Josh Krichefski - The NABS Podcast
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How to get rid of toxic workplaces – with Josh Krichefski

Louise Scodie: (00:01.424)

This week, our guest is Josh Krichefski. Josh Krichefski is CEO, EMEA and UK at Group M, where he leads 17,000 people with the mission to make advertising work better for people. He’s also president of the IPA, the UK’s advertising agency industry body. In this role, Josh has established the People First Promise, which asks agencies to prove their commitment to their team’s mental health. Josh is very open about his own mental health, which we’re going to be talking about today.

He is also a married dad of two and in his own words, a long-suffering Arsenal supporter.

Welcome Josh to the NABS podcast. What effect is Arsenal currently having on your mental wellness?


Josh Krichefski (00:40.32)

It’s a good question, actually. Thanks for having me. It’s very nice to be here. Yeah, I mean…

Louise Scodie: (00:44.016)

You’re very welcome.

Josh Krichefski (00:48.032)

It’s pretty positive for my health, I would say, actually, at the moment, being an Arsenal supporter. So, I mean, obviously, anyone who goes to football matches knows about kind of the ups and downs of emotions that you have during a game. We’ve had a few of those recently, but I’m just very happy with how our team are playing and how our club is behaving and how our manager is kind of, I don’t know, creating a really good vibe in the club


Louise Scodie: (01:22.544)

Good. It’s nice to have you on a football-based equilibrium to start this chat with. We’re really into management at NABS actually, and I’m not a football fan at all, but I can see that so much of it is about culture creation and how the manager leads from the top down. And I actually wonder whether you’ve taken any inspiration from that as a football fan in your own work as a manager yourself and also guiding managers across the industry.


Josh Krichefski (01:26.784)

You’re right. Yeah. I mean, I guess I used to love playing sports and being part of a team and I think that… There are certain things that great managers, I think modern day managers in football teams, people like Pep Guardiola, people like Mikel Arteta. I’d say probably most of the kind of more progressive managers these days don’t really allow, you know, bad behaviour and sort of big egos to take over the dressing room.

And I think that’s probably something that I’ve definitely taken inspiration from and found myself trying to instil in any team that I manage or lead as much as possible. So I think sometimes you have like really talented individuals who don’t always, you know, role model the kinds of behaviours that you want them to.

Sometimes you can nip it in the bud and sometimes you can’t. And when you can’t, you have to make a change. But sometimes, as I say, you can, just as long as you make you’re very clear about what your expectations are. And so, yeah, I guess I’ve taken that as inspiration, probably not at a leadership level more broadly, but definitely with the leadership teams that I lead.

Louise Scodie: (03:19.696)

We’re going to get on some more about that in a bit, but first of all, before talking about how you’re championing mental wellness for others, let’s talk a bit about your own mental wellness journey. You have been really open in the past about challenges you’ve had to face. So can you talk to us about some of them?


Josh Krichefski (03:37.088)

Yeah, I mean, I guess what I don’t I sort of I’m careful not to sort of, you know, try and pretend that I’ve got serious any kind of severe or serious mental health issues, because I think that would be over egging if I’m honest with you. But I think I struggle with anxiety and that manifests itself for me with anxiety in the middle of the night. So I struggle with insomnia. And it’s totally related to I mean, almost, almost always related to work. Actually, my dog is ill at the moment. So I did have a bad night’s sleep last night because I was worried about him staying over at the set at the moment and I’m a bit worried about him. But generally, it’s related to work. And I guess,

Louise Scodie: (04:19.664)

Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that.

Josh Krichefski (04:29.056)

Whilst I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily a mental health issue, it definitely affects my mental wellness, as you put it, and something that I think is probably something that many people struggle with. So that’s something that I found certain ways of managing it, but not fixing it, if I’m honest, it’s something that’s all I live with really.

