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Mental wellbeing, the cornerstone of a thriving workplace


How we’re creating a culture where people feel safe and empowered 

Work should be a place where people can thrive. An essential but often overlooked aspect for a healthy and productive workplace, is psychological safety. As part of our “‘Zero Harm’– a key pillar of our Let’s Go for Zero ambitions  – we’re not only investing in the physical, but also the mental wellbeing of our people. 

We live in a complex and rapidly changing world, that leads to feelings of uncertainty and loss of control. And the effects spill over to our day-to-day working. At Umicore, we want to make sure our people feel safe and supported, that’s why we are rolling out several initiatives to promote psychological safety in the workplace, with our Battery Materials Business Group [LSJU1] having some noteworthy new examples.

“Psychological safety is about having a culture where people feel safe and empowered to speak up”, says Ellen Driesen, Head of People & Organisation for Battery Materials. “Working on our 2030 RISE strategy requires a great deal of energy and commitment from our teams around the world. That’s why it’s important to be critical if something doesn’t fit with our priorities or doesn’t add value. We need to have a culture in place where people dare to speak up, so we can all become more efficient and effective.” 

While everyone at Umicore has a role to play when it comes to mental wellbeing, managers have a special responsibility to support their teams. So, in addition to a new e-learning module that we rolled out at Group level last year (translated into seven languages), the Battery Materials (BM) Business Group  has also developed a workshop for leaders on how to support the mental wellbeing of their teams. We’re seeing the first results of this training module in China, where BM managers participated in a workshop on how to create a psychologically safe culture. 

Creating a safe space in Shanghai

Last January, the BM Talent Management & Development Manager Kenny Niu [LSJU2] came to our Shanghai office to lead a workshop on mental wellbeing. The aim was to raise awareness of the importance of psychological safety and how to create a culture of trust. 

“Building a culture of trust is crucial to maintain good mental health and make everyone feel safe to express their thoughts without concerns”, says Zoe Zhao,  Finance and Metal Controlling Manager APAC. 

The workshop focused on sharing experiences and giving hands-on tools to improve trust, such as not jumping to conclusions, not focusing on mistakes but instead on learnings and taking time to get to know and understand one another better. 

The workshop also focused on how to cope with workload and pressure, providing practical tips and advice. 

“One thing that really stuck with me personally, is to only put your time and energy towards things you can control”, Zoe adds. “It seems obvious, but we tend to put a lot of unnecessary energy towards things that are simply beyond our control.”

Improving meeting culture

Another important part of a healthy work environment is spending time on what matters most. A recent survey among BM colleagues in China showed that managers spend on average 45% of their time on meetings; for office staff this was 33%. More than 80% of participants told us these meetings are not good use of their time. To change this, we started a pilot for our BM  division in China, with the aim creating a healthy meeting hygiene. 

The programme was split into two parts. Firstly, it set out to optimise our current meetings. That meant carefully considering if each meeting is necessary, being conscious of people’s time by selecting the right participants and setting guidelines on making clear agendas. The second part focused on setting guidelines for how to set meetings in the future, and how to make the most of them. 

“Having too many meetings is known to contribute to stress levels and puts a strain on people’s work-life balance”, says Spring Jin, Managing Director, Battery Materials China. “By setting the parameters for healthy meeting discipline, helps us work more efficiently. And by cancelling too many or unnecessary meetings, we help our employees make better use of their time and focus on more valuable work.” 

Spring adds: “What’s most important is the change in mindset. Having more meetings doesn’t equal more value. We’re getting the focus back on what matters most, and saying to people it’s okay to question whether a meeting is the best use of their time.”

The pilot saw positive feedback, with more than 100 department-level meetings reviewed and optimised, and 16 cross-department level meetings improved. In April, the team will run another survey to check the programme’ progress and more improvement opportunities. 

Sounding board session 

While mental wellbeing is something that concerns us all, it’s also a very personal experience. To get as much insight as possible into the needs and desires of our employees, we created a ‘sounding board’ to gather these ideas in a constructive manner. More than 100 participants from BM volunteered to share their feedback and suggestions, which gives us valuable insight into how we can improve wellbeing in the workforce. 

Three main topics came out of the sounding board. The first is creating a sense of belonging by having regular bottom-up feedback moments. Digital hygiene was also marked as key. This includes initiatives such as installing meeting-free moments, and less meetings overall. Lastly, making room for recognition and feedback was mentioned as an important driver of wellbeing. Some of the ideas that came up were celebrating key milestones and building in moments upfront to celebrate and give feedback.  

Ellen says: “Wellbeing is not an exact science. It’s a very personal, and subjective experience and requires dialogue between leaders and employees. How we care for ourselves directly affects our work. Each employee holds the key to their own wellbeing, which is key to empowering both individual and organisational success.”

It’s a journey 

Physiological safety is the cornerstone of a thriving workplace. It’s about having a space where everyone feels safe to express thoughts, concerns, ask questions and take risks without fear. 

“But mental wellbeing is a journey, rather than a destination”, says Ellen. “And just like physical safety, it requires constant attention.”