How TSB transformed its wellbeing approach from reactive to proactive, in 3 steps

7 Jun 2021

Reactive mental health support is not dead. This is the first thing Sarah McPake, TSB’s lead on talent, insights and inclusion, wants you to know. Last year, the renowned UK bank launched a proactive mental health strategy – accelerated by Covid-19, and with help from Unmind. But that’s not to say it’s waved goodbye to traditional methods. Far from it.


“Proactive is the holistic model,” Sarah says, “but being able to step in and have that reactive care as needed is equally important.”

It’s true. When experiencing a mental health challenge, it’s vital workers get the expert help they need. Traditionally, this is through an employee assistance programme (EAP) and occupational health (OH), both of which remain precious resources. 

But it’s not a case of either/or.

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The difference between reactive and proactive support

For every employee who faces a mental health issue each year – in the UK it’s 1 in 6, although rates have rocketed throughout the pandemic – there’s a higher number who don’t. Yet they still have mental health, don’t they? We all do, all the time, just as we do physical health.

The main difference between reactive and proactive mental health schemes is who they target. By nature, reactive programmes support the 1 in 6. Expert care, when urgently required. Proactive, on the other hand, is for all 6 in 6 – 100% of people, 100% of the time.

Why is this? Prevention rather than cure. For instance, you know that brushing your teeth twice daily means less chance of gum disease. Likewise, engage with a proactive wellbeing platform, and the risk of developing mental ill-health is far lower.

The three pillars of proactive mental health support

Another point on Covid: the mental health hangover could long outlive the virus. Research shows the psychological impact of the pandemic could worsen pre-existing conditions, cause anxiety, depression or PTSD among intensive care survivors, and render the physical office a place of real stress, if/when workers return. This makes a proactive approach – geared to stop mental ill-health in its tracks – even more important.

For TSB, the pandemic presented a unique opportunity – employees were ready to talk: “So, when we listened to colleagues, what they told us, really clearly, was that their wellbeing is personal,” says Sarah. “And what they wanted was TSB to support them in a way that worked for them – where they could pick, choose and access what they needed, and where they felt comfortable and supported, but absolutely had that choice.”

This is where Unmind comes in. As a digital platform, accessible on any device and offering a wide range of clinically-backed features, Unmind meets the needs of each staff member, whatever that might be.

“Whether you want to get stuck into support for parenting, for example, or better understand your mood, there’s something for everyone,” Sarah says. “We made sure we had a great, flexible personalised suite of tools available to people.”

Today, though TSB’s wellbeing strategy is proud to retain and develop its EAP, the approach has shifted from response to prevention. The three main pillars are:

1.  Open up conversations
“This,” Sarah says, “is all about communication. The power of storytelling, leading from the centre in terms of our comms approach, about talking about mental health, about making it feel like a comfortable topic, and using comfortable language that people want to use.”

To back this up, TSB staff use digital platforms like Yammer, which allows colleagues to open up. On Unmind, they can connect their mental wellbeing with positivity – sparking conversation or marking a job well done by sending Praise. Gratitude is shown to boost positivity in the sender and receiver, releasing feel-good hormones and strengthening team bonds. This reinforces TSB’s broader culture of recognition, with colleagues encouraged to acknowledge and celebrate each other’s hard work.

“The pandemic has really helped accelerate a more open conversation around mental health,” Sarah admits. “Certainly, more leaders are coming to my team now and saying: ‘What can I do about wellbeing?’, and looking for more ways they can get involved, where previously it felt more like a push out from us.”

Although Sarah concedes it’ll take time for a mindset shift to truly proactive mental healthcare, day to day, she adds: “We’re on our way.”

2. Build confidence and remove stigma
For TSB line managers, nothing is left to chance. Even in a pre-Covid world, managers followed a curriculum that began with a module on wellbeing – their team’s, as well as their own. This means, from their first day in a role leading others, every line manager has a healthy understanding of workplace mental health, how to handle it, and the importance of communicating this with others.

In addition to using Unmind to further employee understanding, for their own mental health, and that of their colleagues, TSB supports managers to lead the way when it comes to best practice. During recent lockdowns, this could be sharing their own vulnerabilities, to chip away at lingering stigma and start conversations among co-workers. Or outlining why – during remote work measures and extended social isolation – confiding in others can make for a clear and balanced mind.

3. Develop healthy habits
There’s nothing quite like a good campaign to supercharge awareness. TSB is a long-time advocate of Time to Talk Day – an annual opportunity for workplaces nationwide to celebrate mental health. As part of this, TSB seeks to advance the conversation around what makes for a healthy wellbeing routine – both for the business and those who power it.

In 2019 (pre-Covid; pre-Unmind), TSB encouraged all staff to commit to one thing, each week, that would improve their mental health. This alone sparked countless wellbeing conversations among workmates, and empowered employees at every level to understand and improve their mental health.

When TSB launched Unmind in 2020, it started a new initiative: ‘What's on your Unmind?’. This gentle, weekly reminder recommends workers take a moment to themselves, and explore the assorted Tools Unmind has to offer. Though the idea is simple, the organic responses from employees have had a far-reaching impact, including book clubs centred around Unmind tools.

Since then, TSB has continued to harness Unmind to provide a steady drumbeat of staff support. Among these regular initiatives, the bank introduces new joiners to the pressure curve – to firmly embed open talk about wellbeing from day one. Meanwhile, ‘What’s on your Unmind?’ is still going strong today.

Want to learn more about workplace mental health?

TSB is one of many companies, including Uber, British Airways, Marks & Spencer, and Samsung, that uses Unmind to empower their employees to live more balanced and fulfilling lives.

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