Feel good factor

You may think your job is to develop employees’ minds, but what about their
bodies? Health initiatives are now muscling into the training remit

If Lord Lever were alive today, he would be building gyms and holistic
therapy centres instead of housing for his workers.

This idea that employers should be concerned with the wellbeing and
development of the workforce in its broadest sense has made a huge comeback. We
are no longer simply concerned with employees’ skills, but with their physical,
mental and emotional development too.

Hilton Metropole in Birmingham has recently appointed a lifestyle manager.
Georgina Stanlake’s job title suggests central planning gone mad, but it is
very much a local initiative.

Throughout the UK, Hilton runs what it calls Esprit, a club employees can
join when they have been with the firm for at least three months. It entitles
them to benefits such as a pension, training, cheap rooms at Hilton hotels and
discounts in local shops.

"Esprit is about self-esteem," said HR and quality director Gordon
Lyle. "If you look at what makes good people give great services, it’s
about how good they feel about themselves."

Managers at the Hilton in Birmingham decided that at their hotel this meant
concentrating on workers’ wellbeing. They put aside £35,000 and appointed
Stanlake last November.

Her job is to organise courses and events for staff using the hotel’s
facilities such as the conference rooms and leisure centre. These have included
fitness training, aerobics, chiropody, makeovers, and language training.

"It’s about making our staff feel special and that they want to come to
work," Stanlake says. "We want to create a sense of balance and
wellbeing and make our hotel the best to work for in the area."

Managers are expected to help staff find time to take part. "We try to
avoid the really busy periods, and every event is limited to a certain number
of people. But managers have to work their rotas so that some staff can attend
if they want," Stanlake says.

Staff have to fit in with guests, and a maximum of 10 employees is allowed
to use the gym at any time.

About 15 per cent of the 1,000-strong workforce are using the wellbeing
programme. It is too early to see whether it is money well spent, but towards
the end of the year, Stanlake will start to measure it against, for example,
absenteeism, turnover, employee attitudes and customer satisfaction.

Lyle is convinced it will succeed, and there is talk of rolling the
programme out to the rest of the company. "If we have a better-motivated, more
comfortable, self-confident team of people who can take a can-do attitude to
guests, it can only make for better service," he says.

What Hilton is doing in Birmingham is unique in the industry, Lyle adds, but
there are other firms offering something similar.

Unipart has blazed the lifestyle and wellbeing trail in the UK since the
early 1990s. Two years ago, it repackaged its programme under the umbrella of U
and Your Health. This includes occupational health and stress management,
available free, plus use of a fitness centre for £15 a month, and The Orchard,
an in-house alternative therapy centre.

Sue Topham, Unipart’s head of health and wellbeing, says the company takes
the programme extremely seriously. She reports directly to the chief executive,
who chairs the health and wellbeing board. Directors of all the operating units
are also on the board – all of them gym members.

Unipart draws a direct link between employees’ physical wellbeing and their
ability to learn skills and take on challenges. "It inspires people to
give the best of themselves," Topham says.

"People tell us they feel more energetic and creative as a result, and
more willing to participate in the achievements of the company."

Topham and her colleagues are now looking at taking the training and
development possibilities of the wellbeing facilities to the next level. They
are introducing a whole series of events that can help in team building.
"It’s all part of developing a learning culture," Topham says.

But what about ROI?

Training managers could be forgiven for dismissing gyms and aromatherapy as
having little to do with providing staff with the skills they and their firms
need.

"But it’s not psycho-babble – this sort of approach to development
really works," says John Neal, who runs lifestyle centres for
organisations across the country including Ashridge Management College and
Associated Newspapers.

He names firms such as Cellular Operations’ call centre in Bristol, where
turnover went down from 40 per cent a year to 3 per cent; and Northern Gas,
which reduced absenteeism by 82 per cent.

And these initiatives needn’t be expensive. Neal cites a public-sector body
having problems with stress-related illness. Managers had set aside the space
and money for a gym, but employees didn’t want that. They wanted somewhere to
sit and be quiet.

"If firms want wellbeing to work, they have to hand responsibility to
the staff," Neal says. "It’s about telling staff, ‘Make life happen,
don’t let it happen to you’."

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