And yeah, I think it’s really important I talk about it openly, partly because I think it’s important to normalise the conversation around it and to let people see that you know, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do or what position you’re in in different companies. You know, everyone struggles with stuff like this. And it’s perfectly normal, actually. And it doesn’t make you a lesser person or mean that you’re less good at the job that you do. But it’s, and equally, it’s not something that helps me do my job better. But it’s something that I definitely live with and so I talk about it openly for that reason. I also talk about it openly if I’m really honest, because I find it quite almost like therapeutic to talk about it. So, you know, I’m not being fully altruistic in talking about it. I sort of benefit from that myself, I suppose, in some ways as well. So I think it’s just openness and sharing generally in the world is a good thing and in the workplaces too.

Louise Scodie: (05:54.192)

That is what the NABS podcast is all about. So we’re happy to be part of your free therapy service. Does it work like this? You’re anxious about something. So you wake up in the middle of the night and then you get more anxious because you’re awake.

Josh Krichefski (06:06.784)

Yeah, I generally, yeah, I generally what happens is I go to sleep fine and I wake up in the middle of the night and I immediately, my brain immediately directs itself to the biggest problem that I’ve got at that given time and then I ruminate or try and find solutions or just panic and drive myself into even more of an anxiety state than I was when I first started thinking about it. And it sort of goes round and round in circles.

And then I’ll do things to break that cycle, like getting up and going and writing myself some notes so that I can sort of say to myself, okay, you’ve done all you can do right now, put it to bed and, you know, switch off and try and go back to sleep or go downstairs and have a cup of herbal tea or something. Yeah, but that’s generally what happens. Yeah, I sort of wind myself up in the middle of the night and rarely do I come up with a solution that’s of any kind of value at all. It’s always absolute garbage that I come up with. So, but you know, it’s on repeat, it happens a lot.

Louise Scodie: (07:21.872)

And you mentioned some coping strategies. So there’s the writing down, there’s the getting out of bed and having a cup of tea chamomile, not caffeinated. Is there anything else that you do? Maybe, is there anything else that you do during the day to try and mitigate the effects of a terrible night the night before?


Josh Krichefski (07:38.496)

Yeah, I mean, I think, I think I say I do this, like I don’t do it enough. But I think meditating is very, very good thing to do. Because what it does is it kind of exercises your brain, you know, it’s like an exercising a muscle to do something more naturally, which is to switch off, which is to kind of think of nothing, which is what you’re trying to do when you’re meditating, really, you know, just have clarity, you know, just clarity.

And so I think the more I definitely think the more that I meditate, the more I find it more natural to be able to switch off in the middle of the night. But as I say, I don’t do it enough. Like I just when you asked me that question, I thought to myself, God, I haven’t meditated for ages, actually, I really need to stop doing it again.

And then I, you know, I do things like I get out, like when I think I personally if I’m working from home, not very healthy. So if I am working from home for any given reason, I’ll always make sure that I go out in the day at some point, whether that’s to go to the gym or to go for a walk, just taking myself out of my house, I find chills me out a bit, actually. A bit of that, but I think also just remembering that there’s an outside world and that you’re small and you’re tiny in it. And there’s a whole world happening out there that isn’t, you know, whereas when you’re in your own head, that is the world.

Louise Scodie: (08:48.88)

You like the interaction with other people.

Josh Krichefski (09:05.184)

But that’s just your thinking. And so the less thinking the better I find.

Louise Scodie: (09:11.728)

You’ve been discussing mental wellness at work for a very long time and you’ve been ahead of the curve in that respect. What experiences have you had in the workplace that made you realise how central mental wellness is to our working lives?

Josh Krichefski (09:24.416)

Well, I guess because of my own experience and, you know, being very fortunate to have coaching to really focus on understanding the relationship between what I’ve just been talking about really, the impact of thinking on your reality and understanding, that it’s just thought and it’s not necessarily everyone’s reality.

Having had coaching prior to becoming a CEO, before my first CEO job, it really made me sort of feel like I wanted to run a company where the more people with it were enlightened with the best training around how to be mentally well, the better, right? And then, I also felt very strongly that, you know, my own experience was that if I was able to switch off from work at some point in the early evening, it helped me with my sleep. So I sort of felt like I really hope that the people, it was when I was running MediaCom in the UK, the people who work in our company, I want everybody to be able to switch off from work, honestly. So the first thing that I did when I took over the job was to introduce flexible working. And I said, and I don’t, you know, with flexible working means you can work for hours you want to work.

