The business of mental wellbeing – with Fujitsu

This episode of the Acas Podcast is the second of 3 episodes featuring stories from employers working to improve mental health at work.

We're joined by Sarah-Jane Littleford, head of responsible business at Fujitsu global delivery.

Sarah-Jane shares:

  • how it makes business sense for Fujitsu to invest in the mental wellbeing of their people
  • how Fujitsu's approach to wellbeing has shifted during the pandemic
  • her insights on what's made the biggest difference

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Episode notes

Find out more with our mental health resources during coronavirus.

Read our latest policy paper on the impact that covid-19 (coronavirus) is having on how workplaces support mental health.

Contact an Acas adviser for tailored support


Sarah Guthrie: Welcome to the Acas Podcast. My name is Sarah Guthrie. We are the workplace experts and our aim is to make working life better for everyone in Britain. This episode is the second in a series of 3 looking at practical examples of how employers have supported mental health and wellbeing at work.

In the first episode, we heard from Martin Short at the Ministry of Defence, and this episode, I'm delighted to be joined by Sarah-Jane Littleford, who is head of responsible business at Fujitsu global delivery. So thanks so much for joining us today, Sarah-Jane.

Sarah-Jane Littleford: Happy to be here. Thank you.

Sarah: So we're going to be talking in this episode about why Fujitsu thinks it's worth investing in staff wellbeing, what the benefits have been, how you do it, how Fujitsu does it, and what other workplaces can learn from this. But Sarah-Jane, I wonder if you could start off by just telling us what your role is at Fujitsu global delivery?

Sarah-Jane: Yeah, so as you said, I'm head of responsible business for a region of Fujitsu that we call global delivery. So global delivery is, as it suggests, a global part of our business. It covers 8 countries, right across the world, from Costa Rica in the west, all the way to the Philippines in the east. And it's the part of our business where we deliver services to our customers, we do provide multilingual 24-7 service desks.

But beyond that, we also provide a lot of technical services, like remote infrastructure management, R and D [research and development], all the technical stuff that goes on behind the scenes that makes a business function. There's about 15,000 people. My role as head of responsible business basically means that I work with all of the countries and local teams to set strategy for corporate social responsibility.

Sarah: How did you personally get into wellbeing and thinking about that as a topic?

Sarah-Jane: Fundamentally, it was because it was handed to me in my role of responsible business. And that was my first introduction to wellness in a corporate context. For me, personally, it's always been a huge part of my life.

And mental health was increasingly important, as I grew older, primarily because I did a PhD. And for anyone listening who has gone through that process, it's an incredibly humbling time. It's a mammoth project that you're delivering on your own, under your own steam, completely dreamed up by yourself. So it's an incredibly stressful time, at least, it was for me. So I learned a lot about mental health personally, during that time. And then I was able to bring that self-knowledge, at least, to my role at Fujitsu. And I've been learning so much from my colleagues and from experts, including at Acas, over the past few years.

Sarah: So before we get into the ‘how’ of supporting mental health and wellbeing, I'm wondering, what have been the benefits of Fujitsu investing in this?

Sarah-Jane: I think it is fundamentally clear that mental wellness is a strategic enabler for business. A report came out from Deloitte a year ago now, January 2020, that demonstrated that for every pound you spend on staff wellbeing, you get a £5 return for employers. You can't argue with the fact that putting time and attention into wellbeing delivers huge benefits for the business.

But we also recognise that as an employer, we have a responsibility to offer help and support for our employees. And that responsibility is something we take really seriously. Particularly over the past year, employee wellbeing has become so highly critical. And we've put a lot of energy and focus into that.

We've brought together multiple different teams, so not only responsible business, but also HR, our operational teams, our health and safety teams, to make sure that we are delivering something for our employees that is meaningful and impactful. And deals with all of the aspects of personal health – so yes, that is mental health, but it's also physical health and social health.

Sarah: It sounds like, particularly during the pandemic, that you've been working across different teams within Fujitsu to look at the whole picture, not just the mind and the mental part of what it means to feel well?

Sarah-Jane: Yes, definitely, since April 2020, which is the start of our financial year, we've delivered over 250 virtual wellbeing activities, which is a massive shift from how we used to deliver wellbeing activities. And that is over 10,000 hours of activities, which is about a 300% increase compared to the same period last year. So yeah, it's huge. It's not only the fact that we want to deliver these, but our employees really enjoy participating in them.

Sarah: So you've mentioned a whole bunch of activities that are in fact 10,000 hours-worth of activities. What would be your top recommendations of things that employers can do to support employee wellbeing, what do you think has made the most difference?

Sarah-Jane: So I would say that you have to fundamentally start from the right place. And for us, this has been using trust as a standard. So we set out to empower our employees. As they work from home, they set their own schedules, they work based on home needs, like childcare. And our employees trust us.

We had said at the beginning of the pandemic, that we wouldn't make redundancies across Fujitsu global delivery. So they knew they could continue to rely on employment, and not feel vulnerable in that way.

And we do continually build our systems around supporting our workers, to give them everything that they need remotely. So starting with the baseline of mutual trust, I think is really fundamental.

And then from there, something that we have found hugely helpful, was we launched an employee assistance program covering all of our global delivery locations – those 15,000 people – at the end of December 2020. We see significant usage of the online resources, of the webinars, and also of the calling services, just since it launched a few months ago.

I would say something that is also really important to do is to continually check in with employees. So we ran a dedicated COVID-19 employee survey actually a few months ago, to get employee feedback on the measures that we implemented. And this did show us that employees really felt protected, they were happy with what was being provided by Fujitsu – they felt cared for. And we've seen a significant rise in our employee communication scores as well. So that is fundamentally important – the clear lines of communication.

