BDO UK launches wellbeing strategy to support organisational culture


BDO UK is turning to employee wellbeing to help enhance the organisation’s culture for its 3,600 staff members.

The global tax, audit and advisory firm is in the process of introducing a new strategy to formalise its approach to employee wellbeing, which will be rolled out across its 18 UK sites, having gained approval and final sign off from BDO UK’s people board in July 2017. The people board, known internally as the U Board to reflect the organisation’s unifying culture business objective, was set up at the beginning of 2017 and counts organisational culture, employee wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion among its key focus areas.

The new wellbeing strategy will now be launched this autumn. Debbie Thomson, head of HR operations at BDO UK, says: “What’s important […] is being able to articulate to our people what our agenda is in the wellbeing space. So while we have done lots of good things, it’s never been under a formal strategy”

Formalising the wellbeing agenda
The strategy will centre around a set agenda of deliverables for 2017-2018, says Thomson. This includes a specific focus around mental health. Resilience training will be offered to all employees, and staff that have received mental health first aid training will be positioned at each of the organisation’s offices.

It is important to use the right terminology in order to overcome the stigma associated with mental wellbeing, explains Thomson. “It’s important that we’ve got the right balance [of] ‘healthy minds’ rather than ‘mental health’, which immediately puts people into a mindset of people who have got underlying, current problems rather than, ‘actually we’ve all got mental health’ and it’s about keeping that healthy,” she says.

The wellbeing strategy will also include an organisation-wide activity, to encourage employees to work together towards a single task. The activity, which is yet to be confirmed, will be based on mental health charity Mind’s five ways of wellbeing: connect, be active, take notice, learn, and give.

Wellbeing champions situated in each of BDO UK’s 18 office locations will be recruited to help empower the different locations to tailor wellbeing activities and initiatives to their specific workforce. Thomson says: “Locally, we want people to be able to feel empowered to take their own initiative because we feel that’s the best way to promote this as part of our way of working and culture.”

Communicating the wellbeing strategy, its visions and framework to employees will also be a key objective. “This is very much part of a cultural piece; this is not about a one-off initiative,” says Thomson.

The strategy will support previous more informal wellbeing initiatives. This includes BDO UK’s participation in mental health charity Mind’s employer benchmark, the Workplace Wellbeing Index. The organisation was part of the steering group that helped design the initial survey in 2016, and it achieved a Commitment to Action certificate from the charity in 2017. The certificate is linked to the Workplace Wellbeing Index and is designed to help celebrate the good work employers do to promote and support positive mental health, as well as provide key recommendations on the specific areas where there is room for improvement.

An agile workplace
A thriving, inclusive organisational culture is the lifeblood of BDO UK, running in alignment with the business’s core purpose: to help people succeed. One way in which the organisation is driving this purpose forward is with the introduction of agile working, which was introduced in May 2017 at BDO UK’s head office in London. This policy enables head office employees across all areas of the business to embrace new working practices, building on the organisation’s established flexible-working policy, which facilitates part-time working, as well as enabling staff to work from home and from other office locations.

The agile-working policy also involves a redesign of BDO UK’s head office space. Dedicated desks will be a thing of the past as collective neighbourhood areas for teams are introduced instead. Informal breakout zones, library areas, booths, and open desk spaces styled like school canteen tables will be implemented across all floors of the office to provide a variety of workspaces for employees to use. In addition, the canteen will undergo a makeover to encourage staff to use it outside of typical lunch-time hours.

The agile-working policy will be rolled out over the course of 2017, with the redesign of the final floors being completed by January 2018. Thomson says: “It’s a framework and guidelines that people can connect with.”

Appealing to a multi-generational workforce
Agile working is also a key motivator for attracting new staff, adds Thomson, which addresses a key business issue the organisation has been addressing.

The focus on attracting new staff has led to a workforce comprising five generations at BDO UK. This ranges from staff who were born in 1945 or earlier, through to employees born in 1996 or later, who may be embarking on one of the organisation’s Early in Career or graduate programmes. “In terms of a range [of measures] to appeal to five generations, that has to be the most important strategy, and that’s long-term; that’s not going to go away,” says Thomson.

Striking a balance to make the benefits offering appeal to this wide age range has been a clear focus for BDO UK. It has introduced more flexibility around when employees can select benefits, so staff no longer have to wait for the annual flexible benefits selection process to begin in November. This included the introduction of a mid-year selection window in 2016 for the organisation’s bikes-for-work scheme.

Thomson says: “It’s about giving people choice and recognising that their desire to select some of these benefits will change over time, either through different stages in their career and personal life or just a desire to try something.”

In 2015, BDO UK also updated its flexible benefits platform, provided by Vebnet, to improve the way in which its multi-generational workforce engages with the benefits offering. Previously, the platform contained lengthy policy documents, however, the new version is more streamlined and offers bite-sized chunks of information about each benefit, with different tabs enabling employees to tailor how much detail they want to read. The update also enabled BDO UK to redesign the look and feel of the platform, and make the language more engaging. The organisation also added its equity partners, who previously selected benefits via a paper form, to the online platform.

In 2017, 88% of employees have logged in to the platform, and more than 70% submitted a change to their benefits selection.

