Wellbeing: The sky is the limit

The business

Sky, the UK’s leading satellite broadcaster, is no stranger to beaming powerful messages across the airwaves. As part of an FTSE top 50 company with an annual turnover in excess of 4bn, when the media giant speaks, the 7.8 million households that subscribe to its 400 channels invariably listen. But when the company decided to improve the health of its 11,500 staff two years ago, the HR team knew it had to do more than send out satellite signals.

The challenge

Sky developed a People Plan two years ago, which re-examined the company’s culture, its employees and the way they feel about the organisation. The results of that survey prompted the company to look at methods of re-energising and improving the health and wellbeing of its entire workforce.

Beryl Cook, Sky’s group director for people and organisational development, ex-plains: “Our business hinges on customer service. Ensuring customers have a great experience of Sky relies on having happy and healthy employees who are fired up about what they are doing.”

The solution

The Feel Karma programme is a 90,000 initiative developed to encourage staff to become more healthy at work by jumping on trampolines, taking part in tai chi and participating in pilates, among other things – all in work time.

Rolled out in November and December last year, the initiative was spearheaded by a project group made up of 10 representatives from internal communications, contact centres and facilities management. The group devised a strategy to assess how employee occupational health (OH), wellbeing and motivation could be improved.

Sky’s head of OH, Dr Ursula Ferriday, helped to engineer the project. “The key element of Feel Karma was to be proactive in our approach to employee health. People switch off as soon as the word is mentioned,” she says. “As a media company, our staff are exposed to strong messages. But even if we had displayed ‘exercise’ in day-glow orange, it would not register.”

The aim of Feel Karma was not to turn employees into fitness freaks. The task for the project group and the seven HR people involved was to convey the message in a fun and inviting way that people would engage with.

As part of the initiative, the HR team had to develop a health and wellbeing programme that could cater for the diverse workforce, which is employed across eight sites in the UK.

The task was made more difficult by the diverse nature of the company’s staff. Of the legions of staff who keep the media machine running 24/7, the workforce includes journalists, engineers, and call-centre staff, together with make-up artists, presenters and hairdressers. The programme also had to reach teams that work in disparate and isolated fields across the UK.

This is where Feel Karma came in.

Even for a company dedicated to improving employee wellbeing, it would be reasonable to assume employees still suffer from health problems. Sky, however, insists it does not have difficulties looking after its staff and minimising turnover. Cook rejects the term ‘looking after’.

“Caring for staff is the wrong description of Feel Karma. This sounds paternalistic,” she says. “The ethos of the programme is about improving employee health – not as an abstract HR practice but what the business needs to do to succeed. This includes fitness and fun.”

Feel Karma had to provide all 11,500 staff with the opportunity to improve their health. Just a few of the wide range of activities included midnight yoga for nightshift employees and Indian head massages.

But the initiative didn’t just revolve around health and wellbeing exercises. Staff were also given access to healthy food and cooking demonstrations from professional chefs. Other items on the menu to staff included a ‘Changing Rooms’ style transformation of meeting areas, including mini trampolines and the issue of 10,000 pedometers. Professionals delivered therapies, exercise classes and health checks from a marquee pitched in the staff car parks.

Employees were also given the chance to have blood, body mass and cholesterol checks, while advisory sessions were available on how to eat and sleep properly.

“The programme at each site lasted for about six weeks and offered a timetable of health sessions in which employees could attend at their free will,” explains Cook.

“On their desks, staff found pedometers, which encouraged them to clock up the recommended 10,000 steps every day. Employee participation varied greatly from just one to several hours’ exercise a week.”

But while making staff ship-shape was important, the last thing the HR team wanted to be was the ‘health police’.

Ferriday says the aim was to encourage employees to commit to at least exercising for half an hour three times a week.

The outcome

So what did Feel Karma achieve? Unlike some companies which may pore over performance indicators such as staff turnover, return on investment (ROI) and sales, the HR team believes Feel Karma was an intuitive exercise. Nevertheless, the company still splashed out 90,000 on the programme, an investment which should demand tangible results.

“Within the project, we do not expect to see a vast difference in ROI within a year. It will take much longer to witness any significant improvement,” adds Cook.

“We looked at outsourcing the programme to outside specialists. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of an HR team to tailor a programme in house.”

Sky has not yet gathered detailed data on the impact of the programme on issues such as staff turnover. However, the HR team has reported a marked improvement in motivation, morale and a greater awareness of health issues.

Such was the wide range of health activities available, each employee was provided with a hardcopy timetable called the Wellbeing Web, which was used to book the sessions. Using a pie chart, employees could put a cross in a section they felt most reflected their health shortcomings such as physical/mental health, work-life balance, sleep, cardiovascular and healthy eating.

Satisfied the initiative was successful, the HR team will continue running annual events and hold so-called Mini Karmas throughout this year. Employees still have access to health websites where they can view and download information about how to stay fit.

But the health drive does not stop there. The HR team has an OH unit, headed by Ferriday. OH nurses are required to visit different sites to ensure Sky’s large mobile group of workers stay mobile.

Like it or not, sitting still at the media giant is not an option.

The employee perspective

Working at Sky’s Dunfermline office for the past six years, recruitment administrator Jane Reekie jumped at the chance to take part in Feel Karma.

“It was fantastic that Sky put on the initiative and gave employees time off work to participate in the therapies,” she says. “Experiencing Reiki or head massages made me realise how effective the programme was for my motivation and morale.”

Reekie now attends a local gym recommended by the programme three times a week during her lunch break.

“Although my intention was not to lose any weight at the gym, I come back from the sessions feeling mentally rejuvenated,” she explains. “This stands me in better stead to tackle the afternoon workload. My job has its fair share of demands. Feel Karma has put me in a position to cope with them much better.”

If I could do it again…

Looking back at Feel Karma, Cook says there was a minority who took the pedometer exercise with a pinch of salt. “Some male employees clocked up extra steps with their pedometers by jumping up and down,” she laughs. “We find this funny not disappointing. The last thing we wanted was staff to feel too serious about the programme.”

Guide to… getting good karma in three steps



  1. Commit to promoting high standards of health among employees.
  2. Provide the workforce with information to encourage the behaviour changes that lead to health improvement.
  3. Proactively address health issues in the workplace.

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