at KPMG Lakehouse, our firm’s state-of-the-art training, development and innovation facility and cultural home that hosted nearly 26,000 employees last year. It also includes volunteer activities like our annual Community Impact Day which saw more than 22,000 professionals come together to provide over 60,000 volunteer hours to approximately 450 nonprofits last year on our firm’s 125th anniversary.
Additionally, our whole firm closes twice a year for more than a week — in the summer and at year-end. These breaks allow our people to fully relax and recharge by providing an extended period without many of the meetings and emails that can continue during traditional personal time off. We recognize the tremendous benefits these shutdowns afford our people, allowing them to fully disconnect and return to work recharged.
Ultimately, these efforts — among many others — aim to make the complicated more simple for our people as they juggle various work and life demands, and provide them with the flexibility they need every day. I am proud of the progress we have made, but also recognize that mental health needs to be a multifaceted, ever present focus area. We are committed to evolving our programs, culture and ways of working to meet our peoples’ needs, both now and in the future.