But with that in mind, if you’re someone who wants to, you know, sort of clock off early and then pick up work later on in the day when your kids have gone to bed or something,  you can’t just assume that your colleagues want to do the same. So I don’t want people emailing each other after seven o ‘clock at night. That was something that I sort of, that was the first thing that I introduced. And that was just about, yeah, to try and create an environment where people could switch off and as a result, hopefully be more mentally healthy.

But it wasn’t like that was like, if I’m really honest, it wasn’t like I made a strategic decision to focus my whole leadership on kind of mental wellness. It was more around that’s the kind of environment that I want to lead, right. Then that and then a few months after that, we were we were running this we ran these sessions where we always brought in into external people to come into the business and talk about their own experiences of something interesting.

And one of them, we had Johnny and Neil, it’s Johnny Benjamin, I can’t remember Neil’s surname, came in and talked about their experiences. It was this thing about suicide. Johnny was going to jump off a bridge and he met this guy, Neil, who was crossing over the London Bridge was on his way to work and he saw Johnny and he thought, what’s he doing? And so he started talking to him and he turned out, oh my God, he’s going to jump off the bridge. And he talked him off the bridge. And then actually, Neil, Johnny got arrested and then they didn’t see each other again. And then when Johnny was released and he got better and he was feeling a bit better, he decided that he wanted to find this guy Neil who saved him from jumping off a bridge and they made a TV programme about it.

Anyway, they came and they talked about it in the agency and it was really and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room and it was really clear like it was kind of like a bit of an eye -opener for me, it was this is really important for people, you know, this is something that’s really key. And so we then started establishing a bit of a program in the agency around mental health. And it’s sort of kind of grown from there really. And it’s been a real passion of mine and something that I feel, at that time, we were trying to make unique about our agency is, it’s quite a hard-nosed industry, the media industry. And I wanted to kind of soften the culture a bit even, still drive the high performance culture, but soften it a bit. And so that was a sort of differentiator for us at the time.

And now as IPA president, I feel like I want the whole industry to be brilliant. I want us to be a kind of trailblazer in terms of how we look after our people. And by the way, there’s loads of great work happening in loads of different agencies all over the UK, which is brilliant. And I just want to surface the best stuff and really celebrate it and make our industry one that people look at from the outside and go, that is an industry where they really, you know, they really know how to take care of their greatest assets.

Louise Scodie: (13:57.84)

Yeah, I mean, you said that you didn’t approach it as a CEO, as a strategic decision necessarily, but it seems that in your tenure as president of the IPA, that is very much a set strategy and really important to what you’re doing. So you’ve got the People First promise, which is the articulation of that. So can you talk to us a bit about how that’s come about and what it looks like and how we can all get involved with it?


Josh Krichefski (14:09.76)

Yeah, I mean, so basically, I’ve been working for quite a few years with an advisory board of mental health professionals, charities, business leaders who are very good in this space to try and I was quite keen to really lobby government to introduce a law that encouraged businesses to and supported businesses to put in certain frameworks to support their people.

And working with these incredible people, you know, the advisory boards over 20 people, it sort of evolved and evolved and evolved. And over time, we came up with this thing, which was program, which was based on all the kind of best scientific learnings from what good workplace wellbeing looks like, and came up with a framework of what we’ve got to empower, support and prevent.

Empower is about empowering the individual to really understand their own mental health and to be trained in understanding what mental health is, and the difference between various different types of conditions, like bipolar or neuroses or psychoses or personality disorder with just a bad day at work, understanding the difference between those things really.

The second thing support is around making sure the company has really put in place proper support services for people who are struggling with serious mental health conditions and prevent is around making sure that leaders are really purposeful in having cultures in their businesses that aren’t toxic and where people feel like they can really, you know, be themselves at work, I suppose, and thrive.

So we’d established this framework and I was talking to various different MPs on all sides of the house, honestly, about how we could potentially install something. And it was becoming increasingly clear to me that changing the law is a very difficult thing to do, probably impossible. And honestly, the government weren’t particularly interested in mental health. And, you know, over the last, it was up until, for a couple of years up until the end of 2022. So it was from, yeah, up until, it was starting from like 2019 to about 22. And then, I got asked to be the president of the IPA. And so what I’ve decided to do is rather than try and, you know, mandate something, what I want to do is create something which is really like a, for want of a better word, it’s like a mental health certificate. It’s like a certificate that demonstrates that you as a business look after your people.

