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Headway Spotlight: How KPMG is Taking Employee Mental Health to the Next Level

An interview with Denis Trottier, Chief Mental Health Officer, KPMG in Canada.

Last month, we had the pleasure of speaking with KPMG in Canada’s Chief Mental Health Officer, Denis Trottier. Denis is an award-winning mental health ally that carved his path to the unique position he holds today. As Chief Mental Health Officer, Denis is responsible for the mental health and wellness of all KPMG employees nationwide. This includes creating an onboarding experience highlighting the available mental health resources and toolkits, crafting a benefits plan that adequately assists modern mental health needs, and overseeing all nationwide mental health initiatives the company rolls out.


While some of these duties could fall under what a typical Wellness Manager or Human Resources director may do, there are nuances that make this position unique. To start, the title itself is unique. Denis pushed against the term ‘wellness’ in his title because he didn’t want to shy away from the realities of mental health. While well-being initiatives can have beneficial impacts, Denis found facing issues head-on with real action essential. Additionally, he doesn’t report to HR. Instead, he reports directly to the chair of the company, enabling him to take action without the budgeting and logistical restraints that HR departments sometimes face, despite their best efforts.


As part of our Headway initiative, we are always looking to learn from others and shine a spotlight on those working to champion mental health in their workplaces. Denis shared some learnings from KPMG about what’s worked for them:

Listen to the needs and concerns of your current and future team.


Denis is technically a team of one, although he would argue it is more like a team of 10,000, given the passionate involvement of employees. He joined the Inclusion, Diversity & Equity (ID&E) council at the company to learn more about people’s needs and wants, which resulted in mental health becoming a pillar of the ID&E strategy. But the involvement doesn’t end internally. When Denis speaks outside of the company to students, the number one question he is asked about is the mental health benefits. Hearing directly from the people who wish to leverage mental health resources the most can illuminate the best steps to ensure an effective program.


Foster internal mental health allies.

While Denis leads the mental health initiatives, the allies fuel the efforts. Those employees, council members, and students passionate about mental health bring this topic to the forefront and drive change within the organization. This often starts at the onboarding stage, where Denis builds awareness of the mental health resources available to employees and strategies they can use to help themselves and others in times of need. This year, Denis only gave one talk as part of mental health week; the rest was self-directed by allies from different parts of the company. An element that Denis finds particularly effective is that the mental health allies are led by passion, not regulations. Empowering local autonomy has been critical to KPMG’s success.


Continue to check-in and improve.

Denis has found it’s best not to assume things are going well. He wants to consistently measure program success and ask questions that could lead to improvement. He asks things like: Are our benefits current or not? Have we created an atmosphere where team members are comfortable asking for help? Are you leveraging all the free stuff out there? If the answer to these questions is ‘no,’ then there’s an opportunity for improvement. It is essential to find these opportunities frequently and avoid a program that doesn’t help people as much as possible.


Denis also shared where businesses need to be cautious:

While the increased conversation around workplace mental health is a net-positive development, some companies see it as a box to check versus a cultural change. Companies must be cautious about leveraging mental health and wellness tools as a lever to attract hires or create a positive PR image. There must be real action and passion behind the cause. Doing the bare minimum to look like they are pioneering change is not enough. Employees will easily spot disingenuous programs and it won’t lead to real gains in mental health outcomes.


We want to thank Denis and KPMG for sharing some of their best practises around workplace mental health. We are excited to see where Denis and the KPMG mental health allies take their programs next to benefit employees even more. We hope Denis’ highlights will help you further refine the mental health initiatives at your organization and improve employee wellness overall.


Designed to inspire action, our Headway Program helps business leaders take the next step toward creating mentally healthy workplaces. To learn more, visit https://www.sklarwilton.com/headway or email us at info@sklarwilton.com

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