Nearly 10 years ago, E.ON became one of the first 10 employers to sign the Time to Change Employer Pledge. What started as an intention to look more closely at the issue of work/life balance across the organisation has, over the years, blossomed into a strong focus on the mental health and wellbeing of E.ON’s people.

So how has this been achieved?

Even before Time to Change came along, work/life balance was central to E.ON’s occupational health agenda: employees benefitted from a flexible working policy and stress management initiatives. However, reflecting the typical best practice of the time, E.ON’s policies were driven by sickness absence data and were focused on the physical aspects of health and safety. Then, in 2011, a decision was made to start a conversation around mental health among E.ON’s colleagues – and that’s where Time to Change came in.

Signing the Time to Change Employer Pledge has “allowed us to evolve from having that health and safety conversation into really wanting to think more holistically about what it looks like.”

For E.ON, a crucial part of promoting mental health awareness in the workplace has been real-life, personal storytelling. For the first three years of its journey with Time to Change, the focus was on simply raising awareness: displaying the resources provided by Time to Change, such as postcards and badges, around its various sites, and becoming a familiar face at the Time to Change events held across the UK. Soon, though, E.ON decided to make things more personal by encouraging its people to tell their own mental health stories.

Initially, three employees volunteered to share their personal experiences; these stories were written into a fact sheet that was included in the education packs for 3,000 of E.ON’s  managers, who went through a half-day awareness course. From that moment, E.ON has never looked back; in the intervening years, personal storytelling has formed a major part of its mental health awareness activities, with employees sharing their experiences on the organisation’s intranet and extranet sites. In 2020 alone, 85 personal stories have been shared internally throughout the organisation.

 E.ON’s Time to Talk sessions are, “just an open space that can take down the stigma, allow our leaders to hear real people, storytelling.” Through them, E.ON hopes to continue to build an open culture.

Every year, Time to Change runs the national Time to Talk Day campaign. One of the biggest days in the mental health calendar, Time to Talk Day encourages more and more people each year to start a conversation around mental health and wellbeing. True to form, E.ON decided to put a personal-storytelling spin on its approach to Time to Talk Day: in October 2020, on World Mental Health Day, it launched a series of virtual Time to Talk sessions centred around themes such as bereavement, sleep and life in lockdown. Each session is facilitated by E.ON’s Wellbeing Engagement Manager and hosted by one of the organisation’s top 50 senior leadership figures, with a cap on 15 attendees in total to make each session as intimate as possible. Inclusivity and flexibility are key components of each session: cameras can be turned off, and participants are encouraged to write messages in the chat box if they are unable to speak up for any reason – because of their home environment, for example, or because of a disability. Each session’s host is given an inclusivity briefing beforehand, to ensure they are comfortable with the appropriate language and terminology, and is encouraged to share a personal experience of their own to kick things off. Feedback from the first 10 sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, and E.ON’s Time to Talk sessions will continue to run into 2021.

E.ON’s Wellbeing Engagement Manager says of her organisation’s Time to Talk sessions, “I think [it’s] a testament to where we’ve come and where you can go in 10 years.”

In addition to its close involvement with the Time to Change campaign, E.ON has been a participant in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index for many years. As part of its progression through Silver and Gold, E.ON took on board many of the recommendations from the Index surveys; however, when it came to training dedicated mental health first aiders and Time to Change Champions, E.ON’s wellbeing team felt that, as a complex organisation of over 10,000 people, it needed a slightly different model that encompassed not just mental health, but wellbeing more generally. After much consultation with Time to Change, E.ON came up with the concept of Wellbeing Warriors – and on World Mental Health Day 2019, recruitment began for 30 such warriors across the UK. Within the first two weeks, an overwhelming 150 E.ON employees had applied, all with first-hand experience of physical or mental health problems. In the end, E.ON appointed 75 Wellbeing Warriors, and developed initial training sessions using the Time to Change Champions training materials as a model.

Since their official launch in January 2020, the Wellbeing Warriors have introduced a broad range of mental and physical health awareness activities and initiatives across all of  E.ON’s sites. One such initiative is Wellbeing Wednesday, a weekly programme of events and activities that has included a talk about seasonal affective disorder, an introduction to Thai Chi, which was attended by over 300 employees and led by two enthusiastic Wellbeing Warriors, and a singing reiki bowl session, which was led by a fully qualified practitioner and attended by 150 E.ON employees. The Wellbeing Warriors are proving that wellbeing doesn’t always have to be big-budget: Warriors are using their lived experience to raise awareness and utilising their own skills, and those of their colleagues, to ensure that events can be free and flexible.

 “…it’s been a more holistic approach to getting people to realise what wellbeing at E.ON means as a whole… We’ve aligned it to our core purpose, which is ‘Choose to Care’.”

E.ON’s Time to Talk sessions have been a hugely successful way of promoting mental health conversations among its employees. Off the back of this success, E.ON’s wellbeing team decided to get creative with their storytelling, and duly set up E.ON Rocks: a series of outdoor sessions in which employees are encouraged to write or draw messages on pebbles, and are invited to talk about what they are drawing or writing, and what it means for them. Some employees have written messages to friends or family members experiencing mental health problems; others have used the experience to describe how they themselves are feeling. The most creative drawings have been turned into positivity postcards, which have been uploaded to the organisation’s intranet so that any of E.ON’s employees can access them; employees and can even send one on to a colleague whom they feel might be having a bad day. There have been 20 E.ON Rocks sessions in 2020, resulting in the creation of over 600 personal pebbles. E.ON’s Wellbeing Engagement Manager says of the sessions, “if you didn’t know, you’d think that these are just daft ideas … but, actually what we do is we take it back to best practice. We are using nudge principle, we are looking at models of working with people, with behavioural change … we’re not dumbing anything down, we just deliver it in a creative way.”

“This doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t put a poster on the wall and expect everybody to just be open and start talking, and share. This has to be something where you grow, and it grows with you as an organisation.”

Over nearly a decade, E.ON has worked closely with Time to Change to deliver an impressive range of mental health and wellbeing initiatives across its vast organisation. But what impact has this all had on E.ON’s people?

To measure the success of each activity, E.ON asks its employees to give a rating out of 10 and uses a Net Promoter Score to assess the level of employee satisfaction. Attendance at each wellbeing activity is also measured, and an engagement score has been developed, derived by measuring click-through rates on articles and blog posts across the company intranet and extranet. The results paint a positive picture: the NPS score averages between 60 and 90, every event runs at full capacity, and wellbeing content is consistently within the top 10 in terms of click-through rates across the intranet and extranet, rising to the top three around World Mental Health Day.

E.ON’s Wellbeing Engagement Manager puts its success down to creativity, commitment – and the partnership with Time to Change. “The biggest thing for me has been the partnership, using the tools that [Time to Change] provides and making sure that we keep talking to you and networking with other people… We’ll continue to do as much as we can in a changing world.”