01 Nov 2021

Sharing Best Practice in Wellbeing and Mental Health Support


We meet Rachel James from the Royal College of Physicians, winners of this year's Memcom Best Mental Health and Wellbeing Support. (Left to Right, Linda Asamoah, Rachel James, from the Royal College of Physicians and David Blackburn, our host for the evening).


The RCP’s vision is of better health and healthcare for everyone. We draw members from over 100 countries and currently employ about 370 people based in Liverpool, London, Wales and the regions.


Our exams and events income streams have been significantly impacted by the pandemic, necessitating a reduction in resourcing and consequent restructuring. We are extremely proud to have won the Memcom award for Wellbeing and mental health support, particularly within such a challenging financial context.


In the week prior to lockdown in March 2020, we launched the Time to Change (TTC) initiative, utilising an all staff meeting so 300 members of staff could simultaneously discuss mental health. The pandemic was already weighing heavily on our minds, but little did we appreciate at the time how important these discussions would be in the coming weeks and months. 


The TTC launch event epitomises our approach: senior leaders prioritised this exercise to ensure that staff were able to engage fully and 30 staff volunteered to facilitate these conversations – this commitment to wellbeing from across the RCP was particularly commended by the judges.


We didn’t start with a blueprint of ‘how to support people through a pandemic’: we were guided by our value of ‘we care’ and invested our resources in listening and responding to what staff needed. Here I share with you six wellbeing initiatives that we delivered and the thinking that prompted them.


  1. Time to Change champions network – I mentioned earlier the TTC launch: as well as prompting an organisation-wide conversation around wellbeing, the other purpose of the event was to recruit potential TTC champions – people sympathetic to issues around mental health, able to offer a listening ear and to signpost to other support. We were extremely fortunate that eight people volunteered to be TTC champions. Within a couple of weeks we had translated the classroom-based training course to be delivered in online workshops – during the pandemic, we have trained a further two cohorts of TTC champions. These champions have been critical in supporting the wellbeing of staff, promoting wellbeing resources and providing another channel for the employee voice, in addition to our valuable and insightful Employee Forum. 


  1. RCP Café – The TTC champions have played a critical role in delivering the RCP virtual café: when lockdown was announced, I knew what I was going to miss most was those incidental interactions (I was always the one holding up the lunch queue with too much chat!), so we set up the RCP virtual café to run three times a week to create an informal drop-in space. We have run special cafés for Black History Month, Time to Talk Day including a musical quiz, Star Wars Day (4 May – there was some dressing up!) and ‘team in focus’ promotions. 


  1. Virtual networking – We received feedback that some people didn’t feel comfortable coming along to the café as they didn’t know who they would be meeting and thought they might be forced to share their feelings! If you truly value diversity, you can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. To provide opportunities for people to connect within a more professional context, we introduced virtual networking where staff sign up, are randomised into pairs and arrange their own meeting, led by my colleague Angela. 


  1. Learning resources – Ongoing skills development is critical to an organisation’s ability to adapt and deliver.
  • Change and wellbeing were the themes for our virtual managers’ conference. 
  • Our broader training programme for all staff included courses to help people strengthen their physical and mental resilience, as well as courses to develop practical skills to tackle stress triggers, eg managing workloads, difficult conversations. 
  • Our staff are extremely conscientious and committed and found it challenging to adjust to reduced capacity, caused by restructuring and flexible furlough. To support managers and staff, we developed a visual conversation tool to demonstrate different scenarios to help prompt and support their conversations around capacity and workload.
  • We established a learning hub, encouraging people to access online learning during their furlough periods.  


  1. Wellbeing fortnight – In January 2021 many people were feeling quite low, so wellbeing fortnight, led by my colleague Magda, was perfectly timed. While this event had run previously, this was the first time it ran 100% virtually. The wide-ranging programme included yoga and meditation, mindful drawing, workshops to build confidence and communication skills, virtual museum tours, Zumba classes, history lectures and more! All for a budget of less than £2k. Two-thirds of people in the organisation got involved and 98% agreed that it contributed positively to their wellbeing.


  1. Wellbeing and belonging bulletin – Kick-started by the interest in wellbeing fortnight, we have continued to provide regular virtual yoga, meditation and choir sessions at very low cost (some run by staff volunteers). To ensure that wellbeing stayed at the forefront of people’s minds, since then every month we have collated and promoted resources (events, training, links to articles, podcasts, tools etc) and celebration/commemoration days in a monthly wellbeing and belonging staff bulletin.


We are still learning: recent feedback has been that some people are still not aware of the resources around wellbeing and may be wrestling with self-stigma around poor mental health, so I am currently working my way around team meetings to promote the support available. 


To provide an effective wellbeing offer, you don’t need a lot of ready cash – you need people’s time and commitment and your best listening ears. But above all, you need to truly value staff wellbeing and understand how this links to belonging and engagement.


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