Creating a positive mental health culture in the workplace

We sat down with Karl Wilson, Group Mental Health Lead and Razna Ahmed, Engagement Manager at our partner Lloyds Banking Group to talk about reducing loneliness, connecting people and speaking openly about mental health in their workplace. They shared insight into how their Mental Health Advocates programme is helping to establish a mentally healthy work environment.

Q: Can you tell us about the Mental Health Advocates programme at Lloyds Banking Group and your involvement with it?

Karl: I’ve been involved with the Mental Health Advocates programme since its inception; I’m a trained Advocate and I manage the programme. We created it four years ago shortly after our partnership with Mental Health UK launched. Seeing the enthusiasm and energy from colleagues for mental health encouraged us to do more. We also wanted to launch our mental health strategy, so the Advocates programme was an ideal way to bring colleagues on that journey.

We created the programme alongside Mental Health UK, who deliver the training sessions for Advocates. Over 2,800 colleagues have been trained as Advocates through the business and are now available to have supportive conversations, signpost to resources, and exemplify behaviours we’d like to see everyone demonstrating, for good mental health.

Razna: My role as the Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead is very much focused on supporting the health and wellbeing agenda in the area of the Group I work in; it’s something I’m very passionate about so when the Mental Health Advocates training launched, I was one of the first to put myself forward for it. The thing that really stuck with me is that mental health can be good or bad – before the training, stigma meant that most of the connotations around mental health were negative. Honestly, it was such an eye-opening session.

Once I completed my training, we worked to get as many colleagues joining the Advocates network, so that colleagues all over the UK would have a Mental Health Advocate to turn to. Getting senior leadership’s buy-in was a critical factor for success. We had our Managing Directors and the Head of every Department complete the training, which is fantastic because it really helped to move health and wellbeing up on people’s agendas.

Q: That brings us very nicely to our next question, Razna. What impact has a programme like Mental Health Advocates had at Lloyds Banking Group?

Razna: It’s certainly helped the mental health and wellbeing mindset in our area of the Group. It’s not something people shy away from, whereas before people were more guarded about opening up around health and wellbeing topics. Now, colleagues are more comfortable talking about it – and this is borne out in the facts. Last year in our business area’s engagement survey, colleagues’ wellbeing score was over 90% and feedback from colleagues was very complimentary about the health and wellbeing support they receive. And of course, Advocates play a key role in fostering that positive environment and providing support.

I echo what Razna said about health and wellbeing being so much higher on people’s agendas – and not just at a senior level, it’s throughout the organisation. There’s been a shift towards having open conversations and prioritising mental wellbeing that definitely wasn’t there five years ago. It’s a noticeable cultural change.

While the pandemic certainly helped to bring mental health to the fore, Advocates have also played an enormous role. One of the challenges we had before the programme was the difficulty turning plans into action across the business. We’re a large organisation, and with Advocates represented throughout the various divisions, at different levels, they can translate high-level strategy into tangible action so that everyone can be brought along on this journey. I’m not sure how we’d have made this cultural change without them!

– Karl

Q: It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme is loneliness. What are your reflections on loneliness in the workplace, and what role do Advocates play in building connections?

Karl: I’ve realised that loneliness is something that we all experience. It’s a matter of when, not if we’re going to experience it. It’s not just about older people, or people who live on their own. You can be lonely in a crowded room, in a relationship. We know loneliness can affect our mental health and naturally, that’s something that’s going to be brought into work. We’re leaning into that during Mental Health Awareness Week to challenge the stigma around loneliness.

Our Advocates will play a key role in this by sharing their experiences – talking about the times they have felt lonely, and in doing so, giving other colleagues the permission to talk about it. They’re the ones who will rip off the plaster and kick start conversations that need to happen.  It does require vulnerability and I think that’s where Advocates add the most value. You can build connection through vulnerability and by sharing stories and opening up, Advocates let others know it’s OK to not be OK. This creates a more open and inclusive culture for everyone.

Razna: Homeworking during lockdown was a very lonely experience for me, as it has been for many colleagues. I was pregnant at the time, and nervous about going out – even for that one hour walk. I was holed up at home and while my husband and child were there, it was still lonely in the lack of connection with anyone else. I threw myself into work which ultimately ended up in me experiencing burnout. It was a very testing time, and I was really hard on myself. So I think this is a very relevant and timely topic. Many of us would have experienced similar feelings of loneliness and talking about this is important.

And like Karl said – Advocates are critical in this, to help drive those conversations. They can jump start people’s thinking on this topic, encouraging reflection and sharing, while also being there to signpost to support. They can start conversations that others, for example line managers, might not feel comfortable broaching.

Q: Thank you both. Before we go, what’s a stand out moment for you since the Mental Health Advocates programme began?

Razna: Personally for me, it’s the significant difference we’ve made to the cultural mindset around health and wellbeing in the workplace. There are so many stories  being shared by colleagues across the business area of the difference they are able to make by being a Mental Health Advocate. I feel really proud to lead and support an initiative that is impacting many lives – inside and outside of work.

Karl: For me, it’s whenever I hear an Advocate get really great feedback. When I’m on a call or meeting, and I hear what a great job an Advocate has done to move the agenda forward – that’s pretty cool!


To explore how Mental Health UK can help you to create a mentally healthy workplace, please email [email protected]  



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