Spotlight Series: BP’s insight on tackling the GBC Pledge

The Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health aims to help organisations all over the world to prioritise employee mental health. As a business-led initiative, the insights and good practice that we share will be heavily informed by the visionary leaders and companies who sign our six-point Pledge.

In the article that follows, Dr Richard Heron, vice-president of health and chief medical officer at bp, shares his organisation’s approach to tackling the six areas outlined in the GBC Pledge.

About Dr Richard Heron

After starting his career as a medical doctor, Dr Heron moved into occupational medicine in
the 90s – born of a desire to make an impact at a population level. He is responsible for the
strategic development of bp’s group health agenda, including physical, social, financial, and
mental wellbeing, and has a seat on the NHS Staff Advisory Wellbeing Board.

1. Develop an action plan

Mental health has been at the heart of the bp health model for many years, but to learn more about their people, Dr Heron embedded a wellbeing index into bp’s annual employee survey back in 2012.

Informed by the hotspots uncovered through the surveys, bp refreshed its strategy three years ago. Mental health was identified as a global risk, and a major issue for early-years employees at the start of their careers.

In 2018 the company signed Mind’s ‘Time to Change’ pledge, and most recently became one of the GBC’s Founding Partners. bp has been on a journey of discovery, and it’s one that Dr Heron would encourage all businesses to take.

He notes the dual need for internal research gathering and support from senior leaders, to help companies in building an effective action plan that improves mental health and wellbeing.

By conducting internal surveys and tapping into external support, bp was able to identify gaps, needs, and opportunities. During the strategic refresh, they built mental health awareness into their broader leadership training, centralised their Employee Assistant Programmes (EAPs) to just two providers, and began working with local champions who could help to rollout a global campaign of support with local cultural nuances in mind.

When it comes to securing buy-in from senior leadership, Dr Heron stresses the importance of understanding the business you’re in:

“You can’t pre-suppose that an investment in mental health and wellbeing is going to be understood as something with a positive return on investment”.

He advises getting familiar with trends in your company data: if you’re spotting signs that people are anxious, stressed, or overworked, present data to show how those things are impacting the bottom line such as employee engagement, absenteeism, or customer experience. This approach is more likely to capture attention, and budget.


2. Work towards the elimination of stigma

Dr Heron discusses the strong and positive advocacy from bp’s CEO, Bernard Looney, who talks openly about health in general, and mental health in particular. By addressing mental health regularly in his communications with bp employees, it has become part of the culture, and enabled a real erosion of stigma.

Back in 2018, bp globally embraced the ‘This is me’ campaign for World Mental Health Day. They featured a diverse set of employees in their videos, which gained over 10,000 views in a matter of days. But the real impact could be seen in the 300 personal experiences shared internally as a result of the campaign.

From here, bp built mental health into its communication and engagement strategy – both internally and externally. To make wellbeing a key priority, the company regularly reinforces and revisits its approach, using executives who support the mission to deliver the message. And the effectiveness is evident: after one leader spoke openly about using Headspace to help them switch off and sleep better at night, bp has made the app available to all employees, with 11,000 people using it to help with their wellbeing. Having role models who walk the talk is a crucial part of helping to eliminate stigma in the workplace.


3. Develop a culture that supports mental health

Dr Heron notes that cultural change can take years but is critical in creating a supportive environment. He recommends developing an approach which is attuned to your business – and integral to corporate culture rather than simply an add-on.

A good way to do this is by linking your approach to your company values. For bp, this meant building their commitment to employee mental health into their new sustainability strategy, with targets set for the next ten years.

Publicly stating how important employee mental health is within your company also helps to build a sustained commitment from leadership and show your people that you mean it. bp has over 250 employee-led mental health champions who are integral to creating a supportive culture – however, Dr Heron notes the importance of providing a centralised framework that enables the network to be as effective as possible; monthly update calls with our global champions aim to keep them aware of central campaigns and support available.


4. Empower people to prioritise their own mental health and support one another

In the last two years, bp has trained over 700 managers and 2,000 employees on mental health awareness and resilience, while their workshops on understanding uncertainty drew large online audiences during the pandemic.

Dr Heron stresses the importance of taking a holistic approach to wellbeing. Acknowledge that external influences will impact the mental health of your employees but focus on what you can do to support them. He also notes the critical importance of co-designing interventions, otherwise they can often be ignored.

Preventative measures are the most effective course of action, so invest time and energy into raising awareness, and helping people to develop the skills to manage their own mental health and support others.

Dr Heron spoke of how leaders often underestimate the monumental impact they have on their teams. How a manager reacts to a disclosure of mental illness can heavily influence that person’s mental health. So, prevent what you can through your influence, listen with empathy, and signpost additional supports such as EAPs.

One approach to preventing poor mental health is by empowering employees through their own data. Give them sight of how much of their time they’re spending at work; whether they’re using their holiday allowance; whether they’re getting enough time with their line manager. This can help people to pinpoint what support or recourse they might need.

Ultimately, mental health is a shared responsibility between leaders and their employees. But unless you engage people at the start of the journey, you won’t get the buy-in you need to make real change.


5. Signpost people to support

Dr Heron talks about how the greatest challenge is helping people to help themselves; this is about making support available to employees as and when they need it. Having a centralised wellbeing hub, one that puts people at the centre of the decision- making process and creates intuitive recommendations and offers of help, would of course be a most effective approach. But whatever system you have in place, ensuring your employees feel at ease within its parameters is paramount.

Here, Dr Heron encourages organisations to instil confidence in their employees by making sure they can trust the security of whatever system is in place, and how their data will be used.

In terms of knowing what your people need signposting to, and when, internal data-driven insight can be invaluable. At bp, 4,000 different employees are surveyed every month, allowing them to track trends across the company. From this they can spot when people are feeling fatigued, demotivated, anxious, or overworked, and work with senior leadership to develop an appropriate approach.


6. Measure the impact of your efforts

Whilst there are still no universally accepted measures for the success of wellbeing efforts, it’s important to monitor your progress and regularly test what’s working, and what isn’t. One method employed by bp was to commission an independent review of the effectiveness of their mental health and resilience training: 120 leaders who took part in the training were placed in a control group, and measured against 120 leaders who didn’t take the training. Those who took part in the training were shown to be less likely to ruminate about work out of hours, and also enjoyed better sleep quality.

Something that Dr Heron found particularly useful was to look at trends in bp’s mental health indices, including their wellbeing index, and how this related to attrition. Findings showed that where leaders genuinely care about wellbeing, employees are more likely to want to stay.

Dr Heron advises conducting internal research rather than simply acting on external findings, as the findings will be recognised as more relevant to the leaders of your organisation. An important point to note here is that if you do uncover negative trends, try to look at the bigger picture, and identify what is driving this.

For example, if trends suggest that employees are reluctant to speak out about their mental health, look at improving areas like trust and confidence. Get to the root of the issue and focus on creating an environment where people feel comfortable; especially when it comes to confiding in their manager.


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