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How Julius Baer Has Transformed Workplace Culture and Performance

Wrote this on

July 29, 2022

In a recent episode of The Everymind Podcast, Paul McGregor (Founder of Everymind at Work) was joined by David Durlacher (CEO UK & Ireland at Julius Baer International Ltd) to discuss the importance of putting employee wellbeing above all else. 

Julius Baer International Ltd is the world’s largest pure wealth manager and David speaks on how placing his people at the heart of the business has completely transformed their workplace culture and performance. 

In the podcast, David shared many tips on how he and his colleagues have made an impact on employee wellbeing. A summary of the thoughts shared can be found below.

Put your people first

“It’s all about people. The heart of any business is the human capital. You are made or broken by that human capital. You need to look after, understand and motivate and stretch those people.”

This is where Julius Baer International Ltd is different. The words of their CEO speaks volumes about their ethos and approach to wellbeing at work. 

“Mental health is as important as physical health. It is really important to understand how we can help people to thrive in their jobs.”

Putting your people first means that employee wellbeing is not just a ‘tick-box’ exercise. We do not want people to ‘survive’, we want them to ‘thrive’ and implementing one-off wellbeing initiatives will not support this. Instead, organisations need to implement a proactive strategy, that has their employees at the forefront throughout.

Normalise the conversation 

“We are not trained mental professionals or psychologists, but we are trained to encourage people to normalise those [mental health] conversations.”

David noted that the biggest changes they have seen as an organisation are in the internal and external culture, most notably the stigma associated with mental health. 

People at all levels of the organisation are now encouraged to talk about mental health. For example, they have Everymind Champions and trained Mental Health First Aiders that range from the executive committee to more junior-level staff. “These people are enthusiastic and passionate about opening the dialogue across the entire business” and are encouraged to talk about what they are hearing. These people are supported by the fact that Julius Baer has also normalised mental health as a topic within their internal governance. 

“We want to break down that stigma internally… Normalise the conversation so that people feel ok when they are not ok.”

Externally, Julius Baer International Ltd is aware that at “the heart of our business is client relationships”. They have realised the power of being human both internally with colleagues and externally with clients. David said, “it is not simply talking to people about the markets or their wealth and financial goals, it is understanding them as people. Caring about their interests.”

It is about “encouraging people to see people as people, not just employees or clients” which can make the difference when it comes to employee wellbeing. This is something we are very passionate about at Everymind at Work and is a key part of our approach to improving workplace mental wellbeing.

Look at mental health in a positive way

“I am keen to see that mental health is not always associated with times of struggle, it is also associated with times of strength.”

Due to the stigma associated with ‘mental health’ in general, workplaces often see resistance from senior management as well as employees when it comes to implementing initiatives. At Everymind at Work, we often advise clients who are in the early stages of wellbeing support to focus on the positives and consider the language they use when talking about their wellbeing initiatives. For example, the use of ‘mental health’ versus ‘mental wellbeing’ may elicit very different responses when sending comms about a new webinar!

“For a whole generation, or a series of generations, mental health was seen as a weakness – a vulnerability almost to be feared. I don’t see that as much now but there is still a stigma.” 

As David mentioned, there is definitely still a stigma when it comes to mental health, especially in the workplace. But we are gradually chipping away at this and looking at mental health in a positive way is one way to continue the progress.

Encourage employees to be themselves

“People are not on a stage, they are people who need to be themselves [at work] and be cool with that.”

David spoke of a time when there was a true separation between employees’ “personal, private life” and their “work, public life”. This caused their true self to be left at their front door and their work self to be “performing on a stage”. The disconnect between these people not only causes strain on an individual’s mental health but would directly impact business results. 

It is therefore so important as an organisation to encourage employees to be themselves, to be human. 

“Mental health is not unique to any one industry, it’s of relevance to all”

Be purposeful when asking ‘how are you?’

“I tell every new joiner, if I pass you in the corridor and I say ‘how are you?’, and you say ‘I’m fine’ I want you to mean it. If you are having a bad day, tell me; I am not going to judge you.”

