Reducing the stigma of mental ill health

Lloyds Banking Group has been building a more open culture where people feel able to talk about their mental health problems without fear of judgement.

Mental Health


A recent poll of 200 mental health professionals working with businesses has found 58 per cent felt employers were “unlikely to fund” counselling services for their employees and had become less likely to do so over the past three years.

The poll, by Mental Health Solutions in Business, comes ahead of proposed new legislation which would require employers to provide training and monitor employees’ mental health.

As mental health rises higher up the agenda – the World Health Organisation has stated that depression is the leading cause of illness and disability across the globe – it might seem short-sighted for employers not to address it.

One employer which sees the benefits of funding counselling is Lloyds Banking Group, which supports colleagues through mental health conditions and understands how this can increase retention and loyalty.

Catherine Ashmore, a Mortgage and Protection Advisor at Lloyds in Sunderland, who developed post-partum psychosis after her daughter was born and was later diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. With the support of her employer, Lloyds Banking Group, and her line manager Graham, she was not only able to return to work after her maternity leave – an important factor for her wellbeing – but she has spoken out about her experience to help other colleagues feel that they can be open about mental health and get the support they need.

Catherine agreed an agile working pattern with Graham, starting later to take into account that her medication made her drowsy first thing.  She now works three days a week with a half hour lunch break plus alternative Saturdays. Starting at 9.30 instead of 9 means she is able to take her daughter to school.

Through Lloyds’ Employee Assistance Programme Catherine was also able to access five free sessions of face to face counselling.

In 2015 Catherine, who volunteers as a Lloyds Banking Group Mental Health Advocate, took part in a manager’s conference in Birmingham and shared her own experience. She also wrote an article about it on the intranet which generated very positive feedback from across the Group and encouraged others to share their stories.

In addition to sharing her story, Catherine has also been involved in preparing training modules on mental health. Catherine said “I’m so glad I have spoken out about what happened to me. I am very proud of what I have achieved and of being able to continue working.  Work is a really important part of mental health.”

Feeling supported by her employer means the world to her, she says, and makes her more loyal and willing to work hard in return.

An open culture

Over the last two years Lloyds Banking Group has worked hard on building a culture where it is okay for colleagues to talk about their mental and physical health. “Being more transparent about wellbeing has been a powerful enabler,” says Lee Smith who heads the Group’s Health and Wellbeing team. “It is part of the culture we are creating. The fact that people like Catherine feel able to stand up is a sign of our success.”

He adds that a number of people have come forward to share their stories, including senior leaders, but says there is no pressure to do so. Like Catherine, these colleagues have all received positive feedback. The Group’s annual engagement survey also highlights how its work on wellbeing is being received and what areas it needs to develop.

Smith’s team is based in the People/HR function helps managers like Graham to support colleagues’ health and wellbeing. It recognises the link between mental and physical health, working with occupational health and other support functions, and gives managers the tools and skills they need to support an employee’s wellbeing at work. That might be flexible working that accommodates their needs or practical interventions such as assistive equipment, for example, if they experience back pain.

“We work with line managers and recognise that line managers need support,” says Smith. “It is important to recognise that support for line managers needs to be done in the right way. It’s great they can have conversations with colleagues, but line managers are not medical professionals. It is very easy to be drawn into giving advice, but that is not appropriate. We encourage line managers to be open, but to signpost people to expert help if they need it. We are trying to make sure line managers are resilient and support colleagues, but to know where the demarcation line is.”

Smith says Lloyds Banking Group’s openness to promote positive mental health is linked to the Group’s values. It is also championed by the Group Chief Executive António Horta Osório who has a personal interest in supporting colleagues’ mental health.

”There has been a big shift and it is much easier to have conversations with line managers and for line managers to get the skills they need,” says Smith.

Reducing the stigma

Part of that shift is due to the Group’s partnership with Mental Health UK. Over the last two years the bank has supported the charity with fundraising and has funded adverts aimed at reducing the stigma attached to mental illness. Smith says Lloyds Banking Group is keen for its work on mental health to have a broader social impact which is part of its mission to Help Britain Prosper.

Lloyds Banking Group has a range of wellbeing initiatives. They include a senior leaders’ Resilience Programme which has been rolled out across 10,000 managers and is available to anyone who has responsibility for other colleagues, however small their team might be.

The Group has a whole suite of videos and online tools which are helpful to employees and managers. There are videos showing the early signs, symptoms and triggers of mental ill health. These are situated in an online mental health resource centre and are complemented by the group’s Employee Assistance Programme services, including a 24/7 helpline, provided by Validium, for employees and managers struggling with issues including mental and physical ill health and financial difficulties. The helpline has seen an increase in calls in the last 12 months after promotion of the service.

If professional follow-up help is needed after a call, the service signposts people to face to face counselling services. Initial sessions are funded by Lloyds Banking Group. All calls to the helpline are anonymous and if further counselling is needed the Group considers requests for additional funding without requesting any sensitive information. Anonymous user data can be analysed to show general trends, such as the breakdown of calls related to financial difficulty, work-related issues, domestic abuse and other topics. “That information can be used for us to identify and target specific areas,” says Smith.

Smith says: “We want people to be able to bring their whole self to work and to be able to talk openly without fear of judgement.”

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