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Workplace mental health at British Telecom Group PLC

Rationale and development

Recognising the prevalence of mental ill-health in a workforce, BT saw this as a business issue that needs to be managed and addressed. The company was one of the first in the UK to launch a health awareness programme on a large scale to tackle mental health issues. BT hoped that by encouraging employees to adopt small changes in lifestyle and use proven techniques for increasing their resilience they would cope better with the pressures of modern living and work more creatively and productively.


  • Aim is to try and move employee mind-sets and behaviours from dependency to interdependency.
  • Three-tiered mental health framework comprised of Prevention, Early Intervention, and Rehabilitation.
  • Holistic integrated approach encompassing health promotion such as BTs "Work Fit" initiatives delivered alongside a Mental Health Toolkit with resources linked to each of the mental health framework areas.
  • BTs "Work Fit" initiatives target both physical and mental wellbeing with a focus on guided self-help.
  • Key components of the Mental Health Toolkit include: Open Minds: Head First – a downloadable guide on the continuum of mental health issues for both employees and managers; STREAM – a Stress Risk Assessment and Management Tool; a range of training courses such as STRIDE – a companion to STREAM for managers, resilience training, and Managing Mental Health training (based on the MHFA movement); BTs Health and Wellbeing Passport – part of a suite of passports that can be completed by individuals with long-term or recurring health-issues and agreed with their manager to facilitate management of the individual at work; Employee Assistance Management (EAM) to support BT managers as well as Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for BT people available 24/7; and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).


  • The head of wellbeing, a Clinical Psychologist, works with leadership teams in each line of business (who retain ownership of plans) to develop tailored action plans stemming from the overall strategic approach.
  • Centrally, efforts are focused on strategy, policy, introducing new evidence-based initiatives, raising awareness and securing support at senior level.
  • Managers are trained to better manage stress and mental health in their teams.
  • BT staff are encouraged to take personal responsibility for their own and others' wellbeing.
  • EAP and EAM providers comprise experienced and accredited practitioners and consultants trained in addressing mental health issues.
  • BT partners with mental health experts such as leading charities to design and deliver programmes and training.
  • BT’s CBT service is funded through an insured solution in order to remove the risk of cost volatility and short term budgetary pressures at business unit level.  This approach also improves visibility of costs and provides economies of scale, strengthening the business case for rehabilitation.

Monitoring and effectiveness

  • Management information is collated from a variety of sources (e.g. sickness absence database, occupational health returns, EAP feedback, anonymised and grouped STREAM results and CARE Agile reports, company-wide engagement survey). This is presented as a mental health dashboard updated monthly and supplemented by a commentary from the in-house Clinical Psychologist. This approach targets areas for attention within the business and ensures resources are directed to where they are likely to achieve the greatest impact.
  • The company funded mental rehabilitation service has delivered significant improvements in clinical outcomes among those using it. Critically from a business perspective it has also proved effective in getting people back to work safely with 92% returning to their own role on full duties after intervention.

Key takeaways, lessons learnt and points of interest

  • Building on general aspirations to create a healthy workplace environment.
  • BT focuses on a targeted approach, due to the diverse nature of its workforce which spans a number of locations and job functions. Reflecting diversity in both demographics and geography is relevant to success.
  • Health promotion is a broad topic and there is a danger of communicating bland general messages unless a clear focus is maintained. Communications expertise is a core requirement for any programme.
  • ‘Line of Business’ programmes are implemented through their normal management chain using their standard communication channels. This serves to reinforce the message that this is part of running an effective business and not some ‘health initiative’ or ‘bolt on’.

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© 2019 © MQ: Transforming mental health 2016 | Registered charity in England / Wales: 1139916 & Scotland: SC046075 | Company number: 7406055