8th October 2020

Department for Transport takes an inclusive approach to wellbeing and performance management

4th September, 2018

Becky Thoseby

Achieving a holistic, inclusive wellbeing strategy, that incorporates mental health, is a challenge that many employers are grappling with. So, we are delighted that Becky Thoseby, Department for Transport’s Group Head of Wellbeing, will be joining us at the Mad World Forum on 9 October to share her experience.


In advance of the event, we took the opportunity to find out a bit more about Becky’s work and how Department for Transport (DfT) approaches wellbeing:


First, can you tell us a bit about your role at Department for Transport? How did you come to be Group Head of Wellbeing and what does your remit cover?


In a nutshell, I’m responsible for improving the wellbeing of DfT’s employees. My role was created in April 2017 in response to wellbeing coming up the agenda in UK workplaces, and particularly in the Civil Service.  


DfT wanted to give priority to wellbeing by appointing someone full time at a strategic level who could really drive forward and shape the agenda. I was already doing some wellbeing activities in my free time, like delivering mindfulness sessions and wellbeing coaching, so the role was a perfect fit for me and I’ve never looked back!


Where does this role fit with other functions such as HR, diversity and inclusion, health & safety and communications?


My role sits within HR, in the Diversity & Inclusion team. This reflects DfT’s view of wellbeing, which is that it’s all about how we treat people and what it feels like to work here. The Head of Health and Safety is also part of this team, and works alongside me, recognising that the two disciplines are very distinct but also there is a degree of overlap, for example in the area of stress.  


Our Communications Directorate is a separate unit but absolutely key to the work I do – communications is a fantastic enabler in culture change and so the relationship I have with my comms colleagues is invaluable.


You take a holistic approach to wellbeing at Department for Transport. Can you tell us about how mental health fits with your overarching wellbeing strategy and how you make the link between performance management and wellbeing?


Yes, we are very proud of our person-centred approach as we believe it is the way to make wellbeing truly inclusive. It enables us to treat the causes of poor wellbeing, rather than just the consequences. It also means that we can offer each individual what they need for their own condition and circumstances, rather than seeing them through the lens of one issue.  

So, for example, if someone is experiencing depression due to a difficult life event, we would make sure they get the support they need to deal with the issue that’s troubling them as well as providing support for their depression. Within our overall strategy we recognise mental health as an issue that can be both the cause of, and the consequence of, other wellbeing issues, so it sits as part of a web of interrelated factors.

Regarding performance management and wellbeing, as part of our culture change programme we are looking to change the picture we paint of a high performer. So, high performance is no longer just for people who are lucky enough not to have any wellbeing issues, it is also for those who manage their issues in a proactive and self-aware way. To this end we recently ran a comms campaign featuring a number of fictional colleagues, depicted by cartoon characters, who are managing their wellbeing issues in this way and performing really well. We’ve had a brilliant response, and the next step will be a campaign encouraging managers to give an in-year bonus to employees displaying excellent wellbeing behaviours.


How do you balance encouraging employees to take responsibility for their own wellbeing with Department for Transport's accountability as an employer?


We have always been explicit about our offer and ask. We believe each person is their own best expert and has the right to define what wellbeing means to them, and the responsibility for that lies with the employee. We expect them to take care of themselves, be open with their line manager about their issues, and ask for help when they need it. The role of the employer is that of an enabler, or facilitator – and part of this is meeting our legal obligations towards our employees. These elements are largely covered by Health & Safety and Employee Relations colleagues, both of whom I work closely with.



What is your personal vision for the next generation of workplace wellbeing?


I would love to see all employers recognising that wellbeing is a necessity, not a luxury – and demonstrating this by considering employee wellbeing in all major decisions that are made. I would also love to see compassion being talked about more in the workplace. Compassion is a concept that is largely misunderstood in our society as being “soft” on people, or indulging them. But it is actually an essential component of a healthy society and a lack of it can result in physical as well as mental illness.  


If organisations were to strive to be compassionate towards their employees, I truly believe they could be more innovative, creative and productive.


Where do you think we still need more fresh thinking on the topic of mental health in the workplace?


So many employers think they can take a box ticking approach with mental health because it’s just the latest thing and then they’ll move on to whatever comes next. But it’s not that simple. I think we need to recognise that mental health is not a stand-alone issue, it can be caused by and in turn impact on a whole range of issues in an individual’s life.


What are the 3 key takeaways you would like to gain from being part of Mad World on 9 October?

1. To meet like-minded people who I can learn from and exchange ideas with.

2. I’m particularly interested in the impact technology has on mental health, so I’m hoping to gain some new knowledge in that area.

3. To have fun!


Recognising that, while many organisations are starting to prioritise wellbeing, not all have the funds to devote to it. So, Becky will be leading the “Wellbeing on Budget” roundtable at the Mad World Forum on 9 October. This will enable attendees to share ideas and gain insights into how to implement an effective wellbeing strategy with a small or even no budget. We look forward to continuing the conversation.


Don’t forget to registerif you haven’t already booked your place. See you there.

Becky Thoseby

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