City of London case study: creating an open & honest culture

In recent years many progressive organisations in the City have chosen to adopt increasingly enlightened strategies in relation to the health and wellbeing of their employees.

From my experience, the complexity of workplace wellbeing lies not usually in the strategies themselves, as these tend to be based on fairly simple principles, but in the implementation and successful integration into the culture of the organisation. Once each intervention has been identified, the implementation phase may appear to be a simple enough process, but each individual organisation brings with it differing demands and challenges depending on the size, structure and cultural values.

Last year the City of London Corporation conducted some internal research on our own workforce, which revealed that the majority of our employees believe that their line manager has a significant effect on the work they do and how they perceive their jobs.

Last year the City of London Corporation conducted some internal research on our own workforce, which revealed that the majority of our employees believe that their line manager has a significant effect on the work they do and how they perceive their jobs. With this in mind, as our employees are our most valuable asset, our aspiration is to create a supportive and inclusive environment where our people are able to thrive and are inspired to achieve their full potential.

To successfully accomplish our aim, we continue to commit to establishing an open and honest organisational culture, with a particular emphasis on mental ill health. In line with this we have embraced the sentiment of parity of esteem; the principle that mental health must be given equal priority to physical health. This initiative was first raised under coalition government back in 2011 when the government released ‘No Health without Mental Health’, an outcomes strategy for people of all ages.

The Corporation’s own wellbeing programme, CityWell as it will be known, will be established later on in the year and we have used three guiding principles to ensure that the project is successfully integrated into the long-established culture at the City. These principles are; understanding our own organisational culture, recognising the importance of communication and employee engagement, and implementing relevant management training.

At the City we pride ourselves on our behavioural values and our ambition is always to be Responsible, Reliable, Relevant and Radical. It is this focus on relevance that inspires the work we do, as we seek not only to represent the best of the old, but also the best of the new. The City continues to embrace change and this is one of the reasons for embarking on establishing a comprehensive multi-component wellbeing programme, which joins up many of the existing policies and provision that we have in place at present.

Arguably the most challenging aspect of the integration process is effecting change which is both meaningful and sustainable. Along with our aim to increase productivity and employee morale, our ambition is to continue to attract and retain the highest calibre of staff. With this in mind, the changes that are made and the initiatives which will be introduced have been directly informed by our employees and their needs. We have consulted with our staff across departments and encouraged them to share their ideas and experiences to ensure that our vision for the programme is aligned and consistent throughout the organisation.

The first year of the programme will be centred on mental health and we are committed to reducing stigma and discrimination surrounding mental ill health in the workplace. As a result, our aim is to continue to foster an open and honest culture at the City, where all employees feel that they can discuss their mental health with their manager in the same way that they would discuss their physical health.

Our focus will be on effective management training to ensure that managers are equipped with the skills and confidence they require to successfully support each individual in their teams. Our training will be targeted towards establishing strong working relationships to inspire colleagues to reach their full potential, as we believe that it is only once this trust and rapport is established that managers are able to identify the signs and symptoms of mental ill health in their employees. In addition, we hope to train senior managers to successfully navigate difficult conversations and how to tackle workplace stress. Communication has also been essential in ensuring employee engagement and in addition to further consultation and employee surveys; we will also raise mental health awareness throughout the departments across the organisation.

The process of successfully integrating wellbeing into the City’s culture will be gradual and will take a number of years. It will require a lot of time, investment and engagement from all employees to generate the changes that are required to fully incorporate wellbeing into the fabric of the organisation. Our overall aim is for health and wellbeing to be considered at all levels of the decision-making process and that every employee at the Corporation understands that their physical health and mental wellbeing matters. Throughout this process it is essential that we have collectively pulled together to achieve our common goals for the benefit of all City of London employees now and for many years to come.


Rebecca Abrahams

Wellbeing Project Officer HR @Rebeccabrahams