Personnel Today’s judges said this NHS-led wellbeing programme demonstrated real empathy and collaborative work with brilliant results, describing it as ‘truly innovative and inclusive.’ Here we review the winning entry and those of the runners-up in the strongly contested Health and Wellbeing – Public Sector category, sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group.
NHS England and Improvement in partnership with Passe-Partout Consulting
As part of the NHS People Plan, a commitment was made that every member of the NHS should have a health and wellbeing conversation and develop a personalised plan. However, it encountered challenges around engagement, the complexity and sensitivity of the subject matter and scaling up the initiative.
It started with a virtual agile design event that brought together subject matter experts from across the NHS, including staff from HR, OD, OH, EDI, learning, wellbeing and clinical psychology. A subsequent design workshop was held, led by forensic psychologist Amanda Clark, and a robust conversation framework was developed.
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The framework deliberately starts from an appreciative perspective (“what are you like at your best?”) to provide a positive anchor for exploration of personal challenges and strategies. All staff members are presented with a wellbeing plan that details what they know about their wellbeing currently, and outlines the things they can do to improve their wellbeing.
It has prioritised a “train the trainer” initiative. To date 131 NHS colleagues in HR, OD or wellbeing roles from 60 NHS organisations (have joined the Health and Wellbeing Conversations network and committed to rolling out the training across their organisation.
The majority of respondents suggested that the course had improved their understanding of the importance of wellbeing conversations, helping them develop skills, awareness and the confidence to have wellbeing conversations with colleagues. At the time it submitted its entry, 59.6% of colleagues reported having had a wellbeing conversation in the past three months, with 71.9% of these reporting that they found the conversation supportive.
Civil Service HR – Policy & Practice
The Civil Service consists of 23 ministerial departments, 20 non-ministerial departments and 413 agencies and other public bodies, employing around 500,000 people. Each department is responsible for its own health and wellbeing activities, but the central Civil Service HR H&WB team provides support.
The past two years have been particularly challenging for civil servants, who have been at the forefront of the government’s work around Brexit and the Covid-19 response. Annual people survey results over the past two years have highlighted areas of concern including high levels of anxiety.
The team met with leaders and colleagues across all departments to understand their concerns and health and wellbeing priorities. Several key areas were identified including mental health, avoiding burnout and improving support for bereavement and loss.
Working in collaboration with the Charity for Civil Servants it developed a burnout hub, as well as new line manager guidance for supporting staff with bereavement and loss. A suite of products including a ‘Looking after your Wellbeing and Mental Health’ guide and a ‘five-step wellbeing conversation’ tool were also launched.
The Civil Service also delivered its fourth annual mental health and wellbeing conference, which ran over two weeks and included sessions from external speakers including Ruby Wax, Julia Samuels, Mind and Anxiety UK. Over 12,000 staff registered for the conference, a near 500% increase on registrations for 2020.
The latest people survey scores showed improvements in its score under the PERMA index of flourishing, as well as evidence that the Civil Service is providing a good environment for managing stress. There has been a reduction in the number of staff rating their mental health as poor or fair.
Great Western Railway
Great Western Railway has an in-house occupational health team which traditionally had focused on face-to-face consultations and on-site wellbeing events. This had to change during the pandemic.
Although most appointments had to be moved online during lockdowns, no-one who needed an in-house medical appointment was turned away. However, to meet the needs of colleagues who were concerned about travelling to the clinic, it issued temporary extensions to their periodic medical expiry date based on the outcome of paper and telephone screenings. This avoided the risk of safety-critical colleagues going out of medical competency, which would put huge pressure on operational services.
When lockdown restrictions were lifted, the team resumed on-site events including a mocktail bar at its Reading depot, which included advice on safe alcohol consumption limits, and interactive teaching to educate staff on the signs and symptoms of common cancers while NHS cancer screening programmes had been interrupted. In 2021, 31 on-site wellbeing events were delivered from Penzance to Paddington.
The rail operator also has a GWR Wellbeing Champion initiative, where volunteers on the ground act as first contacts for employees with wellbeing concerns, and actively promote wellbeing campaigns. It has also introduced a head of a wellbeing role to its HR team and a wellbeing manager role to its OH department.
South Western Railway
South Western Railway admits that the first few months of the pandemic took their toll on employees, with rising sickness rates and low employee engagement. However, the situation worsened at the start of 2022 when it lost three colleagues to Covid-19 and two to suicide. The organisation had to act.
It set objectives to increase employee empowerment scores, reduce sickness absence, ensure rapid access to mental health support, double the distribution of mental health first aiders and increase employee mental and physical health scores.
South Western has launched several initiatives to support these aims. These include private “wellbeing pods” in eight locations, where employees can seek anonymous support and referrals to its EAP or railway chaplains; walking challenges to help staff become more physically active; health kiosks where staff can check their weight and blood pressure; appointing and training an additional 70 mental health first aiders, taking its total number to 140; giving an additional day’s leave to mental health first aiders to recognise the pressures of the role; and opening an additional occupational health centre at its Southampton HQ.
It’s employee empowerment score has increased to 59%, well in excess of its 55% target, while sickness absence has reduced from 7.9% to 5%. The wellbeing pods have assisted 1,659 people since they were introduced and resulted in eight urgent referrals. Usage of its EAP has more than doubled to over 15.5% in the past year, showing that more employees are seeking help when needed.