In the last of our profiles of the winners from the 2019 Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards, we go behind the scenes with the OH team at defence engineering firm MBDA UK, winner of last year’s “OH team of the year (private sector)”.
The leadership role occupational health practitioners can bring to bear both in an increasingly multi-disciplinary environment and within organisations more widely has been a key talking point within the profession of late.
And leadership, the ability to lead and direct the workplace health agenda, has been very much at the heart of the success of the occupational health team within defence engineering firm MBDA UK.
Winner of the “OH team of the year (private sector)” in last year’s Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards, the in-house OH team has been instrumental in transforming how the business which is based in Stevenage, Bristol, Bolton and London- approaches and supports the health and wellbeing of its 3,700 direct UK employees and 650 Contingent Workers.
As occupational health and wellbeing (OHW) manager Jacqui Savary explains: “I have been with MBDA UK for four years and when I came on board one of the key things I wanted to do was to work with the leadership team.
“I was having monthly meetings with the leadership team in order to support and engage them, to get their buy-in and help their understanding in what my vision was , what we were trying to achieve; how a healthy employee population is beneficial to the business all round.
“It has been very much about changing the model we had previously, which was more reactive. It has been about becoming more proactive and also giving employees the tools to help themselves,” she says.
Visibility and senior buy-in
At a practical level (and see the panel below for more on this), this leadership role has meant gaining senior level management and trade union buy-in for its activities and campaigns, with leaders attending training led by the OHW team and visibly supporting the OH referral process. The OHW team has also led on strategy creation and delivery alongside providing the day-to-day in-house OH service.
“We send out the health and wellbeing campaign themes for the year ahead to the top leadership team – which is known as The ‘CoDir’ – and they choose what themes they want to support and write a supportive statement. Sometimes they come back with two or three themes they are happy to go with,” explains Jacqui. “Equally, we ask the main trade union representatives to do the same, to choose the campaign themes they would like to support. That way we have got a top-down and a bottom-up approach to employees in the business. To achieve employee engagement it is important for health and wellbeing to be driven by the business.”
When it comes to day-to-day OH support, although an engineering manufacturing company, the organisation’s focus is less heavy manufacturing and more areas such as electronics, points out then senior occupational health adviser Debbie Troughton.
“We get a variety of management referrals in for people with minor ailments and frequent sickness absence; like most organisations we have musculo-skeletal issues and mental health issues. Our stats are, I think, fairly similar to what you’d probably find in most businesses of our size.
“From a legislative health risk management (physical) perspective we mostly deliver health surveillance aligned to COSHH; the business doesn’t have much noise exposure, therefore the surveillance related to this is limited. We also deliver other health screening, for example drivers’ medicals, working at height, pre-placement. We also offer a comprehensive lifestyle screening programme to all our employees – every employee gets offered the opportunity to attend the department for lifestyle screening,” says Debbie.
“We also offer online self-assessments where employees receive feedback and lifestyle information and advice. If the online self-assessment indicates that further support is required, they are offered a face to face assessment which include glucose and cholesterol testing. Employees can also request a further face to face assessment themselves following their self-assessment scores.
“Where we are able we support employees taking personal responsibility. Rather than saying, ‘you need to do this or that’ we try to make it clear that people are responsible for their own health; you are responsible for what you eat, for how much you exercise; you are responsible for building your resilience. We are public health specialists and signpost employees to what they can do in terms of self-help, what they can look out for themselves and where they can go for advice and help,” explains Debbie.
“We also work closely with our wider human resource team and our EAP service provider,” adds Jacqui. “For example, the OHAs will have monthly meetings with their HR colleagues, they act as OH business partners and have specific business areas they are responsible for. So Debbie, for example, will go to a business area people management meeting and deliver an update on occupational health and wellbeing. Every month we also provide a slide pack summary of the health and wellbeing campaign to our HR business partner colleagues, who deliver this communication update to their management community. The OHW team covers all of the different business areas.”
When it comes to OH making sustained, and sustainable, change, Jacqui argues it has to come back to employee engagement. “If people are engaged with what we’re doing, then the messages are going to be much more effective, and there will be more uptake. It’s not just about engagement from the top level and trade unions, although that is important, it has to be about engagement from the employees too.
“We are at the point now where we have managers, team leaders, coming to us and saying, ‘can you let us know what the themes are for the year ahead because we would like to support and promote them out to our teams and get engaged’, which is great,” she adds.
Winning OH team of the year has certainly helped to raise and reinforce the team’s profile and presence within the business, agrees Debbie. “Occupational health teams in general do an awful lot, but sometimes I think they can be overlooked within businesses. Getting recognition externally, not just internally, is a good way of showing your business what OH can do, how much you’ve contributed; it is almost another measurable. It is a recognition of what is happening,” she says.
Getting recognition externally, not just internally, is a good way of showing your business what OH can do, how much you’ve contributed. It is a recognition of what is happening
“I also think it is recognition of occupational health more generally and how far we have come on in the past 15-20 years,” adds Jacqui. “I think some employers feel occupational health is just a sticking plaster but, to me, that is not occupational health at all.
“Particularly for us as an in-house service, entering and winning an award like this has been really good in terms of showcasing to the business that we have the right model and the right strategy of delivery and that, actually, we can achieve awards like this.
“So, for me, winning this award has been for the profession as well as for us as an individual team or organisation. It is about us as OH professionals showcasing what we can do,” Jacqui adds.
The MBDA team in a nutshell
- An in-house team of six OH advisers and one OH administrator, complemented by access to four visiting OH physicians
- Serving 3,700 UK employees
- Alongside the OH provision, the OH team has developed a mental health and wellbeing policy, trained over 200 employees have deployed a network of over 50 mental health first aiders and 10 mental health and wellbeing “allies”, who deliver a specific support role
- Offers access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
How MBDA was an OH&W winner
MBDA UK won last year’s “OH team of the year (private sector)” category in the Occupational Health & Wellbeing Awards in large part for the way it demonstrated how, since 2016, it has transformed the way it supports the physical, mental and social wellbeing of its employees how it delivers health and wellbeing awareness and training.
Key changes included gaining both senior level and trade union buy-in, with senior leaders and the trade union actively sponsoring and contributing to monthly health and wellbeing campaigns promoted to all employees via online communications through a new bespoke intranet site, posters and leaflets.
Leaders attended training led by the team and gave visible support to the OH referral process. The OH and wellbeing team also led on strategy creation and delivery alongside providing its in-house service.
Employees were recruited to act as health and wellbeing champions, supporting monthly campaigns, with particular engagement from its 50 mental health first aiders (MHFAs) and 10 mental health and wellbeing “allies”. A new mental health and wellbeing policy was introduced in 2017 and is supported by three to four campaigns annually, a mental health awareness factbook was developed, and mental health resilience and stress awareness introduced to all employees.
Results included improved employee engagement, satisfaction, retention, case management and management referrals, along with greater awareness of health and wellbeing throughout the organisation, earlier identification of health concerns, and engagement with its EAP.
Our judges were impressed by the team’s commitment to gaining senior leadership and trade union buy-in, arguing the entry made “a clear business case and strategy”, all of which had resulted in “a well-planned and comprehensive programme”.