Case Study


In the middle of a large, complicated and high-profile franchise takeover, how did West Midlands Trains shift its internal culture to improve mental health?

7th January 2019

Large-scale organisational upheaval presents many challenges, not least stress and uncertainty among employees.

This was certainly true when the London Midland train franchise was taken over by the newly created West Midlands Trains, affecting 2,500 employees.

In the face of this change, internal communications and safety and health colleagues collaborated to instil a cultural change in mental health.

Together, they tackled the subject head-on by creating an emotive and engaging campaign to encourage colleagues to talk.

One in four affected

Even in 2018, mental health is still often a hidden problem, especially in the workplace. One in four of us will experience mental health problems at some point in our lifetime.

A 2017 report by Business in the Community revealed 60 per cent of employees have experienced work-related mental health issues in the previous year, but only 11 per cent feel able to disclose a mental health issue to a line manager.

Tellingly, 91 per cent of managers agree what they do affects employee wellbeing, but less than 25 per cent have received training to help them in this area.

Overall, the annual cost to the UK economy is estimated to be £99 billion.

Changing mental health perception

The main priority of the West Midlands Trains campaign was to change the perception of mental health, to destigmatise it and make it into something that people talk about. 

“To make this work, we had to start with our managers to equip them with the skills and confidence to be able to deal with mental health issues in the workplace,” explains Kate Goodman, who was internal communications manager during the creation and launch of the campaign, working closely with safety and environment director Lesley Heath.

“After a lot of brainstorming and debate, the campaign became Hear to Listen– we wanted to infer how we are all one team, here for each other, and able to listen and support. 

“To bring this to life – and to make it cut through all the franchise news and demobilisation noise – we needed a campaign approach using a suite of integrated tools and channels.”

With so many colleagues working remotely and away from desks, the team decided phase one of the campaign would be face-to-face, including: 

  • Mental health first aid courses– creating a new network to act as trusted advocates among their peers. These colleagues were taught how to recognise warning signs of poor mental health and given the tools and techniques to guide people to the appropriate support.


  • Mental health conference– the top 50 leaders in the business were introduced to the campaign strategy and activities, and invited to pledge a commitment. They also heard directly from four colleagues who had been affected by mental health issues, from eating disorders to depression and suicide.


  • Mindfulness sessions– drop-in lunchtime sessions for colleagues to learn stress-busting techniques and tips to help them at work and at home.


  • Roadshows– drop-in sessions, taking the message to colleagues at the frontline and in depots.

“Our face-to-face engagement was backed up by a fully-integrated campaign across our communication channels, designed to reach all colleagues whether they had access to electronic devices or not,” says Kate.

This included a mental health microsite and pocket-sized cards for every colleague, listing all the mental health first aiders and other support routes, as well top tips for great mental health.

Posters and banners featuring real colleagues, with speech bubbles briefly telling their story, were sent to every location and videos were posted on Yammer. This led to a huge emotional response from colleagues across the network and, since then, the campaign has continued to grow. 

Mental health first aiders from around West Midlands Trains told their stories in a series of videos

Encouraging colleagues to speak out

More and more colleagues got in touch to express their thanks and say how it had encouraged them to speak out or how they now felt less alone.

And as awareness increased, Kate and Lesley’s teams upped the level of activity. Before long, lunchtime Mastermind sessions were organised, each based around a different topic from stress management to coping with anxiety.

“We were worried we wouldn’t get any attendees, but instead found we were oversubscribed and had to schedule in more,” says Kate. 

“We leveraged our partnership with the Samaritans to tie into their campaigns, such as Brew Monday. With Hear to Listenteabags at the ready, we held some informal drop-in sessions for colleagues to pop by and have a chat with a mental health first aider.

“We also piggy-backed on other campaigns, such as World Mental Health Awareness Day and World Suicide Prevention Day, to keep the story going.”

Keeping up momentum for the long term

Now the campaign is moving into phase two, looking at the positive impact it has had as well as keeping up the key messages. 

The lunchtime Mastermind sessions have continued, focused on allowing colleagues to discuss their own experiences and share tips and tricks of what works for them, as well as exploring some of the science behind current workplace wellbeing theory. Attendees receive a Hear to Listenmindfulness colouring book and pencils to take away.

The team is backing up the campaign with data, explains Lesley. “We created an infographic that puts some of the stats behind the stories and includes things like the number of interventions we’ve carried out, impact on absence and some industry-wide figures too.

“Again, these will be supported with posters and updated z-cards to refresh the campaign and give colleagues a reason to take another look.”

If this all sounds too good – or too easy – then Lesley reminds us that significant challenges are never too far away. 

“We have 150 stations and four depots in our network, plus a male-dominated workforce that operates 24/7 and is by nature hard to reach, both physically and in mindset.

“We have limited resources so we can’t bring Mastermind sessions to every location, nor ensure that every colleague reads the newsletters or views the videos. And we certainly can’t guarantee curing the cynicism.

“But what we can do is reach the majority – and if the training and materials we’ve put in place means that just one colleague feels able to ask for help without shame, stigma or fear, then we’ve done our job.”

Top tips for success

If you want to run a similar mental health campaign, here are Kate’s top five tips for success:

1. Most importantly, work hand-in-hand with your stakeholders in the business.Internal communications and safety and health teams worked very closely together to make sure we delivered the brief. This also made me unafraid to challenge if I felt we weren’t heading in the right direction.

2. Make sure you have buy-in from your senior management team, including a public commitment to support the initiative. Then publicise this.

3. Harness the power of storytelling.What better way to make a campaign resonate with colleagues than by using their own experiences? It certainly breaks down perceptions of who you think is strong or not supportive or who deals with everything perfectly. Remember, one in four of us will experience mental health problems at some point in our lifetime.

4. Make sure your campaign is peer-led.This way it really resonates with people – from a network of mental health first aiders, to colleague storytelling, to sessions where people can chat freely and openly, our campaign felt genuine and “for them”, not a tick-box exercise by head office.

5. Give it a clear identity.Make it stand out from all the other stuff that’s going on – discreet but recognisable, simple but effective.

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