Birmingham City Council: promoting and protecting wellbeing

Birmingham City Council took a targeted approach to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of its Public Health Team through the pandemic.

Local authority public health specialist teams have sat at the heart of the COVID-19 response, working long hours, under high pressure for many weeks. Birmingham City Council took a targeted approach to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of this team through the pandemic.

PROMOTE AND PROTECT WELLBEING

Public health has been at the heart of the acute and strategic response to COVID-19. In March 2020 the division shifted into an emergency cell structure working in a shift pattern and almost all business as usual activity halted. There was significant burden on the senior specialist members of the team, especially the Director of Public Health, who covered the seven days a week ‘out of hours’ response and function.

The Director of Public Health asked for support from the Council’s health and wellbeing team developing a mutli-strand intervention, including a clinical psychology intervention, to support the mental wellbeing of the division and avoid burnout.

The corporate health and wellbeing team recognises that the pandemic has brought about further stressors in employee lives, including bereavement and grief, domestic abuse, anxiety from catching the virus, financial security concerns, and a sudden shift from office to home working.

To capture colleagues feelings, stressors affecting their lives, and support needed, employee health and wellbeing surveys were launched. This drew on Business in the Community’s (BITC) Health and Wellbeing toolkit. The data insights and subsequent response to the surveys included setting up an employee domestic abuse safe space, creating the four pillars of mental health support (Employee Assistance Programme, Mental Health First Aiders, Occupational Health, and Chaplains), offering free HSBC financial health checks for colleagues, launching manager training on mental health support for team members and the menopause, and supporting the peer-to-peer employee networks including Working Carers Network as 25% of respondents identify as carers. Results were presented to directorate management teams to highlight divisional survey results and data insights, including the public health team.

The Public Health Division created opportunities for social interactions to support colleagues. Mood elevator check-ins were used at divisional meetings to help keep a running track of people’s frame of minds. Additional occupational one-to-one psychological support was also put in place where needed and groups were established for facilitated group therapeutic support.

The impact on wellbeing at Birmingham City Council

Throughout the pandemic sickness absence rates have remained stable within the Public Health division which, given the circumstances and additional pressures, is positive. The overall mental wellbeing of the team captured through the surveys did not deteriorate although levels of anxiety remained persistently higher than other wellbeing measures.

The attendance at the group sessions was good and only one session had less than 100% attendance. Several members built on the experience of the group work to request individual therapeutic support and access other services.

The individual sessions for staff were particularly well received and individuals reported them as ‘life-saving’.

The strong emphasis across the Council on mental wellbeing and support for personal health and wellbeing has been very positive and created an environment of open conversation about mental wellbeing.

Building on this experience the Public Health Division is commissioning a structured group programme with occupational psychology support for anxiety management to pilot over the early summer.

What if your job was good for you?

People do not expect to be physically injured at work, and nor should their mental health be damaged. However, in the 12 months before BITC’s Mental Health at Work 2020 survey, developed in partnership with Bupa and the BITC Wellbeing Leadership Team, 41% of employees experienced poor mental health caused by work1. Although work can be part of the cause of poor mental health, it can also be part of the solution to improving it. COVID-19 has acted as a powerful catalyst to transform the working world. For example, employees who never dreamed of working remotely and flexibly are now doing so.

BITC’s What If Your Job Was Good For You? report identifies actions employers can take to transform wellbeing at work. It contains two calls to action for employers that build on lessons learnt from the pandemic.

  1. Treat mental health and safety with the same importance as physical health and safety.
  2. Collaborate with colleagues to enable employees to create their own ‘good jobs’ within organisational parameters.

The What If Your Job Was Good for You? report was delivered in partnership with the Business in the Community Wellbeing Leadership Team and Affinity Health at Work, and supported by CIPD

Next steps

what if your job was good for you?

References
  1. Business in the Community (2020) Mental Health at Work 2020: key findings.