Taking responsibility for mental health at BT

07 Dec 2017
Sarah Clarke

Taking responsibility for mental health at BT

This post, written by C3’s Ina Andersson, is based on a piece of work by C3 creating case studies showcasing workplace health initiatives across a range of companies and organisations. You can read these case studies through our blog.



BT, one of the leading communications companies, runs a range of workplace-health promotions under the umbrella vehicle ‘Work Fit’ and have featured many campaigns on mental health, focusing on prevention of mental ill-health, as well as managing anxiety, stress and depression. BT’s underlying message is that everyone is responsible for their own mental health and, above all, that there needs to be a holistic approach to mental health in the workplace.



BT sees many benefits in assisting employees to improve and maintain good mental health. BT recognises that reduced absenteeism is good for business, but also that a happy, healthy workforce will be more productive overall. BT believes that its employees will remain loyal if the company helps them to maintain their mental wellbeing, including during times of difficulty in their lives.

The overall aim of mental wellbeing activities at BT is to create an ‘interdependence’ mind-set amongst employees, in which they take personal responsibility for both their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around them. BT also promotes a holistic approach to mental health, emphasising the connection between work-life and personal life, and between mental and physical health.



In 2006, BT established a mental-health programme and promotion campaign entitled ‘Work Fit – Positive Mentality’. The programme was set up to tackle mental-health issues such as anxiety, depression and stress, providing employees with accessible information and practical guidance on how to improve their mental health, both at work and at home. Following the initial programme, BT has also introduced a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy programme and set up a ‘mental-health first-aid course’ for line managers, teaching them to recognise the signs of an employee experiencing mental distress and how to direct the employee to the correct professional help.

BT has run further campaigns around the ‘Time to Change Employer Pledge’, showing employees that the company wants to take action to tackle the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health. As part of ‘Time to Change’, employees are encouraged to watch a short video giving tips on how to open up a conversation with someone who may have mental-health problems.

In addition, BT has an intranet site dedicated to mental health on which all old materials and resources from previous mental-health campaigns are available to employees.



Across all BT office and call-centre locations internationally, as well as employees working remotely.



BT’s mental-health campaigns provide guidance and information on how to prevent and combat mental ill-health to all BT employees (84,500 in 2017), including remote workers. In drawing up the campaigns, BT has collaborated with unions and has had the support of mental-health charities such as Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health.



‘Work Fit – Positive Mentality’ was launched in October 2006 and lasted for 16 weeks. Since then, BT has launched several other campaigns and initiatives around mental health. The mental-health first-aid course was introduced in 2009 and the CBT programme was established in September 2010. BT continues to make improvements to the mental-health intranet site.



Mental-health campaigns at BT have demonstrated how lifestyle choices such as regular physical activity, eating well and relaxation techniques can help combat depression, stress and anxiety. The programmes have also emphasised the importance of friends and family for mental wellbeing. BT has further aimed to educate employees to help reduce the stigma of mental illness and promote the range of support services that it provides to employees.

Since 2006 BT has worked to shift employees’ mind-sets around wellbeing to ‘interdependency’, with employees looking after each other. This process began with discussions on employee forums, and a community of employees was established to take the lead on health, safety and wellbeing for their own particular line of business. Each business area created a bespoke action plan aligned with an overall strategy. Each plan was developed closely with the Head of Wellbeing, a clinical psychologist by training, but ownership of each bespoke plan was vested in the individual leadership teams.

BT has also established procedures to help identify early signs of mental ill-health in its employees. It supports them to address any life pressures and helps those with existing mental-health problems to address these, cope and recover.

Recently, BT went through the process of improving its intranet site. It was rewritten, restructured and repackaged to make it more accessible and improve the user experience, and to reflect BT’s holistic approach to mental health.



20 per cent of BT’s line managers took part in the ‘Managing Mental Health’ mental-health first-aid course for managers in its first year, with a further 20 per cent trained in 2011. As of June 2017, BT had trained over 8,000 line managers in improving their understanding of mental-health issues and enhancing their ability to support people facing mental ill-health. With training ongoing over six years and each manager being responsible for 1–25 people, the impact of this training in the company is wide-reaching.

As a result, BT has found that managers are less likely to try to access inappropriate services. There is faster access to appropriate support services for employees, enabling them to remain in work or return to work. Figures show that almost 92 per cent of BT employees return to their own role on full duties after undertaking company-funded rehabilitation.

‘This workshop has really opened my eyes I now feel more informed and ready with first aid for mental health.’

– BT employee after taking part in the mental-health first-aid course

‘Great course particularly useful – suicide is a topic which I have not thought about before in the workplace.’

– BT employee after taking part in the mental-health first-aid course



At the beginning, one of the main challenges with addressing mental health at BT was changing the conversation around mental health, as it had previously been about stress and little else. Gradually the conversation has shifted from stress to mental health, resilience and wellbeing, but this has taken considerable influencing and messaging.

There have been some challenges in delivering each new campaign. For example, since BT is an international business with employees all over the world it has been challenging to ensure that material produced is culturally appropriate and relevant across many countries and cultures. BT also has six lines of business with very different demographics, some of which are very hard to reach. Content and messaging needs to be tailored differently for different employee demographics and this is always an ongoing challenge. To tackle this challenge, over the years BT has created ‘virtual communities’, in which someone from each employee group takes the lead and responsibility in connecting with the group on a monthly basis, working closely with them to help BT figure out what sort of content and message would work best in that group.


The future

BT considers its work with mental health to be a never-ending journey. The company is getting increasingly holistic in its approach and seeking to fit mental health into their wider wellbeing agenda. BT seeks always to incorporate new thinking, to be evidence-based and constantly expanding. In another 10 years BT hopes the conversation will have moved on so that stigma will be even less of an issue, so that people no longer have the debate on why we do not talk about mental health in the way that we talk about physical health. BT would like the message to be that it is not just about your health and mental health at work, it is about your whole life, your sense of your role and purpose in the world.


Visit our blog for more workplace health case studies.


This work was carried out by C3 and supported by the Health Foundation. Photo courtesy of https://todaytesting.com/