Making mental health part of the everyday conversation at Virgin Trains

My role was introduced three years ago at Virgin Trains to help create a productive, efficient, and happy workforce, with a focus on sickness prevention. It was clear that many of our people were experiencing mental health issues that affected both their work and home lives. In response to this my health and wellbeing programmes moved to a more hands on approach.

In 2015, we partnered with the Mental Health Foundation as part of this culture change with an aim of “lifting the lid on mental health” and reducing mental health stigma to create an open and honest working environment. We increased our Health and Wellbeing events and offered a robust support network for employees, promoting our Employee Assistance Programme and offering access to fast track healthcare support.

One year into this strategy, we wanted to focus more on supporting our people with education, awareness as well as training, and so we began a new partnership with Rethink Mental Illness (part of Mental Health UK), whose support in local areas has now been added to the network of external providers we use.

Our Health and Wellbeing Days across the West Coast Mainline are well attended and I’m supported by face-to-face involvement from Rethink Mental Illness and qualified counsellors as well as a clinical partner from our Crisis and Trauma Counselling Team. We also offer mini health checks for blood pressure, cholesterol, and BMI, and attendees can enjoy a massage and discover a range of alternative and complementary therapies. Through these events, we have also gained a better understanding what our people need which allows us to shape these events to also support our business needs more effectively.

Average attendance at Health and Wellbeing Days has doubled at our larger stations. We see this as part of a growing recognition of the importance of good health for all throughout the business. Frontline managers now regularly use the materials we offer them, and our Employee Assistance Programme is now much better embedded within the business. When I started, mental health was mentioned once a week on our internal comms tool, Yammer, it’s now discussed every day.

The impact on our sickness reporting has been less straightforward, sickness numbers have remained at similar levels to before our partnerships started, but the positive is that our people are now more open about their mental health and are more likely to give an accurate reason at the outset for an absence relating to mental health. This allows earlier intervention and support, which enables a speedier recovery.

We now signpost our people regularly to for their factsheets and local support which covers all our locations on the West Coast Mainline. Alongside this, our panel of counsellors, provide support on bereavement and eating disorders as well as conditions such as body dysmorphia, OCD, and dyspraxia. The average waiting time for our fast-track support is 48 hours, and this means that many of our people who are referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can stay in work whilst receiving their treatment.

We also recognise training and support is key to all, so we provide e-learning modules as well as interactive sessions with Rethink Mental Illness for our managers and frontline teams. Courses we have provided include Mental Health First Aid, Mental Health Awareness, and Mental Health for Managers and a Stress in the Workplace workshop which we created in-house. Sadly, fatalities on the railway remain a concern so we work with the Samaritans to train our frontline people on Managing Suicidal Contacts.

Our partnership with Rethink Mental Illness has been extended for a further twelve months and we look forward to working with them to ensure our culture remains a positive and inclusive one.

Kelly Burton, Health and Employee Wellbeing Manager, Virgin Trains
Virgin Trains

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