The organisation is also planning to make it easier for staff to access their benefits via mobile technology. This will include installing employer-provided mobile devices with benefits providers’ apps to enable greater ease of access.

An open culture to communicate
BDO UK’s communication strategy has a multi-pronged approach to suit the varying ways employees prefer to obtain information. For example, it communicates to staff about flexible benefits ahead of the renewal process, typically in October or early November, and includes a roadshow at the larger office sites. For employees that are unable to attend a roadshow, the organisation hosts webinars that are led by its providers and the in-house benefits team. The webinars are also recorded to enable staff to view them at a later date. “There’s not really one approach that works. I think [we] have to mix it up each year and listen to people in terms of how they feel about it,” says Thomson.

Employees can also arrange a one-to-one meeting to discuss any questions or queries relating to benefits, either with one of the benefits team or their line manager.

As well as gathering feedback on an ongoing, informal basis, the organisation also completes a biennial People Listening Programme: an engagement survey, which is typically conducted in November. This year’s survey will feature specific questions to gather feedback about the organisation’s new wellness agenda.

For Thomson, however, it is the open culture and inclusive environment at BDO that generates the most feedback and dialogue around benefits. As she says: “There’s a lot of places that [I] hear and see [people] talking about a culture and values, [but] it isn’t always brought to life. That’s the whole philosophy around helping people succeed, and that for me talks about the two-way relationship between BDO and the individual.”

At a glance
BDO UK is a UK member firm of global accountancy and business advisory organisation BDO, which operates across 158 countries worldwide. The UK arm of the business has 3,600 employees across 18 national offices, and offers tax, audit, assurance and advisory services to medium-sized businesses. Typical job roles include audit, tax, and advisory client-serving positions, such as partners, as well as support roles including HR, IT, marketing, communications, risk management, and finance positions. The average length of service is five years and eight months, and the gender split is 53% male to 47% female. The workforce is spread across five different generations, however, the majority of employees were born between 1977 and 1995.

Business objectives

  • To support the organisation’s core purpose of helping people succeed, applying this to both internal staff as well as clients.
  • To deliver the Build business objective framework, which stands for: brand, unifying culture, international, leading our markets, and digital mindset. These elements underpin the organisation’s working practices, goals, and culture.

Debbie-ThomsonCareer history
Debbie Thomson, head of HR operations, joined BDO UK in April 2014. In her current position, she oversees pay, benefits, recognition, HR services and systems, and employee wellbeing.

Before joining BDO UK, Thomson’s previous roles saw her primarily focus on employee reward. She previously worked as head of reward at professional services organisation EY, head of reward at drinks retailer Starbucks, and as head of reward, recognition and HR systems at food-chain organisation Pret a Manger.

Thomson’s proudest work achievements come from watching her peers and direct reports develop in their own careers. She says: “What I am most proud of is seeing people grow and progress. […] Sometimes that might not always be in the same organisation, it may mean that [we] might have to let them go off and do something else, but for me, that’s been really rewarding.”


Pension and group risk

  • Group personal pension plan (GPP) with a matched contribution structure of 1% for all employees. If the scheme is joined voluntarily, an age-related matching contribution structure is used, ranging from a 2% employer contribution for employees under 25-years-old to a maximum 10% employer contribution for staff aged 55 or over.
  • Group income protection, offered as a core benefit for all staff at 50% of salary. Employees can increase their coverage to 75% of salary.
  • Critical illness insurance, via voluntary benefits for all staff. Employees can purchase up to five-times salary with a £200,000 limit. Additional coverage can be purchased for an employee’s partner or children.
  • Personal accident insurance, offered as a voluntary benefit for all employees.
  • Life assurance, with three-times’ salary provided as core. Staff can purchase additional cover up to six-times’ salary.

Healthcare and wellbeing

  • Private medical insurance (PMI), offered as core for managers or employees with more than three years of service. Offered as a flexible benefit for all other staff.
  • Dental insurance, offered as a voluntary benefit for all staff.
  • Bikes-for-work scheme.
  • Early detection cancer screening at one test per year.
  • Employee assistance programme (EAP) including face-to-face counselling.
  • Discounted gym membership.
  • Online health assessment.

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Work-life balance

  • Flexible-working and agile-working policies.
  • Childcare vouchers.
  • Up to 10 community volunteering days a year.
  • Basic holiday entitlement of 25 days, employees who are manager grade or above receive 28 days. Additional holiday days can be accumulated for those below manager level after five years’ service.
  • Staff can purchase up to 10 additional days holiday per year via flexible benefits scheme.


  • Company car scheme, offered as a voluntary benefit for all staff.
  • Subsidised canteen in the London head office.
  • Cinema club at a negotiated rate.
  • Dining cards.
  • Give-as-you-earn scheme.
  • Travel insurance.
  • Wine club.
  • Free fruit.
  • Mobile line rental discount.
  • Matched fundraising: The organisation will match up to £500 per financial year per employee for funds raised for charitable causes.
  • Loan schemes, to be paid back over 12 months. Includes graduate loan, school leaver loan, season ticket loan, gym loan, and car parking loan.
  • Employer-paid professional subscription for one approved professional body per employee per year.
  • £100 John Lewis voucher as wedding gift.
  • Voluntary benefits scheme.
  • Discounted mortgage advice.