Author: Margaux Reboul, Senior Lead People Experience at Qonto
Let’s ponder a question: as a responsible employer, what should you put first: the happiness or the mental health of your employees?
It’s a debate we’ve been having internally at Qonto for years.
The early example set by the Googles and the Apples of this world suggested that their priority was the pursuit of happiness. In tech circles, offices brought in football tables, chocolate fountains, chill zones and dedicated Happiness Managers to, literally, manage their employees’ happiness.
At Qonto, our collective reflection has taken us down the other path. Of course, we want our employees to be happy, and we work hard on creating the conditions for that to be the case. However, happiness is a subjective notion; it relies on external factors far beyond our control.
Instead, we chose to proactively protect the mental health of our employees. If 9 in 10 French workers say their work has a direct impact on their mental health, we felt it our duty to put team mental well-being first. After all, what chance is there of achieving happiness without a sound and healthy mind?
Health — both physical and mental — became our focus.
Then came Covid.
Covid the accelerator
Our choice to prioritize mental healthcare came in 2019, when we were around 150 people strong. In this sense we were proactive — we decided not to wait for a ‘trigger’ to which we would subsequently react. We selected a qualified external partner, Moka Care, through whom all Qontoers could access 4 sessions per year with a mental healthcare professional, with the costs entirely covered by Qonto.
Then, in early 2020, the world changed. The Covid-19 pandemic became the biggest mental health ‘trigger’ in living memory. With well-being initiatives already in place, we were able to leverage our nascent policy. We could provide Qontoers with psychological support to help them through a period in which the World Health Organization would later record a 25% increase in anxiety and depression globally.
As Qonto already had a relatively advanced remote-work culture, we were also able to navigate the challenge of imposed, full-remote work better than those companies who had it suddenly thrust upon them.
That said, we certainly could not claim that we were ‘Covid-ready’. Who could? We, like everyone else, had to adapt. Fast. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for us to go even further in our approach towards mental health.
So, in early 2022 we launched a flagship initiative of our well-being policy, in partnership with Moka Care: Qonto’s Mental Health Academy. At its heart is a series of workshops for HR teams, managers and employees alike, designed to raise awareness of mental health topics and psycho-social risks. Our objective with this Mental Health Academy is to have 100% of our managers and 200 Qontoers (out of around 700 currently) fully sensitized and trained by the end of 2022.
Why a dedicated mental health policy?
As is invariably the case at Qonto, the first question was ‘why?’
Firstly, two of our core values are “Ambition” and “Integrity”. Qonto asks plenty of its team to remain ambitious. On the flip side, it is Qonto’s responsibility to put a solid framework in place to ensure that ambition is kept healthy.
But behind this basic, human reasoning there does lie a business incentive: the acquisition and retention of the best talent.
Employee expectations on healthcare have risen, especially among the young. A survey in the UK reports that 55% of employees would leave their job if mental health wasn’t supported by their employer. That rises to 78% among 18 to 24-year-olds. In a tech sector where staff turnover rates are high, and where working days can be intense and challenging, retaining talent is a key priority.
The data suggests the same in terms of talent acquisition: 57% of respondents said that a company would have more chance of hiring them if it had a supportive mental health policy. Developing one would is becoming a solid asset in the tech talent war.
Letting teams guide the project
When it came to building the policy, we began in the same way we do for all big HR projects: we listened to what Qontoers felt and what they expected.
We carry out 2 employee engagement surveys each year (a total of around 50 questions) to better understand exactly what working at Qonto entails. In Q3, 2021, we asked, as we always do, about work-life balance and employees’ ability to disconnect from work in their free time. The results of this survey guided us in designing Qonto’s Mental Health Academy. Thus, we defined workshop themes such as organizing life in remote-work conditions, mental disconnection, and stress and emotion management.