And so what I’m doing is getting our industry and the leaders of our industry to sign up to the People First Promise. And what you have to do to sign up to that promise is you have to provide evidence that you do at least one thing under each of those different three category areas in power to support and prevent in your business. You have to provide that evidence, apply for the People First Promise badge of honour and then at the IPA, there’s a whole team of people who are going through all of the different applications and deciding whether you’ve been successful or if you haven’t been successful, what you need to do to be successful.

And so I only launched it in January this year and we’ve already got like, I think we’ve got about 50 successful certificates. We’ve got 30 more applications. We’ve got still more applications coming in every day. And what I want, and those are, those are the main advertising or media agencies all around the country who signed up for it. But I want to broaden it out to, um, all media owners and advertising association members, clients as well.

It’s harder with clients because we deal with the marketing departments of clients rather than necessarily the whole business of a client. Basically, what I’d really like to do is broaden it out amongst the creative industries, but really starting with the advertising industry, because that’s the industry that I really want to showcase as the trailblazers in this space.

And I guess, sorry, just to just explain what, what I’m asked, why I’m asking leaders to do that is it’s really, it’s to make them more accountable to their people that they, you know, so that if you as a leader go, right, we’ve, you know, we’ve got the People First Promise badge of honour in this in this agency, for example, the people can say, well, yeah, but is that, you know, do I think that we really deserve that in this organisation?

Because I think there’s a bit of a chasm between policy in lots of companies versus the experience of people on the ground. And by the way, I think that’s the same in my business. I think it’s the same across the board. I think it’s no one’s perfect. And whilst most leaders have a very positive intent around this space, the experience that different groups of people within their businesses will, that might be different from what they’re trying to achieve.

Louise Scodie: (19:59.824)

That’s one of the key findings that arose from NABS’ All Ears research, our community consultation, which we released at the end of 2023, that there is a widening gap between policy and what’s actually happening. So it’s all very well having a policy protecting people with these issues and helping people with those issues. But if they’re not being activated, then what you’ve done is you’ve set people’s expectations, then you’re not delivering, and actually their experience is worse because they were expecting help and they’re not getting it.


Josh Krichefski (20:26.304)

I think that’s really, it’s very true. And by the way, we’ve launched, I’ve launched initiatives that have been a total flop, honestly, you know, thought I’ve launched something really good. But I don’t know, they just, there’s very, the truth is, there’s very few things that have been scientifically evidence based proven to be successful. But the one most important, I would say, that has, and in all of this is the most important thing is around prevent is around preventing toxic workplace culture, because the toxic workplace culture is the biggest determinant of negative wellbeing in the workplace. And the things that you can do to not you know, it’s not that difficult to sort that out.

And the main thing is around transparency. So transparency of leadership. So understanding how people are feeling and talking to people on a regular basis and then playing back to people what you’ve learned from what they’ve said to you and what you’re doing, what you’re going to do about it and not making undeliverable promises, but actually just being really open and honest about what you’re learning, what you’re trying to do and have that kind of openness of sharing, is really positive, can have a really disproportionately positive impact on people’s experience at work.

Louise Scodie: (21:57.872)

So I’m really interested in your definition of a toxic workplace and also whether you have experienced that for yourself and the effect that it had on you.

Josh Krichefski (22:06.208)

Yeah, I mean, I think I think I’ve worked in places where we felt that we’ve had to have a really good culture, but actually, the leader might be a bit, you know, quite sort of aggressive in the way that they talk to people. And that creates a bit of toxicity, because it means people can’t be really honest about what they think.

So I’ve experienced that in many places that I’ve worked, if I’m really honest with you. So I think it really, I think the toxicity, so that’s one thing. I think the other thing is sort of the point I was making earlier about if you’ve got a bad egg, that can really negatively impact everything. So you need, particularly around leadership positions, you need good people.

