People Management: Three minutes with - Sharron Lewis-James head of HR, Royal British Legion

What's your latest staff benefit?

The Royal British Legion has recently introduced an employee assistance programme that gives staff free access to a helpline, 24 hours a day, all year round.

What made you realise that people needed more support?

It makes good business sense to provide your employees with support so that they can do their jobs effectively and provide a quality of service to clients. It became apparent that the number of sick days being taken by staff could be cut, and that more people than I deemed acceptable were taking time off because of stress. If employees have problems, whether they are work-related or not, that is going to have an effect on their jobs.

How will the programme work?

PPC Worldwide is running the helpline, which is free and is also available to dependents of employees. Once an employee calls up, an assessment will be made and, if necessary, a session with a local counsellor will be arranged. Every member of staff is entitled to up to six counselling sessions free of charge. Although it's an anonymous service, we will get feedback if there seems to be a trend in a particular area. We also need to get some idea of usage to assess whether the service is proving cost-effective.

Was it difficult to get the backing for the programme?

Initially, it was seen as quite a revolutionary idea because some charities can be paternalistic. We had to get managers to realise that there is a point beyond which they can no longer help - that we are not taking anything away from them, but giving them something that will help them do their jobs better. We have to accept that we live in a litigious society, and it is important to offer all the possible support we can to our staff.

What feedback have you had so far? It's early days and the programme will be under regular review, but generally people have been delighted and think it's a great idea.

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