When a senior marketing executive at business information company Reed Business Information (RBI) took the lead on a global health and wellbeing initiative, Occupational Health was a key partner. Lawrence Mitchell (pictured above), who guided the project, explains the three key steps towards engaging employees in health and wellbeing.
I have always had a passion for health and wellbeing and have been on my own personal wellbeing journey for the last 20 years, which has had a massive impact on my life. This year, however, I have been able to work more closely with my OH colleagues to create a wellbeing programme and framework for our 2,000 globally based RBI employees. We are still very much on the first chapter, but we are making good progress and are starting to make a difference.
Let me start by highlighting the drivers for change. One was my own personal passion in health and wellbeing, but the main reasons were business focused in the sense that RBI is ambitious, keen to grow and to improve performance through innovation and other initiatives that are dependent on people. That, coupled with some alarming trends in stress levels and its impact on both employee wellbeing and company performance, has certainly helped get the economics of wellbeing on our agenda. After all, you cannot have a healthy business with sick employees.
Sickness through stress, in particular, is a big issue, with as many as 78% of the general working population claiming that stress affects their mood, sleep and health (according to a study by the Stress Management Society).
Decade of change
Perhaps it is no wonder – the last decade has been full of change. For instance, RBI, has completely transformed from being a traditional, UK-based magazine publisher to an online, subscription business that services companies all over the world. As marketing director over this period, it has certainly been a fascinating and challenging experience. However, from an employee point of view, change and uncertainty tends not to be as good for wellbeing.
This year, with the company back in the black and keen to invest and grow, we have developed a more holistic approach to wellbeing in order to help our people flourish. We are very much at the beginning of our wellbeing story, but I want to share with you the tale so far. I am not saying it has been easy, few things worth having are, but for me, it has been rewarding, enabling me to bring my own knowledge and passion for holistic wellbeing to a much wider group.
Looking back at the process, there are three key steps to take.
Step 1: discovery
The first step was meeting up with RBI’s OH adviser Maria Goldby to find out what we, as an organisation, already did from a health and wellbeing perspective, and whether or not there was any appetite to do more. It was a very positive meeting and I discovered that we already did a lot more than I had previously realised. Plus, there were opportunities to join up the initiatives and increase awareness and engagement by creating a much more integrated programme.
Who else is interested in wellbeing? The next step was pulling together a few other employees who were interested in health and wellbeing to brainstorm ideas. Our own research indicated that about 15% of our employee community were engaged in health, which is quite typical. In other words, they are already proactive in incorporating healthy practices into their life, irrespective of what their employer does. Over time, this small group expanded into a “wellbeing champion group” that spread across our different offices around the world.
What would employees like to see happen? Getting ideas of what we could do was not hard. But to help prioritise, we did a survey over the summer and over half the company responded, giving us some great insights and a real confidence to move forward. The data also helped us segment employees into groups such as “the health engaged”, “the worried well”, as well as “the refusers” (who represented quite a large number). This meant we could focus on the groups we wanted to connect with.
What are other companies doing that you can learn from? I learnt a lot by interviewing wellbeing champions in other companies who are already proactive with their wellbeing agenda. This provided some useful metrics and learning to support the investment case. Although approximately only 19% of UK companies are proactive with their wellbeing agenda, this is definitely a growing trend across many sectors, particularly the service industry, financial services and retail. I also learnt a lot from US-based companies that are further ahead with their wellbeing agendas.
Who can help you? Reaching out to the supply chain proved to be a valuable resource, as there are some great entrepreneurial organisations out there that have created services and platforms to help implement a wellbeing programme efficiently.
Step 2: engagement
The difference between success and failure of any initiative is how engaged the employees are with it. Thus, internal marketing has been a big focus for us and we included the following steps:
- Creating a wellbeing steering group made up of the people who can make things happen. This included HR, facilities, the canteen staff and corporate communications. I started by getting a group together to discuss what was possible and how things could work.
- Getting the leadership team on board at the appropriate time. Once some momentum had built up and there was a story to tell, I pitched the whole initiative to the senior leadership team to get their support and participation, using increasingly available data linking the existence of wellbeing initiatives to business performance. Senior involvement is, as you would expect, a critical component to the success of any wellbeing programme.
- Developing a wellbeing champion network. This network has evolved organically and has expanded as awareness has grown. I coordinate the group and have used social media to connect the members and share resources and ideas around the world. One thing that has pleasantly surprised me is the amount of hidden skill and knowledge that we have within the business, with yoga teachers, nutritionists and other practitioners already on the staff.
- Video: we shot a video to get the positioning of the wellbeing programme right and to tell the “RBI Wellbeing Story”. We wanted to make sure that we connected with the groups of people that we were targeting, and so created a story to share. You can view it here.
- Wellbeing fair: finally, a lot of our thinking came together in the form of a wellbeing fair in November 2014. It was a broad event, with a focus on “knowing your numbers” in response to the feedback from the survey. The goal was to create a high-energy experience that engages and supports our employees. The main event took place in London and Sutton, but we are going to run mini versions in Chicago and Atlanta to try to connect our global teams and make a difference to as many people as possible.
I was really excited about this year’s RBI wellbeing event and some feedback from across the company included:
- “People are what make RBI great and we value our people. Their health and wellbeing are essential to the performance of our business.” (Dominic Feltham, CEO, RBI).
- “In the wellbeing fair, as well as offering the traditional experiences such as mini health screening, this year we tried to offer ‘something for everyone’. We had inspirational expert speakers talking on subjects such as insomnia and emotional wellbeing, as well as demonstrating the use of technology in helping resilience and wellness. We hope the day helped our employees feel empowered to make healthier lifestyle choices which positively affect their lives.” (Maria Goldby, senior OH adviser, RBI).
Step 3: resources, metrics and strategy
The final piece has been around resources, success metrics and strategy. From a
resource perspective, with the exception of the two OH advisers whose time is mainly taken up dealing with cases, there have been no dedicated resources. We expanded our OH team’s remit to cover wellbeing and have tried to be as resourceful as possible, relying on a network of volunteers to give up their time. We also hired a wellbeing company, Kamwell, to help us organise the wellbeing fair, which would not have happened without its input.
Where we are going in future with health and wellbeing?
So, it is still early days, but we are on a journey and ripples are starting to form that are making a positive difference to the working environment. From here, we are looking to build upon the success of this year to create seasonal initiatives for 2015, creating a stronger infrastructure and getting sharper on metrics so that we can understand the impact of our initiatives to secure future investment.
Finally, while I started the journey with a real passion for physical wellbeing, our wellbeing model is really much broader than that, incorporating both physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as environmental wellbeing, because we are, of course, much more than our physical bodies.