And then, and then another area where, where you can do a lot to avoid having toxic workplace culture is to actually give, make managers, because I think we promote managers at a very young age in our industry and we often don’t train them and actually management training is not necessarily a technical thing. It’s about how you listen to people and how you communicate with people and how you treat people really. That’s what you know and how clear you are about your expectations of people and then you know how true and honest you are I suppose and how consistent you are in the way you do things. So I think mental health training is a big part of that as well. So I think all those sorts of getting that sort of stuff right has a big impact on positive culture in businesses.

Louise Scodie: (23:59.984)

Yeah. I mean, you’re saying a lot of the things that echo NABS’ approach to management. And as a result of all this and what we found out then, we have got our Inclusive Leader training where people can come and learn to be managers who foster open empathetic spaces where they can hold space for people if they want to discuss their mental wellness, where people can come and be themselves in a safe environment. And we’re going to be developing more of those kind of courses as well, because it’s all very well learning the technical bits like how to give an appraisal. But actually what you want to do is promote a workplace in which people feel safe and they can thrive.

Josh Krichefski (24:33.568)

You also in NABS have very good resilience training. I mean, if I think NABS has got, if I’m honest, I would say has got the majority of the resources that any business needs to do well in this space, actually. I really admire the work. I’m not just saying this because I’m on the NABS podcast, but I really admire so much of the work that happens in NABS. And so we’ve got as part of the whole mental, you know, the thing I was talking about with the IPA, we’ve got this thing called the Wellbeing Lab, where we actually, where anyone can access for free all the best kind of resources under empower, support and prevent to use themselves as individuals or to use in their companies. And NABS features quite heavily in there because of all the different amazing training that you have in the charity. So I’m a big believer in NABS and I think it’s such an important resource for our industry.


Louise Scodie: (25:39.248)

I am so pleased to hear that. Thank you so much. And we will pop all the links that you need to find out more about how we can help with our free training courses in the show notes, as well as a link to the People First Promise that you can find out more about that. So what happens if you’re working somewhere and they’ve said they’ve signed up to the People First Promise, but you don’t think that’s playing out properly? What’s a good way to approach that to try and turn things around?

Josh Krichefski (26:07.072)

Well, I mean, I think it’s a really good question, by the way. I think it’s an excellent question. It depends on the company. Companies are structured in different ways and different shapes and sizes. But I always say, if you don’t feel you’re experiencing what you should be, you need to tell your manager that. And if you don’t feel like you can talk to your manager about it, you should be talking to your HR department.

Most agencies and media owners, I would say, have HR departments these days. Taking it beyond that, I mean, some agencies are much more open than others. But I would say, so I, you know, if you can go to, I mean, I remember when I was a graduate in an agency 26 years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to, if I felt something strongly, I was able to talk to the CEO about it. Some agencies you can, some agencies you can’t. But I don’t think it’s something that people should be going to the IPA. I’m not so sure it’s like, go to the IPA and complain about your agency necessarily. I’d say it’s probably something that you need to be taking up internally.

Louise Scodie: (27:11.152)

And on a positive slant, I guess if you’re looking for a new job and you want to go somewhere where mental wellness is taken more seriously, could you look at the People First website? Does it have a list of all of the companies that have signed up?

Josh Krichefski (27:21.28)

It will do. It will do. Yeah, it hasn’t at the moment, but there’s a press release going out soon and it will do. And yeah, I mean, I think it’s a really the real part of the purpose of it is I think it should be a great thing for attracting talent into businesses, as well as attract attracting clients, because I think clients are increasingly taking this stuff seriously as well.

Louise Scodie: (27:41.552)

As well they should be. Now, how does the advertising and marketing community lift you up?

Josh Krichefski (27:48.224)

I mean, it’s really the people. I buzz off. We’re all different, aren’t we? Some people love working on their own, doing their own stuff and writing. I totally thrive when I’m surrounded by people and working problem solving with people. And I think that’s, I rise through working with amazing people. I’m surrounded by just the most incredible people, much brighter people than me every day. And so I thrive with that. I also think we do great work. And I think that, you know, as an industry, we’re the best in the world still.

