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People & Culture 8 September 2021

Mental health high on the agenda at Ingka Group

Experts say Covid-19 and lockdowns have worsened a global mental health crisis that was already building. Now many companies are stepping in to address the challenge of mental health in a more systematic way. We recently sat down with Neena Potenza, Co-worker Experience Manager, to discuss how Ingka Group is working to address mental health issues at IKEA.  

In short, Neena is responsible for making sure that Ingka Group is a great place to work for over 170,000 co-workers. Her portfolio covers many issues aimed at creating a better life for co-workers, from health and wellbeing and bonus programmes to employment practices, reward structures and the overall workplace environment.  

Neena, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that mental health and behavioral problems are now the primary drivers of ill health worldwide. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions. How has the IKEA approach to mental health changed since the pandemic? 
Mental health is high on the agenda like never before. We’re all understanding that we must have mental health as a fundamental people and business topic because without healthy individuals you can’t secure a healthy business. Are we healthy in our jobs? At IKEA, being humanistic and caring for our people is also caring for our business. Taking care of our people will protect our business, and this is always grounded in our vision and values. So, purpose and profit go together.  

Like all companies, during the pandemic Ingka Group has been navigating through many dilemmas. For example, we’ve seen store closures, uncertainty amongst employees worried about whether they would be able to provide for families, and all of the myriad of health and wellbeing concerns brought on by the pandemic.  

But also, we’ve seen a big demand for our products and a huge interest in home decorating and furniture because people have been spending more time at home. This has put a high demand on our suppliers and a shortage of products in stores, which has also caused stress.  

But through this, we’ve seen the power of our culture and values coming to life like never before. We’ve seen a massive will to work together, and the IKEA spirit has been very strong. 

How is Ingka Group working to address mental health today? 
From the start of the pandemic we’ve invested heavily in our people, siding with the many co-workers. In the spring of 2020, we moved quickly to secure income stability for co-workers even if they couldn’t perform their tasks. We worked to safeguard basics like medical insurance and pensions. These and other actions helped to create a sense of safety, both physically and psychologically, among co-workers. 

Then we began initiatives to improve co-worker resilience. These large-scale programmes focused on health and wellbeing training, how to cope with stress, including mindfulness, as well as strengthening leadership. One initiative was a leadership development program for 21,000 managers. We also had trainings for our entire workforce to create a more healthy everyday and to maintain togetherness. 

Next, as it became even clearer that the world was dealing with a major mental health crisis, we launched the ’Are you OK?’ campaign. For the campaign, we are collaborating with ‘R U OK?’, a non-profit organisation specialised on mental health. The campaign focuses on giving leaders and co-workers simple steps to guide them through a conversation with other co-workers around how they are feeling. The power of dialogue – more exposure and conversation – is chipping away at the stigmas associated with mental health and wellbeing. 

We will continue to invest in our people’s health and wellbeing after the pandemic. It’s very important to create an environment where everyone can feel safe, not only physically but also psychologically.  

What challenges does Ingka Group face in dealing with mental health going forward and what more can we do? 
All businesses are learning by doing and finding our way through together. Just as mental health is an ever-changing landscape, the support offered and strategies we use need to adapt and grow with it.  

Our work on how we care for our people was and will continue to be critical as we navigate the continued uncertainty and lead in the unknown. There are no ready-made solutions to this and the questions we ask ourselves are many.  

How do we keep up our agility and speed while also continuing to move into the unknown and outside our comfort zone? And how do we continue to do all of that while taking care of ourselves, our teams and co-workers so we can take care of our customers? 

How do we keep challenging and thriving – entrepreneurship, creativity, testing and trying, making mistakes? How do we balance all of this? There is no global, one size fits all approach to supporting coworkers in their mental health and wellbeing journey. We need approaches that are broad and flexible enough to support and empower us all. We need to support our leaders with information and tools to support and facilitate conversations around mental health, whilst also looking after themselves.  

So, at Ingka Group, we will continue to focus our efforts on mental wellbeing and are preparing new initiatives to support our many co-workers. And having seen the amazing togetherness in action in our company gives me not only an immense feeling of pride and joy but also a certainty that if we continue to care for each other we will be alright.  

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