Ustwo's ongoing efforts to support staff's mental health

Ustwo Games' Julie Piedrabuena explains that improved studio wellness requires constant work

11 December 2023

Listening to employee feedback and catering to each staff member's unique needs are key to supporting better mental health in the games industry.

That's according to Ustwo Games' head of people and culture, Julie Piedrabuena, who began her talk about mental health on a positive note during's HR summit.

She noted that some evidence shows companies are increasing their efforts on mental well-being and exploring new ways to support their staffers.

We know from reports that mental health is one of the top causes for both short-term and long-term absence in the UK from the UKIE census


Piedrabuena provided some data on the state of mental health within the UK.

She said, "We know from reports that mental health is one of the top causes for both short-term and long-term absence in the UK from the UKIE census. We also know that anxiety and depression rates are higher in the games industry than in the general population."

"38% of the people who responded to the census reported that they suffer from anxiety, depression, or both. This [figure] was at 31% from the before the pandemic. People's experiences working in the games industry can be very different."

With these facts in mind, she explained that the pandemic presented a time of change for Ustwo. It expanded on its efforts to support staffers remotely and focused on its communications as it paved the way for its current hybrid working model.

Regarding the steps taken to improve mental health at the studio, Piedrabuena explained that Ustwo used various implementations based on employee feedback.

"With longer surveys, we cover diversity and inclusion engagement, big studio changes, and hybrid working as a way for everyone to contribute to how we're working at all levels of the organization and business areas," she said.

Among the changes, Ustwo provided staffers with desks and equipment when prepping the company to work remotely. It also supported employees with commuting expenses to help with morale.

"One of the key things we needed to address following employee feedback was some of the concerns they shared with us about getting back into the studio of the cost and transport to facilitate that. We created an initiative to facilitate employees with a travel allowance of up to £500 a year to support that travel to the studio," Piedrabuena explained.

A slide with some of the changes that Ustwo implemented

Improving mental health support also included creating space outside of production to allow for socializing, team building, and brainstorming of ideas. An afternoon club was created; meetings were hosted monthly to allow for various learning courses for the team.

"They were things that could improve our employees' mental health, but also avoid disconnect..."

She added, "We had training sessions and interactive workshops that we organized very closely with our partners, and they were focused on mental health awareness, how to have empathetic conversation, inclusive, hiring mentorship. All of these were linked to our company values and our commitments to diversity and inclusion and mental health."

"It was a way to address a lot of the feedback that employees raised, and they were things that could improve our employees' mental health, but also avoid disconnect, focus on a sense of belonging, and improve collaboration on the development of our teams."

Piedrabuena noted that any effort of change requires tweaking to meet employee needs.

"We also increased our sick leave to 25 days per year and improved what we offered for our flexible benefits. [Newer benefits offer] employees the choice of yoga classes, equipment, and or donating to charities. Other benefits include the formalizing of a long-term illness policy to help staffers recovering from illness and surgeries," she explained.

"We also created a work-from-anywhere policy that allows employees to work from anywhere in the world for at least one month a year. For people like myself and many others with families outside of the UK, this policy made a huge difference, especially after COVID when traveling was not as easy as before."

Piedrabuena used an example of a staffer who had become a carer and how leadership worked with their new family dynamic.

"We discussed with them a plan around caring needs in their house. In addition to the paid time off taken, we wanted to give the employee a pay day off a week to support them. We worked with the manager to reduce and adjust the workload and offer flexibility for the days," she explained.

"It was just trying to understand what they needed and how we could make a difference in their experience and support them at that specific time."

She emphasized that flexibility is important for studios to support and foster better employee mental well-being.

"Flexible and inclusive policies are key to supporting employees' mental health and well-being"

Piedrabuena explained, "Flexible and inclusive policies are key to supporting employees' mental health and well-being. They are essential to adapt to huge changes such as the pandemic and implementing strategic initiatives that can improve employee morale and productivity. It can also help studios to retain and attract top talent and create a thriving creative and positive working culture."

She added that studios may get things wrong as they try to shift their culture to better serve their staffers.

"If you're trying to implement some of these initiatives in your studio, thinking about mental health as a priority and a part of your strategy will be the first takeaway.

"It's not just simply a ticking box exercise. It’s trying to find something that works for your studio, and your employees don't be afraid of getting it wrong. There is no one-size-fits-all, so keep trying new things."

Piedrabuena reiterated the importance of listening to employee feedback.

"Above all, listen to your employees and their feedback, and reach out to your network and partners for existing resources. Partnering with organizations such as Safe In Our World and others makes a huge difference to our experience. There is probably a group of people already working and trying to create many of those resources," she said.

"Always with a focus on inclusion, live with empathy, and continue to raise awareness about mental health and well-being as part of your strategy and long-term commitment."


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