It pays to listen

Accountancy and Business Advisory firm BDO has wellbeing at the top of its business agenda and has invested in mental health first aid training for a number of its employees. Nicola Elakel, Senior People Development Manager and Marie Broad, CSR and Wellbeing Manager at BDO discuss some of the benefits of this type of investment into mental health and wellbeing.

by | Oct 5, 2020 | 0 comments

What is mental health first aid training and when did BDO begin investing in this?

Nicola: Mental health first aid training (MHFAT) gives you the skills and knowledge to be able to step in, reassure and support a person in distress. In a similar way to physical first aiders, the role is to support ‘in the moment’ and signpost the individual to professional help and support. BDO began investing in this training for our ‘U board’, the group of people who are responsible for driving BDO’s positive culture. This meant the message around supporting mental health was very much led from the top. Now we are inviting a number of people from different levels and business areas to become mental health first aiders across the business.

Marie: The training gives a broad understanding across mental health topics including depression, anxiety, stress, eating disorders, substance misuse, self-harm, personality disorders, psychosis and suicide. You also come away with a clear structure to support someone in a crisis situation, the main elements of which are: approach with open conversation; listen without judging; give support and information, encouraging them to seek the appropriate help and support.

Has the training benefited you at all personally?

Marie: The training increased my awareness about the range of mental health challenges people can face and the importance of hope for recovery. Even if the person doesn’t have hope for themselves, this is something that mental health first aiders (and all of us) can offer in our
support. On my course, the group openly shared their stories of taking time off work for depression and anxiety following a break up; a debilitating phobia of
spiders and having to check meeting rooms constantly; trying to cope after the suicide of a loved one; working with actors who get emotionally triggered from intimate scenes on set. So many perspectives really hit home to me how each of us is living a unique experience that should never be judged from the outside. I renewed my personal commitment to my own self-care and continue to incorporate what helps me maintain good mental health, such as daily meditation and mindfulness; letting go of thinking and internal stories; walking; connecting with those around me; and time with my cat!

Nicola: The training helped me to really understand the importance of listening in a non-judgemental way. We all want to help and support people but are not qualified counsellors or therapists – the role is to truly listen and suggest options and encourage the person to get the support they need. I am a trained coach and so really understand the power of true listening skills – but they don’t come naturally to us as human beings and it’s very easy to jump in and offer advice. Often the person knows themselves the best course of action to take – they just need the time and space to work it out, with some options along the way. This is where this role can really help.

How can investing in training like this benefit a business like BDO?

Nicola: Mental health is now a subject that is discussed more and more – which is a really positive way forward. Having a set of people in the business with the skill set to listen and refer people to professional help is really valuable. Of course the ideal would be for people not to get to the point where they need a first aid resource – which is why we combine our first aid approach with proactive campaigns to support our people in maintaining positive mental health.

Marie: Mental health is something that we all have like physical health. Our mental health and emotions fluctuate on a continual basis. By increasing awareness of mental health issues and signs, we can better support each other as human beings. For anyone who might be cynical about mental health initiatives in the workplace, it is useful to remember not only the ethical imperative but also the commercial. Research has shown that poor mental health in the workplace can cost employers up to £45bn per year. Our Mental Health First Aiders can help both with early intervention, such as raising awareness and assisting culture change, as well as their primary role in supporting individual situations of crisis.

What are BDO’s plans for the future? Are you investing more widely in mental health and wellbeing?

Marie: Wellbeing and positive mental health remains at the top of BDO’s agenda. Having worked with the mental health charity Mind for the last four years, we are pleased to have progressed from a bronze award to silver in the Workplace Wellbeing Index, an external benchmarking scheme. Almost a quarter of employees took part in the survey this year to confidentially disclose how supported they feel on wellbeing at work, along with providing an employer update. We are looking forward to finding out our results soon and to work on our plans to continue to take this important agenda forward at BDO. Having built our strategy around the ‘Five Ways of Wellbeing’, we are currently planning our most holistic firm-wide challenge to date, which will encourage a range of activities with an emphasis on employees selecting what is most meaningful for them, and what might help them create longer-term change. Previously we have run successful competitions focused around being active, including counting steps and cycling. This year’s challenge will also include external and internal speaker events to support our work in tackling the stigma of mental health.

Nicola: Underpinning all of our initiatives, we regularly connect our wellbeing champions from across the UK to share good practice and we are investing in learning for our managers and our people in sustaining positive mental health and having the skills to have open conversations about this important topic.

Find out more about BDO’s approach to Wellbeing, and other cultural priorities, in the firm’s Culture Report via our website:


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