And so I feel very proud of that to be part of an industry that does such fantastic work. And that lifts me definitely. Yeah. So I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to have been working in this industry for 26 years. Yeah. Showing my age there.

Louise Scodie: (28:44.624)

It’s a long old time, isn’t it? But I realised when it came out of my mouth, that’s how it sounded. I wasn’t saying, oh aren’t you old, but you must’ve seen attitudes to mental wellness transform in all of that time. Back in the day, it was just like, get on with it, work till midnight at the earliest, we don’t care how you feel about it.

Josh Krichefski (28:53.184)

Hahaha! Yeah, it was definitely a different time, you sort of you accepted that you but I mean, I mean, it’s funny, like, I want to be really clear about is, I you’ve got to work hard. Like, if you want to do well in this business, you got to work bloody hard. And, and that’s right. Like it should be in any business. It’s good for you to work hard. I genuinely think it’s good for your health to work hard. I really do. So yeah, and if you want to get to the top, like you got to work harder than the next person. That’s like,

Louise Scodie: (29:18.768)

For sure. You need a purpose, you need stimulation.

Josh Krichefski (29:35.52)

That’s just a fact. That doesn’t go away. And with the whole conversation around mental wellness and mental health, what I can’t stand is when it gets when people conflate, you know, a really stressful stuff going on at work with mental health issues. They’re two different things. Yeah. And that I think is really important because the mental health is very, very, very important thing that we really need to take note of. But I think stress related to work is a reality that we all have to deal with stress. And what we don’t want it to become is like real anxiety and actually lead to real mental health issues, which it can.

But equally, I think we need to recognise that, you know, with work comes stress and we have to work hard, but what we shouldn’t be doing is expecting people to work every hour in the day and through the weekends. And also when people are working hard, they need to be treated with respect and we should be kind to each other.

And we should, you know, and that we should have environments where we like being like we want to be spending our time. So it’s not such a tough thing when we are having to work hard because we’re amongst people that we like working with and we’re in environments where we feel we can be ourselves. And I think that has changed quite a lot from when I was growing up in the industry where it was much more work hard, play hard. You had to be a certain type of person really to succeed, I think, if I’m honest. And I’m really pleased that that’s not the world that we’re in now.

Louise Scodie: (31:08.912)

That notion of play hard has really changed, hasn’t it, in particular? Partly in a bid to make the industry more diverse. Does it suit everyone to go out drinking until four in the morning? It’s just not possible.

Josh Krichefski (31:20.864)

No, I mean, it’s, I mean, I haven’t drunk for six months. I’m not, I, and so it’s important, but I need to be at stuff. Like I need to be socialising. I need to be networking. That’s part of the part of my job is, you know, the social side of it. So that’s okay now. I’m lucky because I can be out at dinners and people don’t go, why aren’t you drinking? It’s more normal. But I do think a part of our business, drinking is definitely still a part of the social aspects of our business, but I think it’s really important that it’s not the only part of it. And that we’re finding other things to do that are inclusive for everybody. That people can have a good time with each other and it’s not centred around booze.

Louise Scodie: (32:07.024)

Yeah, completely agree with that as a mum. There’s absolutely no way I can have hangovers. So look, you’re a grafter. You’ve got a load going on. What’s the best lesson you’ve learned about how to support yourself through everything that you’re doing and everything that you’ve done?

Josh Krichefski (32:11.808)

Yeah, that’s not what I mean either. I think try and maintain perspective. You know, I think nothing I do is particularly important really in the grand scheme of things. Just doing a job. And what’s really important is, you know, the people you love and, you know, the positive impact that you can have on the world really, I suppose, you know, day to day and day out.

So I try and maintain perspective and not, you know, try not to do what I do in the middle of the night, which is overthink.

Louise Scodie: (33:03.152)

Well, I hope that Arsenal continue to give you, if not constant joy, then at least no extra aggravation. I hope that your dog gets well soon and I hope that you have some peaceful night’s sleep ahead of you. It’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. As I mentioned before, we’ve discussed a lot of resources today, so we’ll put the links to those all in the show notes as well, so you can go and find out more. Josh Krichefski, thank you so much. Have an amazing day.

Josh Krichefski (33:13.632)

Thank you.



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