How employee wellbeing has helped turn around the fortunes of CSMA Club


Ailsa Suttie became head of people and culture at CSMA Club in January 2014. Since then, employee wellbeing has transformed the club, which is one of the UK’s largest membership organisations. Suttie will be speaking about its journey at the Wellbeing at Work conference in Edinburgh on 26 April. Here is a taster.

Throughout my career, I have been passionate about flourishing workplaces and the philosophy that when you free people from constraint, you are rewarded with increased performance.

Wellbeing in the workplace is starting to get the recognition it deserves, but it is important to note that while such interventions may appear soft to some, they have a clear impact on the bottom line. That is why I will be sharing my full story at the forthcoming Wellbeing at Work conference in my home town of Edinburgh in April.

When I joined CSMA Club two years ago we were an old fashioned, hierarchical, siloed organisation. Departments did not work together and there was a huge blame/backcovering culture that was holding staff and the company back. The organisation was overstaffed and we had roles that no-one really understood.

I arrived in January 2014 with a remit to restructure and to build a successful and engaging culture in advance of a change of brand.

What is meant by the term “flourishing”?

Flourishing is a positive psychology concept, which is a measure of overall life wellbeing and is viewed as important to the idea of happiness. It incorporates many other concepts in the positive psychology field such as: cultivating strengths; subjective wellbeing; and positive work spaces.

The benefits of flourishing extend beyond the individual and have implications for communities and society as well. It has a role to be played in educational reform, workplace productivity and healthcare on a national scale.

Source: Wikipedia.

It was a challenging time for the business because the restructure involved reorganising each department, ensuring individuals had the correct roles and that everyone understood what everyone else does and why. After dealing with more than 70 grievances and appeals in the first 12 months, we now have no negative employee issues and everyone understands the direction of travel for the business.

Stress was the foremost reason for sickness back in 2014, but since we have established clarity about employee roles and expected outcomes, stress-related absence has been reduced to zero. We have regular education sessions on mental health and all our managers are able to hold conversations on the subject.

We have also introduced mindfulness workshops and have plans to take this further later this year after good initial results. Having both the executive and line managers buy-in to company culture is critical to a successful wellbeing initiative that works across the entire organisation.

How have we managed all of the changes?

We became a strengths-based organisation, utilising positive psychology principles. All of our people – from the executive team to the office cat – have been through the same sessions and understand how to utilise their own strengths and those of others. This gives a platform for genuine teamworking that spans the whole organisation. We are one team, not a collective of departments.

This approach has opened up opportunities for people and we have individuals moving into roles they would previously not have been recognised for. We are not quite at the self-managing team stage, like that pioneered by the Buurtzorg model developed by district nurses in Holland, but we do have self-generated project groups who come together to find best ways of dealing with issues and tasks.

Corporate social responsibility is high on our agenda and we are establishing a charitable foundation to better support the activities we do in our local communities. This initiative has gained interest from the majority of staff.

We are still on our journey, we continue to innovate and learn from others. The workplace wellbeing agenda is now gaining traction at board level and the reason is simple: a lot of these interventions may appear soft, but they have a clear impact on the bottom line. This is seen through low recruitment costs due to low turnover and good staff retention, low absence rates and no employment tribunal claims. It has freed up management time to concentrate on achievement and innovation.

We are currently 18 months ahead of our business plan and the last two years has been an exciting journey for everyone at CSMA Club.

The Wellbeing at Work event is a one-day conference in Edinburgh on 26 April and in London on 19 October. Business leaders, HR professionals and consultants will learn from experts and peers about the latest wellbeing developments and successes across the UK and Europe.

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