It is somewhat ingrained in British culture to reply ‘I’m fine, thanks’ when someone asks how we are doing. But as David highlights, “we have to be purposeful in asking the question and genuinely meaning the question; not going through it because it’s the polite thing to say”. 

At Everymind at Work, we always encourage people to ‘Ask Twice’. If you ask twice, you might get a different response on the second attempt because you are signalling that you are not asking out of politeness, or as a conversation starter, you are asking because you care. 

A key reminder from David here is that, if you do encourage people to be honest with their response, ensure that you “follow up in an appropriate way and be kind to the other person” otherwise people will not be as open in the future. 

Get to know your teams

“I would encourage everyone to get to know their team…Do you know three things personally about the lives of your teams? Do you feel as though they know things about your own personal life?”

Something that David and Paul kept coming back to in the podcast was trust. Trust between colleagues, trust between employees and clients, trust between the organisation and employees. Without trust, there is no psychological safety and employees will not be able to bring their true selves to work. It is therefore important that everyone gets to know each other at a deeper level so that trusting relationships can be formed. 

“Let’s get to know more than people’s names, let’s get to know them as people… What motivates them? What are they enthusiastic about or what do they hate? That starts to personalise the conversation so that when they are having a bad day they can say they are having a bad day.”

Encourage your leaders to get involved

“Mental health is not an HR topic, it is a topic for everyone from the very top down. It is a topic for every single person with the responsibility of leading people.”

Leaders must role model the behaviour they want to see in their employees and David is a true example of this. When asked what he does to look after his own mental health, David replied “I have learnt to be better at forming boundaries. I still try to end meetings 5 or 10 minutes early to allow people to mentally reset. I try and get a few more breaks and get more physical exercise”. When employees see their CEO demonstrating these behaviours, they are more likely to follow suit and invest in their own wellbeing. 

But leaders need to get involved on a wider scale, “not just on a training course which can be tokenistic”. David shared the power of sharing stories and how he has seen “people in round table seminars talking about their experience of mental health struggles”. When leaders show vulnerability, it is powerful. 

“Vulnerability breeds vulnerability. Being able to share what your experience is, will encourage someone else to share what their experience is and who knows, maybe that one thing that you say could really help that other person.”

Make sure you are supporting those who support others

“You need to make sure that people who are supporting others, in any form of leadership, are themselves supported.”

Whether it is your people leaders, mental health champions, or MHFAs, the organisation must ensure there is support available. This could be internal support groups, external signposting or encouraging individuals to build their personal support networks. 

You cannot support others if you are not supporting yourself first. 

Utilise wellbeing data appropriately 

“If you ask the questions right, you can find out how people are in an anonymous way – on a regular basis, get a feel of the pulse. The real question is what do you do with that?… It should be a matter for every corporate to survey people and to invest in them off the back of that.”

There are organisations that have little data available when it comes to wellbeing and there are organisations that have loads but do not use it. For a wellbeing strategy to be successful, data must be used to plan, monitor and track effectiveness. It can be hard to know what can and can’t be measured when it comes to wellbeing, but when the appropriate data is used it can have a big impact on results.

“You have got to do something with the data and ideally, you should have a goal – not just to say we want to improve this particular rating by this amount, but what’s the strategy and are we going to be whole-hearted about that strategy? And then measure whether that strategy has been effective.”

Our Takeaways 

It is refreshing to hear from a CEO who genuinely cares about employee wellbeing and who is fully on board with making a difference. David knows that “investing in your people will benefit the business”, but he also knows that “at the end of the day, no one will ever remember what you achieve but they will remember how you treated them”. 

People really are at the heart of all organisations, especially at Julius Baer and we are delighted to be their Workplace Wellbeing Partner. 

If you would like to hear more about putting these tips into action, or how we can support your business, you can speak with one of our wellbeing advisors here.

You can also sign up for our monthly wellbeing webinar for HR or subscribe to our monthly resources to enable us to help ease some of the weight from your shoulders.

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