Winning with Wellness

over 2 years ago,


The corporate world has been increasingly taken up with the notion of mental wellness as it finds that happy staff are always the winning staff

Armed with an international network of professional counsellors, UK-based international counselling service provider CiC is always ready to come and turn the situations around for staff members in times of stress or critical incidents. Kate Nowlan, CEO of CiC, talks to its partner in Asia, FocusCore Recruit about what it is like to build up the mental health infrastructure for countless organisations across the world, and why it is worth every bit of hard work.

May Chan of FocusCore interviews Kate Nowlan


Q: How did CiC get started? How did you become involved with CiC?

CiC was founded in 1989 as the corporate arm of a counselling charity, the Westminster Pastoral Foundation - a highly respected organisation that provides affordable counselling and professional counselling and psychotherapy training programmes.

CiC, then known as Counselling in Companies, was set up to raise funds for the charity that was delivering low cost counselling across the UK. It was one of the first providers to deliver counselling in the workplace, and developed into a full Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).  I have noticed an enormous increase in the up-take of these programmes over the last 15 years across the globe, as stress at work is now acknowledged as something to be taken very seriously. EAPs are now seen as a vital ingredient of large company benefits. Smaller organisations are also keen to provide 24/7 helplines to their staff.  

We are now working across the globe in Europe, Asia,Africa and the Americas, providing support to over 1m staff and their families, providing counselling as well as training programmes on emotional resilience and stress management. CiC is also a leader in the field of stress / trauma interventions for those impacted by critical incidents and accidents at work.  These incidents range from earthquakes and tsunamis to air, rail and road accidents, violent happenings in hostile environments such as war zones, or suicide and serious illness in the workplace. In the UK the service includes a highly practical element, offering legal support, debt and financial advice, help with eldercare and childcare.

Trained as a psychotherapist, I had run a counselling service, and implemented several projects as a corporate psychologist. Because of my experience in both the corporate world and the field of psychotherapy, I was invited to become Chair of CiC in 2002, and then CEO in 2003.

Q: Why is CiC such a powerful platform?  

We are an independent organisation not owned by any big corporation, which means we offer great flexibility in tailoring our programs to companies of various size and culture. We are also strategically located in London, an international financial and commercial centre.

We have an excellent clinical network built over the last three decades, and we ourselves were part of wpf – a clinical organisation. Our unique background means that therapeutic support is in our blood, which is very important because that is at the heart of our service.

When someone calls, an expert would answer, and quickly make an initial assessment.  The call may be to do with work related stress (too much pressure, a bullying manager, redundancy etc) or have a more personal focus (bereavement, family illness, relationship breakdown etc)  Sometimes someone might  call and say, hey please could you help me find a kennel for my puppy when I go on holiday, or could you guide me to the nearest kindergarten for my 2 year old. For unpractised ears, these issues could seem unimportant, but often there is a ‘hidden agenda’, and a skilled therapist will be able to peel through these layers of communications and arrive at the core of the problem within a very short time.

Q: How exactly does CiC work with companies and organisations around the world?

We work across all sectors, and large and small organisations from big banks, NGOs and global media agencies to law firms, health providers, government organisations and construction companies.

Employee Assistance Programs offer organisations in all sectors a comprehensive programme to support wellbeing in the workplace.  We provide practical support encompassing legal advice, financial and debt helplines, elderly care and family care, as well as emotional and psychological support for bereavement, redundancy, relationship breakdown, addiction issues, anxiety, depression, bullying & harassment issues etc.. These support services are delivered via phone, face to face or online. 

A 24/7 helpline staffed by experienced clinicians takes calls from all over the world and we are able to offer therapeutic support in many languages. Calls come into London as a first step, but people can also email or text us and we can offer online counselling and practical support – often using Skype and similar communication tools. 

Q: In general, what kind of issues could be weighing down on the wellbeing of staff? What are the tell-tale signs that one needs counselling in the workplace?

The most common issues that we see are around pressure of work causing anxiety or depression; we also see that relationships are highly affected by stress at work and addiction problems often emerge.

Early symptoms of stress related illness include change of behaviour, such as turning up late for work, leaving early, not leaving the office, dressing in a different way, becoming introverted and turning away from a team, eating disorders, addictive behaviours, becoming short tempered or sullen, irritable or anxious etc. It is essential that managers are trained to spot first symptoms of burnout, anxiety and depression in order to put robust support in place.

Q: How do you raise awareness for mental health among organisations? And how do you help engage the staff so that they are willing to share what is burdening them?

The best way is to provide training modules to companies – often via managers.

Stress and resilience awareness programmes do a great deal to promote awareness of mental health – and these can be delivered face to face or via webinars or webex. 

Successful training programmes help to take away any stigma in phoning a helpline, and as an organisation becomes used to contacting the EAP for practical issues employees find themselves more confident in approaching the service for mental health support. 

