As the clock counts down to this year’s Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards, we continue to look back at the winners of 2020. Convenience retailer the Co-op won last year’s ‘Best mental health initiative’ through its innovative approach to supporting the health and wellbeing of its night-time workers.
Back in November, the Co-op launched a nightshift workers’ health and wellbeing ‘manifesto’ in Parliament, calling for employers to be held legally responsible for the health consequences night work can bring.
The move by the convenience retailer was a logical progression, given how Co-op won the ‘Best mental health initiative’ in 2020’s Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards for its ‘Night Club’, which brought together night-time workers with sleep researchers from Oxford University and The Wellcome Trust to help improve the quality of their sleep and their wellbeing. Indeed, as we shall see, the award acted as a springboard to enabling the manifesto campaign to happen.
One important element of Night Club was that it was a collaborative effort, and not just in terms of the partners involved, but how it was co-designed by colleagues who would be its primary users within the logistics depots.
As Sarah Eglin, Co-op’s head of people for retail, who worked to establish the Night Club campaign, explains: “It was very much led through our logistics function, our logistics and supply chain director Andy Perry and his leadership team were co-collaborators on this. But then in terms of the design of the content and understanding what worked, and what didn’t, this was undertaken with colleagues for colleagues, and by working with The Liminal Space as part the creative design process we were unable to unlock more potential and break into exciting new areas.
“The Night Club is mobile, so it went up and down the UK and visited all of our depots. We then also did an installation at our support centre in Manchester to bring it to people who, while not necessarily classed as night workers, still see sleep health as critically important – and all of us are in that camp to a greater or lesser extent. It was about how to open a conversation about sleep but also to bring awareness about our night workers and the additional challenges they can face, front-of-mind for the rest of our colleague population too.” Sarah tells OHW+.
“To embed and sustain something like this you then need people to champion it, who support it and believe in its benefits on the ground and in our operations . We built a network of what we call our ‘sleep champions’, who are very much owners of this. They went through the experience on a deeper level to understand the research, their health, and the kind of conversations colleagues could bring to the floor as part of this. They are now trained as ‘champions’ to continue to sustain and embed it. They are very much the people who are enabling this to come to life and make a real and tangible difference to people’s lives on a day-to-day basis,” she adds.
This notion of co-creation, Sarah argues, is also the key to making OH, workplace health or wellbeing interventions ‘stick’.
“Co-creating with colleagues who will be using the intervention helps you to understand what they really need. We are better, stronger, when we work together. Night Club was slightly different because we were also bringing new research to colleagues, via Oxford University, as well as relevant, practical changes to their lives and lifestyles. But it was still about asking them how it would work for them, how we should design it, what it needed to look and feel like?” she explains.
“It complements the work done by our wellbeing function, by designing and creating something that builds-in a colleague angle to ensure it delivers what people really want, need and will engage with – what matters most to them” she adds.
Emphasising the importance of wellbeing
Night Club was a leap of faith in many ways. The award win has unlocked things, and our most senior leaders are now talking about empowering colleagues in a different way.” – The Co-op’s Sarah Eglin
Winning in the Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards has also provided valuable validation and kudos not just for the team behind Night Club, but for the importance of wellbeing within what has been, and remains, a challenging and unprecedented time throughout the pandemic.
Indeed, Co-op held an ‘Uplift Festival’ at the end of March which, over 14 days, streamed more than 100 sessions live to Co-op colleagues and their families. The festival saw over 25,000 visits to the webpage, plus over 12,000 views of content on catch-up. It aimed to support both the physical and mental wellbeing of not only colleagues, but also their families – the people at home who have been so critical in supporting them as key workers during this pandemic.
“We were breaking new ground, and so could not be 100% sure how this would turn out, but winning the award has given us empowerment to do further things with colleagues,” says Sarah. “For senior leaders, Night Club was a leap of faith in many ways. It was not tried and tested and it was not standard methodology; it was empowering me, the team and colleagues to go and create something new. The award win has unlocked things, and our most senior leaders are now talking about empowering colleagues in a different way.
“If I am really honest, I also think the recognition we got from the award helped us get the go-ahead for the night-workers’ manifesto and campaign. The fact we could say, ‘this is award winning’ gave us our springboard into developing our manifesto for change, where we had business leaders, MPs, senior trade union representatives standing up and listening on the back of the fact that this was award winning and therefore it must be doing something right,” says Sarah.
“Having things like this to validate what you do, to say ‘you are on the right track’, to show that other people are recognising you, is really valuable. Having said that, it is not just about ‘we’ve achieved something’ or ‘we’ve won something’, it is about creating a wider movement of change in the UK around night workers.
“Night workers, all too often, believe they are forgotten by society; the forgotten shift. Yet we in this country we could not have got through Covid in the way that we have without these people.
“The majority of them are surviving on less than five hours’ sleep in the middle of the day; they have to be so resilient because of the impact it has on their personal lives. That is what I am really passionate about – to be saying these people are amazing and doing amazing things,” Sarah adds.
The Co-op team in a nutshell
Night workers, all too often, believe they are forgotten by society; the forgotten shift. Yet we in this country we could not have got through Covid in the way that we have without these people.”
The Co-op’s wellbeing team works across the group, and this is by no means the only support in place.
The retailer has a partnership with consultancy LifeWorks, which provides 24/7 counselling support as well as mental and emotional wellbeing support through an app,
It is also launching a partnership with Smart Health, through YuLife, to provide all colleagues and their families with access to virtual GP, mental health, complex medical case, nutrition and fitness support. While, continuing to partner with Stepchange, Neyber, Co-operative Credit Union and Keep Credit Union to provide access to quality financial wellbeing guidance to colleagues
“Within logistics it can be a very male-dominated environment, and often they struggle to talk and open up about their health and wellbeing,” explains Sarah. “This was a key thing we wanted to tackle with Night Club. If you talk to people about how they’re feeling, and especially if English as a first language is also a barrier, it’s often just, ‘yes, I’m fine thanks’.
“But if you open up a conversation around, ‘how did you sleep last night?’, then they start to open up. Suddenly you can find yourself having conversations around: emotional issues; divorce; family anxieties; diabetes; poor diet. But that conversation would never happened if you’d just said: ‘let’s have a health check’,” she adds.
How the Co-op became an OH&W winner
Good sleep hygiene and sleep health at the heart of the Co-op’s win for “Best mental health initiative” in 2020’s Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards.
More than a quarter of the convenience store chain’s workforce work unsociable hours, putting them at increased risk of mental and physical health problems, loneliness and relationship issues. An audit also revealed many felt “forgotten” or “invisible” and had problems sleeping.
Partnering with the charity The Wellcome Trust and creative consultancy The Liminal Space, the Co-op developed “Night Club”, which brought together night-time workers with sleep researchers from Oxford University to help improve the quality of their sleep and their wellbeing.
Colleagues were educated about circadian rhythms, the impact light has on sleep, how diet affects sleep and alertness, and how a lack of sleep affects mental health and the natural body clock, with one-on-one consultations held.
Some 210 sessions were hosted, engaging with 1,680 colleagues. More than 40 trained “sleep champions” have also been placed across Co-op Logistics to promote the benefits of sleep to their colleagues, and, while still at an early stage, anecdotal evidence has suggested sleep has improved.
Our judges were impressed with the focus and innovation of this intervention. “Sleep is hugely underestimated in mental health, and so taking this as both a wellbeing issue and a risk mitigation issue is very helpful,” they said.
“Night workers are also often excluded from wellbeing programmes, so it is really good to see this inclusivity. This programme has been well considered and well delivered. The results and outcomes look impressive thus far,” they added.