BDO empowers local teams to create inclusive wellbeing strategy


Accountancy firm BDO has approximately 5,000 employees, spread across various accounting and support roles. Size alone makes tailoring wellbeing to the needs of each staff member’s needs a mammoth task.

The organisation has a unified central approach, says Nicola Elakel, senior people development manager at BDO. “Wellbeing is fully integrated into our strategy, and very much led from the top, which really helps us to make sure it’s as holistic as possible and people don’t see it as an add on,” she explains. “It’s part and parcel of how we work, part of our culture.”

This foundation then trickles down into diverse local initiatives, in which wellbeing champions are empowered to tailor wellbeing to the needs and preferences of each different business area. This means that any employees with particular accessibility needs, for example, are not at risk of being overlooked by initiatives being implemented by a well-meaning but disconnected central team.

“We have wellbeing champions across all of our different offices,” says Elakel. “Wellbeing is very much led from the top in terms of the messaging and central communications, but what we also do is really encourage local and diverse activity in terms of what people want to actually do with that central strategy.

“There are no rules and regulations around exactly what [the champions] have to do, they work with their teams and leaders to work out what would work best in their offices to make it as applicable to people as possible.”

In May 2019, the organisation centrally planned a firm-wide step challenge to encourage employees to be more active. In September 2019, BDO is planning a similar initiative centring around cycling, using static bikes.

“We chose steps deliberately because it’s really inclusive, and we got a huge number of people walking millions of steps,” says Elakel.

“What we try and do with anything like that, to make it really inclusive, is we say to our wellbeing champions: ‘it doesn’t matter if [employees] don’t like cycling [or] can’t cycle, do whatever you want’.”

As a result, while the central challenges still revolve around a specific activity, in these instances walking and cycling, teams and offices are able to tailor their contributions, logging a range of wellbeing-related activities, such as attending seminars, staging crocheting competitions, park walks and bake-offs.

This takes into account the fact that physical challenges might not work for everyone, but also ensures that the organisation is taking a broader, more holistic view of wellbeing.

“It really is an inclusive piece of work that tries to encourage people to think outside the box and do the things that make them feel sustained,” Elakel says.

This takes place as part of a firm-wide approach to wellbeing that includes training mental health first aiders, providing employee networks and engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

An important part of BDO’s inclusive wellbeing strategy is the understanding that employees themselves often know best, and allowing for a localised approach that lets staff take ownership.

“It’s [about] looking at an employee in the round,” Elakel explains. “It’s really empowering for our people that if somebody says ‘I’d really like to set up a book club’, the message is that [they] have the authority to set something up.

“Everybody feels that they’ve got a part to play, that they can make a difference, that we’re all different.”