 Attending wellbeing days is also very helpful – and CiC also writes monthly help-sheets which are circulated to all employees.  These cover everyday matters such as de-cluttering, but also very serious mental health issues such as handling anxiety, bereavement and  serious illness.

Q: What difference does it make when the senior management is actively involved in the wellbeing program for staff?

It makes a big difference once we connect the senior management with what we are doing. It is particularly powerful when a senior manager shares, for example,  how helpful the help line has been in his battle with depression, and how the clinical sessions have turned his life around.

When you get input and testimonies from the top of an organisation, it shapes the culture of the organisation because people identify themselves with the senior management: if the senior management uses it, we can use it too. It takes away the stigma, and makes it part of the organisational norm to take care of your mental health and seek help if you have any issues.

We usually work with HR and occupational health departments, but one of the best ways to engage the senior management is through training programs such as emotional resilience workshops. Through those workshops, they realise how helpful it is to simply be able to talk to someone confidentially about whatever challenges they have at work and home.

Q: Why is it important for an independent third party like yourself to provide a platform for mental health at workplace? How does it guarantee confidentiality?

Our culture finds it difficult to talk about mental health. It is easier to buy pills in the pharmacy and treat physical health, but to talk about your emotional well-being is still very hard. It is really important to have an independent third party like CiC to come into the scene, as it guarantees the seal of confidentiality.

In the company, we have two clients: the company’s employees, and the company itself. The employees will call us directly and provide us with their name, but the names will never, ever go to the company. Everything is completely anonymous, including the report we submit to the company, not mentioning any details on where, by whom, and from which department.

In our report, we gather statistics and boil them down to trends and patterns, and make specific recommendations, like suggesting bullying and harassment training to a company where most of the help calls concern bullying and high pressure work environment. 

There are industries like journalism, police forces, government organisations, law firms, and banks where confidentiality is especially appreciated. They are fiercely protective of their independence, and will avoid at all costs being seen as vulnerable, especially by their own boss.

Q: Why are you so passionate about what you do? Could you share a few examples where your work had helped transform lives, and/or transformed workplaces?

Passion?  I have seen so many examples of people being helped both by compassionate and empathic responses to their crises, whether it is through the phone, face-to-face counselling, or on site interventions in the aftermath of a critical incident. 

Sometimes, just one conversation where someone can talk about something in confidence that has been troubling them for months – or maybe years – can enable a person to move forward in a quite new way.  Feedback of the service is extremely positive, and clients often speak of their lives having been completely turned around through the simple fact that they have been listened to in confidence, with respect and calm patience.

We have many examples of visiting the workplace after a major incident, and being experienced by teams as incredibly helpful.  The interventions are all confidential, and allow people to speak of things in a forum that is quite unique. Employees at all levels are often extremely vulnerable after a workplace accident or incident, and feelings can be raw and highly emotional.  It is a huge privilege to meet people when they are so open – and so appreciative of a professional listening ear.

For example, war photographers who have never met each other before could end up sharing their stories with each other and realise that they share a great deal. Young female executives in the company could find out that there were young mothers just like themselves who would never talk about how they had to soldier on in their day jobs after caring for their baby overnight. Young fathers may never talk about their stress at home too because they did not want their managers to know. And suddenly, the light is switched on and they find out that they are not alone. 

I cannot imagine a more fulfilling work life than this.   

Q: Why does it matter for companies to aspire to become better, more caring employers?

When companies are seen as ‘caring’ the employee tends to feel well supported, and therefore less likely to seek employment elsewhere or succumb to ill health. 

A positive attitude to wellbeing in the workplace that comes from senior management is always experienced as helpful. 

 When good mental health is seen as vital as strong physical health, then the employee will feel enabled to seek support without shame or hesitation.

Q: A lot of the companies and organisations you work with have regional or international business profile. How does cultural difference come to play?

We are extremely careful to respect different cultures across the globe. We have a network of expert clinicians worldwide who are selected for their experience and cultural sensitivity. 

In some Arab cultures, for example, we tend to work more over the phone in the appropriate language as it can be seen as difficult for people to actually attend counselling sessions in person – and the same can be said of Asian and African populations. 

Every organisation will also have its own culture, and within that a regional difference.  Our literature can be translated where appropriate. 

Q: What is your plan for the next step of CiC? What is it doing in Asia?

CiC is a rapidly growing organisation, as more and more employers understand the need to look after their employees’ mental health and general wellbeing. 

We work with global companies who have offices in Asia and are privileged to deliver resilience, trauma and stress programmes to those who see the benefits. 

We are keen to provide help and support wherever it is needed and our 25-plus years of experience puts us in a great position to encourage more companies to take advantage of very strong offer.

We are also expanding our global network as the international side of our work is undergoing rapid growth. We will also look at how to provide trauma support to our global clients since we are a specialist in the area.

Training will also be another area of focus since it is such a good way to raise awareness across the board, and get senior management involved in the process.

If you or your organisation would like to know more about the services that CiC can bring your organisation, please email