IBM and BT proactively support mental health


Employee Benefits Live 2015: Technology firm IBM takes a well-rounded, holistic approach to employee health and wellbeing, which is enabled by ensuring that all elements of its support strategy are not conducted in silos.

Speaking at Employee Benefits Live 2015, in a session titled ’Taking a proactive approach towards mental health for increased emplotee wellbeing, Lars Gielg, integrated health service manager, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), at IBM, said that the organisation’s health and wellbeing strategy is centred around its commitment to physical health, mental health, purpose health, financial health and social health.

IBM places importance on making its commitment to mental health visible in the workplace. It  proactively addresses physical and mental wellbeing with the aim of making it a part of employees’ daily lives. Its offering includes a mindfulness app, wearable devices, physical activity such as participation in the Global Corporate Challenge, primary care check-ups and health screening.

Mental health support

To help employees obtain support for mental health issues, IBM offers services such as an employee assistance programme (EAP), and has trained some staff as coaches to help those in need of assistance by directing them to the appropriate support function.

Although IBM is a global organisation, but some of its health and wellbeing schemes are tailored to suit the cultures and requirements of different international locations. To ensure that staff have access to benefits and support systems that best meet their needs, the organisation follows the motto: ’As common as possible, as local necessary’.

Reducing stress

The organisation is currently looking at reducing stress through work design. This will involve addressing factors such as work-life balance, the working environment, and integrating aspects of health into work design.

Gielg said: “The work environment really influences the stress factors, the performance and the engagement of employees.”

IBM is also looking to further develop the role of managers in addressing stress in the workplace.

Gielg said: ”We have to work on the skills of our leaders and of all the people managers in the organisation. Something that we want to achieve is that the management of stress in individuals and the organisation becomes an elementary leadership competence.”

Integrated strategy

BT also aims to ensure that mental health is a key part of the organisation’s wellbeing approach, which is integrated into the lifeblood of the organisation.

Steve Exall, employee relations manager and wellbeing lead at BT, who also spoke during the conference session, explained that BT’s mental health strategy comprises three stages: helping staff to get healthy (primary engagement); helping staff to stay healthy (secondary intervention); and helping staff to recover their health (tertiary intervention).

Measures that fall into the primary stage are the organisation’s ‘Work fit’ health promotion programmes,. In 2014, this included a ‘Your mind matters’ programme and the ‘Bupa ground miles challenge, while 2015’s programmes include ‘Fit for life: summer of sport’ and the mental wellbeing campaign ‘Time to talk’.

The secondary stage focuses on maximising support, enhancing coping methods and creating suitable action plans. One of the support initiatives at this level operates on a traffic light colour coded system. An employee nominates a line manager who receives a report about their state of wellbeing. If the individual marks their level of wellbeing as amber or red then the line manager is notified and the two will meet to discuss the issue and develop an action plan.

The tertiary stage provides staff with access to services such as EAPs, counselling, guided self-help, rehab, and training courses for managers.

Exall said: “One of the things that underpins our success, or otherwise, as an organisation is the health and wellbeing of our people, whether that’s physical health or mental health.”

BT also focuses on targeted approach, due to the diverse nature of BT’s workforce, which spans a number of locations and job functions.

Ensuring staff are aware of the support available relies on effective communication strategies, added Exall. ”Having good sponsorship, particularly from senior people in the organisation is key, as is keeping it simple and having multiple ways of going out and communicating with employees. We have staff who work in vans, [and] staff who work in call centres, so thinking of different ways to approach [different groups of employees] is really important.”