Championing well-being in the workplace

04 Apr 2023
Discover how a network of well-being champions is transforming our approach to employee health and happiness at Philip Morris International.

Between Monday and Friday, most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work. For a lot of people, that can mean spending more time with our colleagues than with family and friends. So, it’s crucial we enjoy what we do.

Yulia O’Mahony is the Global Head of Health and Resilience at Philip Morris International (PMI). She’s spearheading an innovative well-being campaign to ensure employees feel energized in the workplace. She explained: “The idea is to promote healthier ways of working and living, as well as encouraging a sense of mental health support through a network of well-being champions–PMI colleagues—who are on hand to listen and lend support by connecting and communicating.”

The initiative has two main objectives:

  1. Breaking the silence around mental health
  2. Creating a space for employees to express vulnerability

This focus works towards enhancing psychological well-being, while helping to create a sense of harmony in the office and at home. We caught up with Yulia to find out why she launched the initiative and what she hopes it will achieve.

What is a Well-being Champion?

It’s a passionate individual who wants to help others and is interested in their well-being. The role of the champions is twofold. One is to enable and engage in supportive conversations; the other is to help people to help themselves, by embedding healthier habits and looking after their well-being.

We offer training to our Well-being Champions to make sure they’re equipped and supported. They also have extra help available to them through our global employee assistance program. We want to make sure we safeguard the well-being of our Champions as well.

It is so important to understand how to have these supportive conversations when someone is struggling. Sometimes picking people up when they have a difficult day can be as simple as starting a friendly conversation. Learning how to do this, while protecting one’s own well-being, reminding people of the support that’s available, and organizing events that will help promote the idea that it’s okay to talk about mental health—that’s the main role of our Well-being Champions. They also act as energizers, organizing activities which promote health and well-being.

What sparked your idea to launch the Well-being Champions initiative?

The main reason was to remove the stigma from conversations about mental health. But we also wanted to increase our employees’ understanding of the importance of self-care. As an employer, we’d really like to encourage that.

With the introduction of the Well-being Champions, we wanted to create a source of support outside of the People & Culture [human resources] teams. We know it's always useful to have a network of “champions” when a company is going through change—whether that’s a business transformation or the introduction of new technology. There’s a huge element of community—these people understand their colleagues and can help make change more accessible.

Our champions have been trained to have conversations around well-being and mental health and to respond appropriately, with compassion, so that their colleagues feel supported.

How would you define “well-being”?

Well-being is a very holistic term, but fundamentally it’s about energy. Well-being gives you energy, and energy drives performance. So, from a business perspective, it is important, because if employees don’t feel good, their performance will suffer. It also applies at home, too, in terms of how you show up for your family and loved ones.

Looking after your well-being means paying attention to yourself physically and psychologically, and making sure you have an opportunity for self-fulfillment. All this creates positive energy, which you can bring to your personal life and to your work, too.

Championing well-being in the workplace


How did you get started on the project?

We kicked off with a lot of research, which we conducted in August 2021 across six markets globally.

We asked PMI employees a series of questions to understand what the key drivers of well-being are, and what stands in the way of well-being for them.

We found that almost half of the respondents were not very comfortable talking about mental health, and only 60 percent knew where to go for help—and yet we have all these fantastic resources waiting for them! To address these two issues, we decided to complement all the information we have available digitally, and encourage face-to-face conversation—making it normal to pay attention to and talk about well-being on a daily basis. A simple solution was to add a human touch, this is why we created the well-being champions.

How do you recruit and train your Champions?

We started the well-being program in the summer of 2022, and trained our first 20 Champions across different geographies and different levels within the organization. The feedback was really positive from the start, and our Champions organized several activities. There was also a lot of interest from others in becoming Champions, because it is something that everyone can relate to.

Since then, we have trained 55 Well-being Champions in total!

We’ve now progressed to the “train the trainer” stage in 18 countries, which is where our People & Culture and Security & Market Safety colleagues can train volunteers to be champions. This approach helps us navigate language and cultural nuances around mental health, while also adapting training materials to social and cultural differences.

We feel that having a network of people who are passionate about helping others will drive the discussion around well-being across the company.

Was it hard to find volunteers?

We didn’t have any trouble—so many people came forward. In fact, during our global well-being month in September 2022, more than 80 people volunteered! It was heartening to see so much interest and discover that so many want to help others. Everyone agrees that of all the initiatives targeted at removing the stigma from mental health, having a network of Well-being Champions is one of the best. It gets fantastic feedback.

So, what’s next for the Well-being Champions initiative?

My dream is to ultimately start a movement across PMI, and to have at least one Champion for every 10 employees.

To achieve the best business results, we need our colleagues to have energy and a strong sense of personal well-being, and having this community of Champions can help us create a sense of well-being across the entire business and to achieve our company goals—and that’s something I’m truly passionate about.

Hear from our Well-being Champions

Maxime Magnier—Manager, Business Engagement

Why did you apply to be a Well-being Champion?
Well-being is so important; I want to be at the forefront of a movement that can support it.

Can you tell us a little bit about the role?
It's about being passionate about people and seeking to help when possible. It’s also about role-modeling well-being to your colleagues. To do this, it's important to be curious, open, and aware of the available resources so you can support your colleagues and make them aware of the resources that are available to them.

What did you think when you first heard of the Well-being Champions?
I’m passionate about grassroot efforts, so I thought that creating a network of Champions would be a great way to implement and execute some positive changes.

What advice would you give to your colleagues who want to join the movement—either as a Champion or those who want to reach out to a Champion.
The first thing is to reassure people that this is not “well-being washing,” and that we’re taking this seriously. People need to take care of themselves, and we need to help others to prioritize the good health of our colleagues.

Joining the network of Champions helps accelerate the well-being movement, and contacting a Champion is one way to be sure you have access to the support you need, and to be aware of the resources that are available.

What’s the best thing about being a Well-being Champion?
The best part has to be being part of a global and diverse community which is here to help others. Having the opportunity to connect with colleagues and learn from others from around the world, and to be inspired is fantastic! Also, having access to some resources and being the “guinea pig” to test new tools is pretty cool, too.