Keynote Profile: Richard Heron, VP Health, BP: When You Care About Mental Health You Care About Business

Richard Heron - BP staff portrait At Sunbury, 18 May 2015. Photograph By Graaham Trott.

Dr Richard Heron is Vice President Health and Chief Medical Officer with British Integrated energy company, BP. He is also a key speaker at the fourth annual MAD World Summit.

MAD stands for Make A Difference. The MAD World Summit is the global go-to solutions-focused event for employers dedicated to accelerating the shift from stigma to solutions, turning talk into action and moving workplace culture, mental health, and wellbeing mainstream.      

In this interview Richard gives a sneak peek of the perspective he’ll be bringing to the MAD World Summit agenda, in-person, in Central London on 21st October.

Tell us a bit about your professional background at BP. How did you come into your role looking after workplace mental health and wellbeing?

I trained as a hospital doctor, in UK and New Zealand, before specialising in Occupational Medicine. After a spell as Head of Global Safety, Health and Risk Management for AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals, I joined BP as Vice-President Health and Chief Medical Officer.

Looking after population health has always been important to me, making workplace mental health and wellbeing a very natural fit. I have always felt that we need to talk about mental health just as we do physical health – we all have it, it varies from day to day, and our working lives have a major influence over whether today and tomorrow are good days.  on mental wellbeing have amplified the important role employers can play in supporting their people and their mental health

How long has BP had a support programme for staff mental health and wellbeing? Is this a national or international programme?

Although we have had programmes in place to support mental health for many years, we have seen mental health rise up the agenda over the last three years with increasing leadership support. Our programmes are international, ranging from tools to help people identify issues early, training to improve the leadership skills , targeted guidance  and employee assistance programme access wherever we operate. 

What would you say has been the most important aspect of your workplace mental health and wellbeing programme (in general)?

I would say the most important aspect has been our effort to reduce stigma associated with mental health. More and more, we are making it OK to talk about mental health. This has undoubtedly been accelerated with active leadership engagement at board and executive level. When our CEO shared his own experiences in a world-wide communication, it was suddenly OK for anybody to talk about mental health and over 300 people shared their own stories on Yammer within days. 

Since COVID-19 what has been the most effective aspect of your workplace mental health and wellbeing programme?

Early on, we made every effort to continuously listen to what’s on our people’s minds, both the general and the specific. Monthly surveys, podcasts, inclusive webinars with over 10,000 people directly accessing our Leadership Team, for example. This enabled us to identify, understand the issues and respond.   On Keeping connected” webinar sessions throughout pandemic our employees can ask questions of the executive team live, further emphasising our belief that it’s OK to speak up, especially when you are not OK,

When we found that people were worried about the virus itself, we filled the gaps with dedicated information pages. When we heard concerns about childcare, education, and isolation, we were able to respond with targeted guidance and support. We anticipated that people would have sick relatives and may lose a loved one,  so we increased the availability of guidance on grief.  It is still difficult for many of us to start a conversation about mental health, so we increased our training for managers and since 2020 over 16000 employees and managers have accessed one of our mental health training sessions.

The pandemic has forced mental and physical health to the top of organisations’ agendas. Our goal is to make sure it remains a priority and becomes embedded as business as usual post-COVID-19. How can people driving this agenda within their workplaces achieve this?

Our own research shows that when leaders genuinely care about the wellbeing of their staff, business outcomes improve – safety, turnover, productivity for example.

Putting care and safety and the heart of our business has been an imperative especially during COVID.  As many organisations head into challenging economic head winds, post-COVID, we must continue to emphasise  these clear links.  At BP, we have made “care” an explicit safety leadership principle, with an expectation that  “Together we genuinely care about each other” and we show this by looking out for each other. What organisation would not want to be more successful, and safer as we emerge from COVID – when you care about mental health, you care about your business.

Is there anything you’d like to share about your participation in the opening keynote session “Workplace Mental health and wellbeing: from margins to mainstream priority” at the MAD World Summit on 21st October?

I am really looking forward to joining the session. It could not be timelier for us to demonstrate that caring about wellbeing and caring about the health of a business are inextricably linked. The human case is clear, the economic imperative is clear, let’s leave no-one in doubt that the business case is clear too.

Dr Richard Heron will be joining us as a speaker at the MAD World Summit – the global go-to event for employers who want to Make A Difference to workplace culture, mental health, and wellbeing – taking place on 21st October. You can find out more and register here.



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