Sarah: I'm wondering, in this journey of setting trust as a standard and communicating that care, what kind of challenges have you come across?

Sarah-Jane: So, there have been challenges in this – we operate across very different cultural environments. So in some environments, there is already an openness to talk about mental health, and that is very acceptable in the national culture. Other countries where we operate, it's much more challenging to have these conversations about mental health. And indeed, the term ‘mental health’ has some stigma attached to it itself. So we do try to use the term ‘mental wellbeing’ as a way to be more open, and to be more inclusive of multiple different people across the world.

Another thing we have struggled with, is that we developed an absolutely fantastic training course for our managers – we did this in collaboration with Acas – and it was a day-long, face-to-face training, where we really worked with our people managers, to open them up to talking about mental wellbeing, to equip them with the tools to feel comfortable doing this. And also to make sure that they are aware of all the resources that were available in their locations, that they could direct their teams to.

Obviously with the pandemic, we weren't able to do that face-to-face delivery anymore. So we really have to think quite hard about how we adapt this to be delivered virtually. What are all of the things that we have to change – the adaptations that we have to make in a virtual environment, where talking about these controversial or difficult topics over video are very difficult. So that was another thing that we did have to contend with. But I'm happy to say that we have been able to make that adaptation. And we are now delivering that training course virtually.

Sarah: What do you feel in those discussions that you've learned through that process that can help others also struggling with that common challenge for people working remotely?

Sarah-Jane: So I think the pandemic really outlined an opportunity for us to think about what wellbeing training means. And we've realised that we need to shift our focus a little bit more, to not look at those kind of standard topics of anxiety, stress, awareness, but to talk more about resilience. This is such an important topic. Because we want to equip all of our employees to be resilient, to face challenges and to bounce back and to keep going with a healthy mental attitude. And that's really what resilience is all about.

So we are rolling out new training courses to help our employees gain more knowledge on this, on how to deal with rough terrain, but still protecting their mental health. So it's not just about crisis responding, but it's about long-term health and wellness.

Sarah: It's interesting, thinking about the word resilience, which is perhaps a positive attribute that we are wanting to grow and that we can develop, as opposed to stress, which is a negative symptom that we want to minimise. And am I right in thinking that maybe resilience – because of that – is easier to deal with virtually as a topic, as opposed to the more crisis-acute language around stress and anxiety?

Sarah-Jane: I think you're absolutely right, Sarah. Yeah, I think that's really true.

Sarah: And you mentioned that different cultures have different attitudes towards the word ‘mental health’, and you've adapted your language to make it as inclusive as possible in a global organisation. I'm just wondering whether you come across people in your day-to-day work that do have a stigma attached to talking about this, and how you go about bringing them on a journey of being open to talking about it?

Sarah-Jane: So I think the most important part of that is showing that this is something that our senior leadership team can be and are open about. I think there's a real value to seeing senior people in an organisation talk about topics that might be controversial or taboo in some parts of the world. Because talking about something means that it exists, and it's okay that it exists.

So for example, one of our senior leaders has been very open about their mental health, talking about their anxiety and how this leads to trouble sleeping. People who feel the same or similar, can say to themselves, ‘okay, I'm not alone, this is all right’. And then that's the first step on to taking action to improve personal outcomes, right, you have to acknowledge that something is there before you can take any action to improve it. So I think for those regions of the world where there is a bit of stigma attached to the concept of mental health, mental ill health, seeing other people being open and talking about it makes a huge difference.

Sarah: I can imagine as well that that's true of not just obvious differences between cultures, but also even within a completely UK-based organisation, everyone will have their own personal culture and history and their own level of comfortability with talking about this. So looking to the year ahead, we don't know much but we do know that there's likely to be a lot of change and uncertainty. What would be your advice for employers listening to this or managers on how they can support wellbeing in this quite uncertain time?

Sarah-Jane: So I think it's important to highlight that wellbeing is not just for the HR departments to focus on. It should be at the top of every line manager’s mind. I think that was driven home for us in Fujitsu global delivery by our kind of initial crisis response to COVID. We moved our 15,000 people to homeworking over the space of about 10 days. That was everyone, all of the departments coming together to get people home – that really emphasised that wellbeing is not just an HR concern. Focusing on the safety of our employees, bringing everyone together meant that we could deliver and continue to deliver high-quality services for our customers. So it really is that connection of employee wellbeing with high-quality output for our customers.

Sarah: So it's about treating wellbeing not just as something that HR deals with, but thinking about it in the round and trying as best you can to draw together the different departments and people within your organisations, so that you can think holistically about wellbeing rather than putting it in a silo over in HR, or for volunteers.

Sarah-Jane: Exactly. Yeah. If we're talking about investing in customer experience, this necessarily means investing in employee wellbeing, because you have a more motivated and more empowered workforce that can really meet the needs of your customers.

Sarah: It's been great to hear from your experience at Fujitsu, Sarah-Jane, thank you so much for joining us today.

Sarah-Jane: Thank you so much Sarah.

Sarah: This has been the Acas podcast. If you're looking for more support and ideas on supporting positive mental health, then do check out our website, I've put the links in the episode notes. And also we have a policy paper if you're looking for more in-depth analysis of how coronavirus has impacted how organisations supporting mental health at work.

If you're looking for more specialist support then we have a whole range of fantastic advisers who do bespoke work around this. So please do get in touch. I've put the contact details for that as well in the episode notes. Thanks for listening.