Making staff well-being part of company culture

How Standard Life Healthcare (SLH) used an online portal to change its
employees’ attitudes towards health and well-being in the workplace

At Standard Life Healthcare (SLH), you are equally likely to hear body mass
indexes being compared during coffee breaks, as you are to hear what employees
did at the weekend. This is not due to the private health insurance company
suddenly sending in the fitness police or the entire workforce signing up to
gym membership. It is the result of a far more gentle and common sense approach
to health.

The discussion is prompted by the company’s online portal, Vielife, which
provides employees with a mechanism for assessing their health and well-being
rating, along with advice and support to help maintain or improve it. The data
collected by Vielife can then be aggregated and used by management to identify
areas for focus or any health-related issues or trends that may be affecting
the business (data cannot be traced back to individuals).

Providing a benchmark

The impetus for Vielife came as part of SLH’s drive to be a great place to
work, which began in 1998, explains head of HR Vince Mewett. "Since then,
staff turnover has dropped from 20 to 9 per cent and staff satisfaction has
increased from 68 to 93 per cent, but we want to move things on even more,"
says Mewett. "Vielife gives me a benchmark of the company’s health as seen
through the eyes of the employees, which then shows me where we need to improve

The portal was launched in early 2002 and the 800-strong workforce, spread
across two sites at Guildford, Surrey, and Stockport, Cheshire, scored an
overall health and well-being score of 49 per cent, which while fairly good,
still left room for improvement, especially on nutritional balance and physical

Following this, SLH put in measures, ranging from health fairs and seminars
offering nutritional advice to free fruit days at the canteen – all supported
by internal marketing.

"We also looked at the food on the canteen menu, and while we didn’t
ban chips completely, we did make sure there were healthy alternatives,"
says Mewett.

As well as nutritional measures, SLH provided subsidised on-site massages,
costing employees only £5. "We wanted to bring in some stress management
interventions," says Mewett.

Since the portal’s launch, SHL’s overall health and well-being rating has
gone up to 54 per cent and its nutritional balance score has risen by 35 per

"The fruit only costs £300 and the massages £13,000 a year, but I still
need to justify those costs, and VieLife gives me a tool for doing that,"
says Mewett.

Productivity has increased by 10 per cent and staff turnover is now down to
6.5 per cent. While Mewett won’t be drawn on direct links between the system
and factors such as reduced absenteeism, he feels Vielife is a central part of
the company’s overall people management strategy. "The improved rating
means I can say we have improved the overall health of the company. And if
staff are healthier and more productive, they will provide a better service to
the customer."

Making the link

Vielife’s roots go back 15 years, when Dr Francois Duforez (who still sits
on the board) made the link between health and well-being and performance when
working with jet pilots. He identified the four pillars of health and
well-being as sleep, stress, nutrition and fitness.

Following extensive work and research in the area, he went on to work as a
personal physician in Formula One motor racing, and as a coach in the corporate

"In a world where companies are asking more of fewer people, absence
and stress is a real issue," says Clive Pinder, managing director of
Vielife. "Vielife helps you optimise individual performance through health
and well-being. If you could improve productivity by two hours a month, for
instance, it would give the UK 77 million extra working days a year."

Catalyst for change

Mewett says that much of what is going on within SLH is common sense and
good HR, but Vielife provides a tool and a framework for making it all happen,
as well as being a catalyst for staff to bring their own momentum to the

Senior systems analyst programmer, Catherine McLaren, says that having
Vielife is a bit like having an online magazine you can go to for advice.
"It prompts a lot of conversation. We talk about our scores, and I have
had a lot of tips and advice from it," she says. "I drink a lot more
water at work now and try to do more exercise. When I do, I feel a lot more
alert at work."

Mewett is pleased with the degree to which health and well-being has become
part of the company culture. He says the icing on the cake literally came when
the customary celebratory champagne and cream cake trolley did the rounds.
"Somebody actually asked if they could have fruit instead of a cake,"
he says.

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