The consultancy has since taken strides in its approach towards mental health and its offer of support to its partners.
BCS distinguishes itself as a supportive, close-knit environment within a highly competitive financial services sector. With consultancy attracting high performing, ambitious, driven and intelligent individuals, prior to BCS’s public engagement with the Time to Change campaign, there may have been some fear amongst partners that talking about mental health openly could hold back career progression.
Although there was never a noticeable stigma towards mental health in the BCS workplace, there was uncertainty amongst colleagues around whether it could be talked about.
In 2019, Beci, BCS’s HR Assistant, took the initiative to get her workplace involved in Time to Talk Day. Beci had first-hand experience of the impact that openness about mental health in the workplace could have on an individual level, having had a manager who supported her through some of the most difficult times in her life.
Beci “wanted the consultants at BCS to feel the same way; as if they could go to anyone” to talk about any struggles they may be facing.
To mark Time to Talk Day colleagues were given the chance to share one thing that had a positive impact on their mental health. Encouraging responses came in from across BCS’s London and Peterborough offices, including the following message shared by one of BCS's colleagues...
"I’m grateful to be here, healthy and alive, still fighting off the struggles , consistently aiming to be the best version of myself..."
This positive engagement ignited a conversation with the CEO and HR Director of BCS, who agreed to make a public commitment to their employees by signing the Time to Change Employer Pledge.
By taking the lead to initiate mental health-related activities and securing senior level buy-in through the pledge signing, Beci and the HR team had “opened the floodgates for colleagues wanting to get involved”.
Several colleagues submitted blogs about their lived experiences of mental health, to be published every day during Mental Health Awareness Week. A particularly impactful blog featured a Senior Manager’s story about how their struggles hadn’t prevented them from progressing in their career.
Senior management leading by example has been particularly helpful for encouraging a culture of openness at BCS, with the positive feedback and organisation-wide sharing of stories in response to these blogs suggesting that,
“if you just gave people the chance to talk about things and open, they would.”
BCS continued to give their employees the chance to talk more by hosting an event to mark World Mental Health Day in October 2019.
The event involved myth-busting fact cards about mental health, tips for exercise and sleep, and submission boxes where colleagues could submit their answers to prompts including ‘What you do to support your mental health’, ‘Something you’re looking forward to’ and ‘The best advice you’ve ever received’. These sparked organic conversations between colleagues without pushing people into having conversations about mental health before being ready to do so.
Uploading the submission-box responses to internal communication channels such as the Intranet and Yammer sparked further engagement, with colleagues from across the organisation sharing tips and experiences relating to mental health.
BCS also created an internal Sharepoint space dedicated to mental health strategy and containing downloadable content, guidance and signposts to external support. This allows those individuals who don’t feel comfortable to have conversations about mental health directly to still access information and support.
The Employer Action Plan, created collaboratively with the Time to Change Employers Team, provided a solid starting point from which to make substantial, sustained changes to the working lives of BCS employees. Feedback from the Time to Change Employers Team has helped BCS to keep on track, whilst access to Masterclasses have deepened engagement by participants, making them more determined to make changes in the workplace.
Managers have been trained to encourage openness and disclosure about mental health issues. BCS has also invested in training two of its employees as Mental Health First Aiders to provide its workforce with individuals able to support and signpost in more urgent situations.
The number of line managers who have approached HR asking for guidance for speaking to people individually, rather than passing their case on to be dealt with HR, suggests that training has enabled managers to feel capable at handling challenges related to mental health on an individual level, without needing to escalate the situation.
Alongside these supported initiatives, BCS has been independently monitoring its employees’ wellbeing through its Employee Satisfaction Survey (which includes capturing employees’ work-life balance) and an annual Health and Safety Survey (which now includes reporting on mental wellbeing and stress levels), allowing HR to approach individuals proactively and in private.
This monitoring has informed how BCS continually updates its Employer Action Plan and remains accountable to improving its support for mental health in the workplace.
Overall, Beci has seen a positive shift in workplace culture as a result of mental health-focussed events and interventions.
More colleagues are speaking out about their personal lived experiences of mental health, whilst there is generally more openness to conversations about mental health.
This increase in awareness, confidence and knowledge about mental health has allowed individuals with no lived experience to come forward and offer support, which, in turn, has taken some of the pressure off individuals with lived experience to educate others and ask for help.
Going forward, BCS’s Mental Health First Aiders will be training a cohort of 15-18 colleagues on BCS’s 'Advocates Programme', a peer-to-peer support group similar to Time to Change’s ‘Workplace Champions’ initiative. This group will be strategically selected to reflect a spread of individuals from across the organisation who are able to listen and signpost their peers to mental health support, as well as give HR an idea of the levels of support needed and accessed by colleagues across the organisation.