Case study: BT Group plc

BT has over 100 000 employees working in six different lines of business, spanning 170 countries. Full engagement is always a challenge, but BT sought to address health and wellbeing issues affecting their workforce by getting them involved.

The challenge

In common with many other organisations, mental health is one of the growing risks at BT. Stress is a significant cause of time away from work and BT see addressing health and wellbeing issues as important for staff, the business and society. The aim was to enhance staff involvement in managing health issues to improve the health of staff and facilitate joint problem solving. It also helps to drive down costs associated with mental-health-related absenteeism, and reduced productivity, and furthers BT's corporate social responsibility credentials.

Working with health and safety representatives

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) and Connect have an agreement with BT which covers the role of health and safety representatives, formalises arrangements for training, and fosters co-operation between management and employee representatives. Their partnership with management enables health and safety issues to be addressed in a non-political and non-confrontational manner. For example, BT's health and safety representatives worked with managers to form and promote a strategy on tackling health issues.

Getting the workforce on board

BT has wellbeing leads in each line of the business. They, along with specialists in health and safety and communications, tailor the messages about the importance of health issues and cascade it to the workforce to raise awareness. For instance, the Retail business use their radio channel and the plasma screens in their contact centres, and the Openreach business use their in-house magazine. Three months after the Positive Mentality campaign, the follow-up online survey results showed that, of those who had accessed the materials:

  • 68% learned something new about ways to look after their mental health;
  • 56% tried some of the recommendations and continued to practise them at the time of the survey;
  • 51% of those who had made changes had noticed improvements in their mental health and wellbeing.

BT's strategy for mental wellbeing

The strategy consists of three phases:

  • reducing stress at source through workplace and job design;
  • identifying early signs of stress and supporting individuals to address work pressures that cause stress;
  • helping people suffering from stress to cope and recover.

The strategy has resulted in initiatives that promote good health, prevent ill health, identify those at risk and provide early intervention.

Benefits so far

Quantifiable benefits are often difficult to demonstrate in the short term as impact really depends on a comprehensive, integrated longer-term approach. However, over the past four to five years, the sickness absence rate due to mental health problems has fallen by 30% despite pressured market conditions.

BT now gets almost 80% of people who have been off for more than six months with mental illness back into their own jobs, compared with 20% nationally.

Dr Catherine Kilfedder, BT's Group Health Adviser, says:

On the health and wellbeing side, all the evidence suggests that a participative approach, a not "done to" but "done with" approach, is most effective.

All of our health promotion initiatives are developed in conjunction with the CWU and Connect, in partnership with a relevant non-governmental organisation (NGO), then cascaded through our lines of business by the wellbeing and communications leads. Where possible, we try to identify a senior business champion who will provide high-level visibility and promotion for these initiatives.

We think it is important to identify and utilise your "champions", those with interest and enthusiasm for the area.

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