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BT’s approach to mental health in the workplace

BT’s approach to mental health in the workplace

By Dr Paul Lichfield, BT’s chief medical officer

It’s important to view people with mental-health issues in the same way as with any physical condition. Around one in four people will experience mental-health problems every year: it can affect anybody at any time of life.

Each BT business has a mental-health plan, developed with trade unions. Through raising awareness of mental-health issues, we have demonstrated that if people have had a problem, it doesn’t make them unemployable. Normalising mental health, as BT has tried to do for over a decade, removes stigma.

BT’s approach

BT’s approach is to try to drive a culture of self-help among people and their managers, with support available from experts. Management information is used to highlight areas for attention, with a particular focus on mental health so that resources are targeted where they are likely to achieve the greatest impact.

We have a mental-health three-tier framework:

  • Primary prevention - promoting good mental health and reducing risks to mental wellbeing at source.
  • Secondary intervention - identifying early signs of distress and supporting individuals to address work or non-work pressures.
  • Tertiary rehabilitation - helping people suffering from mental-health problems to cope and recover.

BT has developed a mental health ‘toolkit’ comprising a range of resources. Two recent additions include a mental-health service (to complement the employee assistance programme) and resilience training. The mental-health service delivers cognitive behavioural therapy for common mental-health problems. Resilience-training comprises a two-day course for people managers, a one-day course for all BT people and online support.

Our approach has delivered long-term improvements and we can identify ‘hot spots’ when they develop and tailor interventions. Recent analysis shows that serial major change programmes have been a driver, interventions have therefore focused on healthy change management. Early intervention helps help get more than 90% of people treated and back into their own role.

Looking after the wellbeing of our people is a ‘win-win’ with employee surveys showing that 81% ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that participating in health-promotion campaigns made them feel that BT cared about their health, 58% that it made them feel valued as an employee and 64% that it made them feel proud to work for BT.

Our resources

We have a wide range of resources to support mental health and wellbeing. Examples include:

1. Managing pressure: An online resource to help people understand, manage and cope more effectively with stressful situations.

2. Work Fit: a joint initiative with BT unions, it aims to promote small behavioural changes which, if sustained will have a long term impact on wellbeing.

3. Managing mental health: A one-day workshop for people managers that focuses on increasing awareness and understanding of mental health problems and dealing with them.

4. Dealing with distress: A resource pack outlining the key issues for managers to be aware of when dealing with people in distress.

5. Mental health dashboard: data drawn monthly to identify current status and trends in mental-health related problems in BT.

6. Health and wellbeing passport: Part of a wider suite of passports completed by people with potentially long-term or recurring health issues and agreed with their manager to help management of the individual. This can be carried forward into other roles.

7. Open Minds: Head First: A downloadable guide on mental health issues for employees and managers with practical advice and direction.

8. Employee Assistance Programme - A self-referral service comprising counselling and advice lines, available 24/7.

9. Employee Assistance Management - A team of counsellors available to line managers and HR to provide support in difficult situations.

10. Mental health and resilience toolkits – downloadable guides to mental health and resilience resources.

11. Resilience training – Two day, one-day and online training resourcesforpeople managers and individuals.

Significant change at speed is essential to the success of the company and our objective is to implement measures that avoid harm to our people. Efforts are underway to reinforce practice around healthy change with key messages being communicated to leaders, including health, safety and wellbeing ‘champions’.