British Telecom – managing mental health
|Company name||British Telecom (BT)|
|Number of employees||160,000|
|Type of workforce||Varied workforce|
What issue was the organisation facing?
As one of the largest private sector employers in the UK, the company seeks to recruit and promote people in a way that reflects the communities that it serves. Diversity in all its aspects is respected and promoted with mental health being recognised as an important but often neglected issue.
What action did the organisation take?
BT seeks to promote itself as a diverse employer open to people from all backgrounds and with a broad range of capabilities (one in four of BT’s customers will have or have had a mental health condition – why wouldn’t the company be “friendly” to such people?)
Recruiting managers are encouraged to be open-minded and not to focus unduly on issues such as gaps in CVs (there are lots of reasons for gaps in CVs so why make a big deal of it?)
Assessment of suitability for a position should be flexible taking account of the applicant’s needs and facilitating their opportunity to demonstrate their talents to best advantage (traditional Civil Service style interviews may get the best out of some people but maybe the company doesn’t just want Civil Service style people!)
Pre-employment health questionnaires were gotten rid of some years ago (they achieved virtually nothing good, cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to administer and put off some great people from applying or, as bad, started off the employment relationship on the basis of deceit)
After an offer of employment has been made job applicants are asked if they want any support to help overcome obstacles related to a health condition or disability. If so specialist services are engaged (get the right person and then look at what, if any adjustments you need to make – why put the cart before the horse and start with the negatives?)
Flexible working and adjustments are a normal part of the company culture so applying them to someone who has a mental health condition is “business as usual” (we’re all different so why does “one size fits all” make sense and why wouldn’t we promote our own products and services for use by our own people?)
People who find it useful can complete a “Wellbeing Passport” to document the adjustments they might need and contact points for support, especially with fluctuating conditions. Specialist services are available to advise if required and arrangements are “signed off” by the line manager (“Passports” help to reduce uncertainty on both sides and help build trust – no surprises!)
There is a wide range of materials and services available to employees to help them manage their own mental health conditions in work and to understand issues their colleagues might be experiencing (taking personal responsibility and providing colleagues with support are key aspects of the company’s values)
Specific guidance, training and support is made available to line managers to help them deal with mental health issues (mental health is the single most common condition presenting in the working population – not to prepare managers would be negligent)
If people become ill and have to take time away from work their managers are encouraged to keep in regular contact and to plan a phased return to work when appropriate (social withdrawal and isolation are particular issues with many mental health conditions just as rebuilding confidence and self esteem are key requirements of a cogent reintegration into the workplace)
What has been the impact of implementing interventions?
Christine Moore of BT People Consulting said:
"As a result of BT’s Mental Health "Workfit Positive Mentality" information and education programme:
- 68% learned something new about ways to look after their Mental Health
- 56% tried some of the recommendations and were continuing to practise them at the time of the follow-up
- 51% had noticed improvements in their mental well-being.
In addition, sickness absence rates due to mental health problems have fallen by 30% in 4 years despite pressured market conditions. Ceasing pre-employment medical checks has saved the company £400k per year."