Another idea that emerged was making managers ambassadors for mental healthcare and giving them ownership of the issue with regard to their respective teams. As HR Business Partners, we encourage managers to act, whether it’s by encouraging team members to ask for reprioritization of their tasks or implementing focus times when team members are freed from meetings. We count on each manager to lead by example on this topic and to be responsible for the work-life balance of their team.
Finding the expertise
At Qonto, we might be highly skilled at creating finance solutions to energize businesses, but we can’t pretend to be experts in the treatment of mental health. That’s why we turned to our external healthcare partner Moka Care to provide that specialist expertise.
It is not, however, a case of leaving the entire issue for Moka Care to deal with on our behalf. We were keen that Qonto could be as involved as possible in a collaborative venture. Our internal People Development team acts as an intermediary that liaises with Moka Care on one hand and Qontoers on the other. People Development managers are ambassadors for the Mental Health Academy and co-animate quarterly workshops under the tutelage of Moka Care’s specialist coaches.
Over time, this internal team will become trained in coaching methods so that we can build our own internal knowledge base within Qonto to complement the precious work done by Moka Care.
Prevent where possible, cure when necessary
Our mental health policy has a clear objective: to prevent mental health risks. Of course, the preventive action is completed by the individual accompaniment offered to our employees, which can be a safe introduction to heavier curative action that can be pursued by Qontoers themselves in their personal life.
Satisfying the first of those goals requires us to increase awareness and sensitize our teams to the risks and warning signs of mental ill-health. As a result, all Qontoers are encouraged to sign up to the 50-person workshops, either from the office or from home.
When problems do occur and employees find themselves struggling with mental health, procedures are in place to ensure the issue is addressed swiftly on an individual basis. Whether the situation is professional or personal in nature, there are various channels open to all our teams, depending on the seriousness of the situation.
When a mental health concern is raised, either by the team member in question or by their direct manager, a People Development manager will promptly arrange a 1-to-1 meeting to discuss that concern. If the issue is a one-off difficulty without any apparent underlying, critical cause, the employee will be guided towards Moka Care’s advisors for a further examination of the problem. If the issue is recurrent, long-lasting, or more acutely debilitating, the employee will be encouraged and helped to seek medical attention from their GP or specialist.
Awareness and communication are key to our overarching policy; more than three quarters (76%) of French workers say they’ve never discussed their mental health at work, which is why it’s imperative for us to open multiple lines of communication and make mental health a topic that is discussed both publicly and privately.
It is difficult to quantify exactly the success of our mental healthcare policy, as we expect the results to be seen only in the mid to long term. Unfortunately, mental health treatment can often be seen in corporate circles as a gimmick, or a cost that can be minimized with ‘quick-win’ solutions. But we believe that view undermines a company’s long-term strategic vision. There is quite clearly much value in higher productivity, sustained dynamism, and the ability to attract and retain top talent.
Rather than seeking fast answers in terms of quantitative ROI, we can see our policy bearing fruit in the response of our teams. The feedback speaks for itself:
178 individual sessions have been organized with Moka Care in the last 12 months;
100% of participants are satisfied and 70% are very satisfied with the Mental Health Academy workshops;
83% think they will be able to use the skills they’ve acquired.
So, what’s next?
Our global vision for 2023 is to continue sensitizing, training, and supporting our employees with regards to their mental health. In our logic of continuous improvement, in the coming months we will examine everything we’ve learned in the course of 2022; the results of that analysis will then shape our roadmap for 2023.
Mental health is, by nature, an issue that requires personalized care; there is no one-size-fits-all solution. So, once again, we count on our engagement surveys to identify the initiatives that our employees wish Qonto to pursue. By bringing mental health to the attention of all, by enabling open discussion and breaking the taboo that’s historically existed around it, we believe we can provide a solid safety net for Qontoers.
We can’t guarantee that all employees will always be happy. Yet, by putting the focus on promoting mental health in the workplace, we believe we can remove one of the biggest barriers to their happiness.