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Top tips for showing your employees that you care

13 September 2018 | By Pip Brooking

Setting up a health & wellbeing programme? We asked CBI members to share their advice on getting it right

Few firms would disagree that their employees’ health and wellbeing matters – or that the issue is rising up their agenda.

Almost 1 in 3 people of working age in the UK have a long-term health condition. The proportion of people saying that their physical or mental health isn’t good has increased over the past 10 years. And last year, every day that someone was absent from work due to ill health cost UK businesses on average £720.

When the UK’s productivity is under the spotlight, many employers are recognising that a well-thought-out health and wellbeing strategy helps to boost performance and make their company a better place to work.

But 71 per cent of firms say they are finding it hard to take practical action because they are not clear about what really works.

That’s according to the latest report from the CBI, Front of Mind, in partnership with Bupa and HCA Healthcare, which also draws on the experience of nearly 350 businesses to offer several recommendations to help. These recommendations focus on making health and wellbeing a leadership priority, targeting action on early intervention, and building a culture that encourages health and wellbeing.

We asked some of those businesses to share a little more about the lessons they have learnt from setting up their own schemes:

“There’s not a lot of damage you can do by offering employees benefits choice”

If you only take one point on board, Rosemary Lemon’s advice as Group Head of Reward at recruitment specialists Hays is a good one. You can worry about getting it right, but the important thing is to start somewhere.

Recognising that people’s lives away from the office have just as much impact on their work as what happens during work hours, Hays has developed some more ambitious initiatives – for example, offering employees loans, which they can use on anything from a holiday to consolidating debt, and partnering with property management company Get Living London to help staff access quality rental accommodation. But some of the ingredients for a successful programme will lie in the benefits, rewards and learning and development you offer and the work environment you create, Lemon explains.

“It’s about trying to adopt a different approach, and talking about benefits in a way that bring them alive, so people understand what they’re there for and how they work.”

Start small and evolve

At Panasonic, Health and Safety Adviser David English started taking a more holistic approach to health and wellbeing three years ago – he launched a strategy that includes free fruit, events, classes, e-training and team challenges with just a thorough bit of desk research and talking to some external experts. Now the programme is evolving through employee feedback and it’s going from strength to strength.

“The level of participation has been a surprise, and has snowballed,” he explains. “The engagement – the number of people getting involved and their suggestions – has increased exponentially as it’s gone along.”

“The quick wins are the biggest wins,” agrees Paul Johnson, Head of Group Health and Safety at furniture company DFS, which launched its Living Well programme in February.

“You don’t have to spend a lot on a programme,” he continues. “Talk to people, ask what they want and they come up with some good ideas.”

Alongside focusing on a different health and wellbeing topic each month, DFS has a plan to improve staff canteens to make downtime more enjoyable. It is planning on installing tablet computers in production site canteens so employees can access the company’s social network and payroll information during work hours. It has also installed water coolers right by the bay doors of its distribution centres employees find it easier to stay well-hydrated.

Give your initiatives some structure

Raising the profile of what you’re offering can be a challenge, says Panasonic’s English. Introducing wellbeing branding has helped him give related activities consistency and cut-through, ensuring that people are aware that they are each part of something bigger.

But what if you’re unsure how to weave your ideas together to create that platform in the first place?

County Durham-based machine manufacture Komatsu UK turned to the Better Health at Work Award – a government initiative available to firms in the North East – to help provide some structure to what it wanted to do. It took four years for the company to work up through the accreditation process to gain the Gold award – and Lisa Carson, Senior Human Resources Officer, says it now has the confidence to go it alone.

She offers another top tip to give your programme the attention it deserves too: do something to launch it, even if it’s only at a regular company update meeting. It helps to show senior management care about its success.

“It’s not a management thing; it’s a human thing”

But while leadership is important to drive health and wellbeing as a priority across any organisation, Steve Fogg, Managing Director, Shared Services at BAE Systems explains that it’s not an area for management to lecture on or dictate what staff should do.

“I’ve learnt that it’s wrong to think the management team have all the answers and they can sit in the room and work through the topic,” he says. “The right thing to do is to reach out and bring different people together to find a solution. This is very diverse issue and it affects everybody in the organisation.”

Tap into your existing employee diversity networks if you have them, adds Paulette Cohen, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Barclays.

And when people are working hard, you have to look at what you’re offering from their point of view.

“It’s not that people don’t care, it’s just that they are very busy,” continues Cohen. “You have to make it as simple as possible for people to engage. And making it very personal is really important.”

That means catering for differences too

“We design, manufacture, sell and deliver our own furniture. With such a diverse workforce we need to tailor our programme accordingly,” says DFS’s Paul Johnson.

For example, the firm is currently trialling physio sessions for its distribution centres, but from feedback received, production sites are trialling shorter massage sessions.

As a heavy manufacturing firm, Komatsu is a very male dominated environment – and any surveys carried out reflect that. “We have to work that bit harder to get the balance right and make sure we get everybody involved,” says Lisa Carson.  

Don’t be fearful of mental health

As the CBI’s report highlights, it’s important to give equal focus and resource to both physical and mental health in your plans.

Fogg recognises that continued sensitivities around discussing mental health can make that difficult. But he adds: “You will be shocked and amazed by your employees wanting to engage in this conversation. They want to help you create something that helps people.”

A lot of best practice suggests that members of the leadership team share stories of dealing with their own mental health to foster a culture of openness. But, giving a slightly different take on that advice, Fogg starts every interactive mental health workshop he runs talking about how he could have been a better manager by dealing with employees’ mental health issues differently.

“The power of storytelling is extraordinary”

It only takes a couple of people prepared to tell their story to spark that all important conversation, and the environment which fosters a more positive stance towards health and wellbeing overall.

Barclays’ This is Me Campaign, for instance, started with nine employees telling their stories to camera in a way that showed their mental health challenge didn’t define them. Within two years, the campaign was adopted by others in the organisation affected by disability and other health conditions. “We now have more than 250 colleagues telling their story,” explains Cohen. 

It also sparked interest from the Lord Mayor’s Appeal in the City of London – and This is Me in the City has 200 firms registered as participants. Greater Manchester has followed suit.

Back at Barclays, the growing awareness is being supported by mental health training and a partnership with Mental Health First Aid. But it’s also a good example of how engaged employees can help power health and wellbeing at an organisation from the bottom up – and give initiatives a life of their own.

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