Cindy Hook: Making an impact that matters

Since taking the role of CEO of Deloitte Australia seven months ago, Cindy Hook is making her mark on three aligned agendas: organisational purpose, diversity and inclusion and employee health and wellbeing. Kathryn Page (KP), with Elise Stanborough, both from Human Capital Consulting, interviewed Cindy about her passion for employee wellbeing. Cindy spoke about the importance of her own personal exercise routine, leaders conveying positivity to their people and stakeholders, the challenges of working in a stressful work environment, and the importance, to all of us, of doing meaningful work.

KP: What drives your passion for health and wellbeing?

CH: I have a long-time commitment to fitness which I maintain to this day. My husband will tell you that if I don’t work out for two days in a row, I’m very difficult to be around! I started when I was quite young, and have always liked working out. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised it is more than just fitness; it’s also about being mentally stable; having a full life, feeling balanced in what you do, feeling purpose in what you do, absolutely loving all aspects of your life, your family, your friends.

I’ve found that when I achieve that balance and that level of wellness, I perform better in everything that I do.

Stepping into the role I am in now [as CEO of Deloitte, Australia), I maintain my focus on health and wellbeing because;

  1. I think it is great for our people, and
  2. I think it will drive the performance of our organisation at the highest levels.

If we have people that feel good and are well and are fit and are healthy, they will perform at a higher level individually and the organisation, by default, will perform better.

It’s pretty simple, really, in my thinking about it.

KP: How do you maintain your drive and your personal commitment to health and wellbeing given your new role?

CH: I try to set a realistic goal of working out three to four times a week. I know that there is going to be one day that I can’t get in [to the gym], but I don’t beat myself up over it. I also try to keep a level of flexibility.

For example, I am leaving early today for my son’s parent-teacher conference and that’s about being well and being part of my family’s lives. I also try very hard not to schedule anything in my diary before 9am in the morning so I can exercise. Finding the right balance is a constant challenge.

The other thing I am really passionate about is positivity – the power of positive thinking is massive. If you’re healthy and if you’re well, you are going to have a more positive outlook at work. I can’t afford to have a bad day in my job. I set the tone for the organisation so I have to be well. I have to work out and come in with positive attitude because it cascades down. I think that is true of every leader.

KP: We know organisations play a really important role in workplace mental health. In particular, the research emphasises the importance of organisational interventions to prevent stress and promote workplace mental health. However, many workplaces are still investing in individual programs like stress management or resilience training. What do you think is driving the disconnect between research and practice in this space, and what actions can businesses take to overcome this?

CH: I don’t have this figured out yet, but there are two more really big issues I see. One is mental health and the second is the impact of stress and stressful working environments on health.

I really need to work with our people to understand what we can do to support them in dealing with stress. In terms of mental health, I don’t think we have equipped our managers as an organisation to have those conversations; to know what to do when someone comes to them and says ‘I’m feeling depressed’ or ‘I’m not right’. I don’t think that we have raised enough awareness about this with the partners, the managers and the directors.

While we have an EAP and lots of resources are available, it is all about having that first conversation and whether or not you are comfortable coming to your partner or manager and saying ‘I’m feeling overwhelmed’. I’m not sure if people are open to doing that, or would feel safe doing it.

So first, we have to create that supportive environment.

KP: Work is becoming more complex. Do you think we need to find a way to make work simpler?

CH: That is what a lot of people come to firms like ours for. Our clients have complex business problems and they are looking for simplification.

We have some of the smartest people in the country working in this organisation, but the ones that are most successful are the ones that can take the incredibly complex and make it simple. I think the world is going to continue to be complex, but we can help sort through the complexity. This goes back to why mental health is going to continue to be an issue.

To think that the pace is going to slow down – the pace of change is going to accelerate – and everything we read predicts exponential change! The world is not going to get easier, I don’t think. I think we can help to manage the impact of change. We can be the consultants that cut through the complexity and get to what the real issues are.

KP: What impact do you think that the simplification of work could have on people’s mental health and wellbeing?

CH: Simplification is such a broad term. I think people, particularly in our organisation, love a challenge. People come to work here because they want to solve complex problems, they want to be challenged. So simplification in terms of process, red tape, all of that could have a massive impact; but I don’t think we want to dumb down the work to a point that it is not challenging and interesting anymore.

We want people to feel like they are actually making an impact that matters. And that’s about working on things that are important, that are relevant and that are meaningful.

KP: Having meaningful work is incredibly important for mental health.

CH: If I am looking at how I want to drive wellbeing: it’s mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. You have to find a purpose in what you do. Spirituality sounds religious, but the way I see it is that it is about finding meaning in your work and what you do each day. Emotional wellbeing is feeling like you belong, and you are connected and you are a part of a supportive community and culture of inclusiveness and respect. I think physical wellness is about what I said earlier… building physical endurance and renewing yourself to stay well. And mental wellness is about continually learning new skills and developing your mental health and resilience so you can thrive in today’s challenging environment.

It is really, really important to work for an organisation that is making a positive impact.

We can provide that for our people. This organisation is so well positioned to make massive impact on people and our clients, and I am very confident that we can create an environment where people are healthy, well and positive, productive and really successful.

For further information contact Kathryn Page (kapage@deloitte.com.au) or Vessa Playfair vplayfair@deloitte.com.au.

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