Tackling mental health concerns in BT


Discussions have commenced with BT in a bid to improve the support provided for employees experiencing a range of mental health issues.

The talks were initiated by the CWU after delegates at CWU Annual Conference highlighted a number of areas where members with mental health problems have experienced difficulties getting the assistance and understanding they need from managers.

Particular concerns were raised in Bournemouth with regards to how employees who are already struggling to cope are being impacted by the performance management process.

Delegates overwhelmingly carried a motion committing the union enter into talks with BT to ensure that all managers receive mandatory mental health training within three months of their appointment – and that any declared mental heath issues are taken into consideration when formulating any coaching or performance plans.

The union is also seeking seek better training and refresher training for BT managers in Mental Health First Aid to ensure they fully understand how they should support members experiencing mental ill health.

Proposing the motion, Connor McCann of Meridian Branch stressed: “All we’re asking for is that, when our members declare mental health issues, that it is properly considered and that management within BT are better equipped to support our members.

“Whilst in some cases PM plans can boost work performance they can have very serious consequences on our members when they are experiencing a decline in their mental health and wellbeing. The pressure of extra coaching, having more calls listened to and the thought of disciplinary action if the plan is failed is simply too much for people who are already struggling to cope.

Speakers recounted mixed examples of how sensitively or otherwise members with mental health issues had been treated by managers in PM cases.

Carolyn Johnston of Scotland No.1 explained: “I myself have struggled with my mental health quite a lot but I’m blessed to have a manager who’s massively understanding and has been fantastic. When I was put on a performance plan everything I said was listened to and taken into account – but someone I’m very old friends with didn’t have that luxury.

“Her manager, not the best, didn’t take anything like that into account, so she chose to leave the business with immediate effect, even though she had nothing else to go to, because her performance coaching felt horrible. She felt sick with worry all the time and her manager simply didn’t care.”

Another area of deficiency highlighted by Conference involved a general lack of understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) amongst managers in Openreach – despite the high levels of recruitment of ex-forces personnel in recent years. Conference’s demands for special training for managers in what PTSD is and how staff suffering from the disorder should be supported are being pursued separately in that line of business, and a trial awareness course has taken place as part of that process.

Commenting on the wider BT Group-level talks that got underway last Thursday, assistant secretary Dave Jukes welcomed the constructive approach the company is taking.

“We’ve already had discussions with BT’s lead on mental health and wellbeing, and are in the process of working through the support that is currently available for people with mental ill health and clarifying the details of how managers are trained in this area.

“The CWU has asked for, and been promised, full visibility as to the level of mental health awareness training managers receive at the time of their induction and when any follow-up training is provided. It’s no good having that training 12 months down the line if managers have mental health issues to deal with when they first take over the job.

“It’s early days in these talks – but all the early indications are that the company is keen to work alongside the CWU to address the concerns raised by branches at CWU Annual Conference.”