The first in a series of blogs from Becky Thoseby, Group Head of Wellbeing at the Department for Transport, in our sector perspectives. These highlight people putting wellbeing evidence into action in their work. Becky shares the experience of starting her role earlier this year and the realities of championing wellbeing in a large organisation.  

Not many people are lucky enough to make a career out of their passion, and I certainly didn’t ever think I would be one of them.  But earlier this year, my employer decided that they wanted to put in place a wellbeing programme and I would be the person to lead it.  So I found myself in exactly that position.

Having landed my dream job, I really wanted to make a success of it, so my first question was “what does the organisation think success looks like for this role?” Quickly it became evident that one of the reasons the post was created, was to define precisely that – so it was up to me. This was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. I also realised that as a practicing wellness coach and mindfulness practitioner, I had a strong idea of what individual wellbeing was all about, but much less so for organisational wellbeing.  So that was something I needed to figure out.

My first step was to find out about wellbeing activities already happening in DfT. It turned out there was quite a bit, including an established employee assistance programme and Mental Health Buddy Network. I was particularly impressed with the open culture around mental health, and how confident people felt to speak up about their mental health issues. I also started to crystallise my immediate priorities. While my overall strategy was developing, I was keen to make some quick wins. I could see that awareness of existing support was low, so one of the first things I did was to produce a wellbeing pocket guide outlining the support available to employees, in a handy format which fits into a phone case, security pass case or wallet. And I wanted to get the wellbeing conversation started across the department, so I started turning up to team building events and away days, encouraging colleagues to talk about what wellbeing means to them and how they can look after themselves and others.

In these initial weeks, the Centre was immensely beneficial to me in helping me understand what workplace wellbeing is all about, and showing me different versions of what good looks like. Business In The Community were also a valuable stakeholder, providing me with tools and information, and putting me in touch with peers who I could learn from and share ideas with. Within my organisation, I found the positive feedback I got from the business enormously motivating as it showed me I was on the right track and there was a demand for what I was offering. It also created momentum as word started to get around and I was able to use my expanding network to deliver the wellbeing message more widely across the Department.

Less helpful was that fact that I didn’t (and still don’t!) have a budget, so anything I want to spend I have to beg, steal or borrow from other areas of activity. Let’s just say my skills of persuasion have had to develop rapidly! There’s also been some misconceptions about what my programme is trying to achieve. I’m still having to work hard to dispel the idea that it’s all about increasing productivity and decreasing sickness absence, when really the purpose of my programme is to make DfT a great place to work.

So far it has been exhilarating, challenging, stimulating and fulfilling and I feel sure the best is yet to come.

Are you head of wellbeing?  Hear from people who are a head of wellbeing in a local authority, a school and a business.