Academics to study KPMG’s mental health policies and support

23 June 2022 4 min. read

Professional services work has long been known for its long hours and stressful nature – but as firms face pressure to procure talent, many are trying to disprove such assumptions. KPMG are taking a step into creating transparency on the working patterns and habits of its own staff, allowing researchers from University of Cambridge to assess the mental health policies and support schemes of its 16,000 UK employees.

For decades, one of the most commonly cited drawbacks about consulting work is its terrible work-life balance. This perception has been so drastic that not only is it commonly held that many management consultants regularly hit 80 hours a week to satisfy the demands of the job, but that some regard a 36-40 hour-week as “part-time” work.

This perception of consulting is most consistently applied to life with the Big Four – KPMG, DeloitteEY and PwC – with the largest professional services firms in the world regularly in the news for their uncompromising attitudes to work.

Academics to study KPMG’s mental health policies and support

Now, though, KPMG in particular is looking to show how the firm supports its staff, whatever their working schedule.

In a global first, KPMG is opening its doors to the University of Cambridge, to help understand how the world of work is changing. The university will partner with the consulting giant to evaluate what really works when it comes to supporting employees’ mental wellbeing – with researchers from different disciplines assessing the effectiveness of the mental wellbeing initiatives KPMG currently offers to its 16,000 UK employees.

The research from the Cambridge team will help KPMG develop an evidence base for what works, and how new support measures can be developed and evaluated to meet employees’ future needs. The firm will then use these insights to invest in and evolve its package of mental wellbeing support.

Beyond KPMG, meanwhile, the firm will also share its research with the wider business community, helping clients support their own workforce and reduce attrition and wellbeing related absence.

Jon Holt, Chief Executive of KPMG UK, said, “Mental wellbeing is a global issue and a leading concern on the minds of the business leaders I speak to. Businesses need research and data to help them invest in the right areas to support their staff through a huge period of change, as we emerge from the pandemic and introduce new ways of working.”

“But mental wellbeing at work is an under researched area and it is hard to access empirical data evidencing clear links between mental wellbeing policies and better employee health. This partnership with the very best academics in their field seeks to address this and provide real answers on what works.”

Changing perceptions

The news strikes a markedly different attitude between Holt and his predecessor, Bill Michael, who exited the firm last year, following controversial remarks on work-life balance. In a video-call, Michael suggested consultants should “stop whining” amid a discussion about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their working lives, and added they should “stop moaning” about long working hours. In the months since, KPMG has worked to draw a line under the incident, and boost its support for staff – including the launch of flexible, hybrid working for UK employees.

As consulting firms vie for talent, amid a tightening labour market, many have moved to boost their credentials as supportive employers. KPMG’s announcement that it is assessing and improving its mental health support infrastructure comes as the company executes a £300 million, three-year strategy, looking to transform and grow its business – while investing in new insight and services to support its clients and its people.  

Involving the University of Cambridge also forms part of a wider partnership between KPMG and the historic institution. The firm is collaborating with the university to examine the big issues affecting work and society, such as the impact of digital technologies, the global distribution of work and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). The aim of the partnership is to provide evidence-based, actionable insights to help businesses strengthen the UK economy.

Previously, this partnership saw the firm unveil a training programme with Cambridge Judge Business School; delivering ESG training to KPMG’s 227,000 global workforce.