Issues with fertility, new parenthood and menopause can be difficult to talk about at work, but Wickes sought to change that though offering access to Peppy’s support services. As the entry deadline for the Personnel Today Awards 2022 approaches, Ashleigh Webber learns more about the partnership named Overall Winner in last year’s awards.
There has been something of a revolution taking place in getting employees to open up about how health issues, often seen as ‘too personal’, affect them at work.
Traditionally, employers and employees alike had shied away from talking about menopause, fertility and new parenthood, despite the impact these can all have on productivity, engagement and retention.
However, a partnership between home improvement retailer, Wickes, and health app, Peppy, described as “radical” by one of the judges at the 2021 Personnel Today Awards, sought to change that.
By introducing Peppy’s app and other family-friendly initiatives to its benefits package, Wickes saw a 187% increase in the number of female managers and a 16% increase in the number of women it employed over a five-year period. It currently has 3,285 female colleagues and 190 female managers.
When inclusion and diversity manager, Claira Singh, joined Wickes six years ago, it was a male-dominated environment where health and wellbeing were rarely spoken about, if at all. Like in many organisations, even as female representation increased, fertility issues and menopause were ‘taboo’ subjects.
Following a review of its family leave and maternity pay policies, which resulted in it improving maternity, adoption and surrogacy pay to 13 weeks on full pay, 13 weeks on half-pay and 13 statutory pay, Wickes started to explore its benefits more.
Personnel Today Awards 2022 categories
Apprenticeship Employer of the Year
Candidate Experience Award *NEW*
Change Management Award
Employer Branding Award
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Award
Excellence in Public Service HR Award
Family Friendly Employer of the Year
Graduate Scheme of the Year
Health and Wellbeing Award
HR Director of the Year
HR Impact Award
HR Team of the Year
HR Technology Award
Innovation in Recruitment Award
Learning and Development Award
Performance Management Award *NEW*
Reward, Recognition and Benefits Award *NEW*
Talent Management Award
The Workplace Culture Award *NEW*
Employment Law Firm of the Year
HR Consultancy of the Year
HR Tech Provider of the Year
L&D Supplier of the Year
Talent Acquisition Partner of the Year *NEW*
“Colleagues felt there was a big difference going from a work environment where they were surrounded by colleagues and friends every day, to being on maternity leave,” she tells Personnel Today.
“In the first few weeks they have lots of visits from health visitors and friends and family, but then all of a sudden they were completely on their own. They did not have anyone to have a day-to-day conversation with, they felt out of the loop from work, and we were seeing a rise in people saying they were suffering from post-natal depression.”
Evolution of support
The company became aware of Peppy while trying to figure out how best to support new mothers. Wickes consulted its inclusion and diversity network, Balance for Better, which held listening groups before launching the service.
“During that time, we’d evolved from just wanting to support colleagues during their maternity leave to wanting to support colleagues throughout their entire parental journey. Peppy also offers lactation support and sleep support, for example – all of those benefits that nobody else was offering,” says Singh.
Sarah Rees, Peppy’s corporate engagement manager, held several sessions to help Wickes employees understand the Peppy Baby services, but once employees learned that Peppy also offered fertility and menopause support, the retailer could not ignore the demand.
“It’s a really brave thing that Wickes is doing to talk about these very real-life issues that everyone goes through – they’re taboo topics,” says Rees.
“Wickes was the first retail company to offer Peppy. They’re real pioneers in terms of what understanding and caring for their people actually means, especially as they’re giving the same quality of benefit to every employee across the board – whether they’re in the c-suite or on the shop floor. People [on the shop floor] need this more than anyone really – they can’t pay exorbitant amounts for private healthcare.”
Wickes was the first retail company to offer Peppy. They’re real pioneers in terms of what understanding and caring for their people actually means, especially as they’re giving the same quality of benefit to every employee across the board.” – Sarah Rees, Peppy
Employers who offer access to Peppy can select how they want to support employees – fertility, parenthood, menopause, women’s health or men’s health – which can be accessed through an app. Clinical experts, including fertility nurses or neonatal nurses among others, provide support via one-to-one web chats and 45-minute video consultations, and can issue reports that employees can show their GP. Audio, video, written and webinar content on a variety of topics is also available for employees to access when they like.
“We meet our users wherever they are on their journey in a number of different ways,” says Rees of Peppy’s fertility offering. “You might just be thinking about having a baby, you might not really understand your cycle yet, or you might be somewhere further down the line and have been trying for a year, or you might have been diagnosed with a condition that affects fertility.
“We try not to talk about Peppy as being a female service because parenthood affects men and women equally and it’s just as hard for dads when they bring their baby home.”
Peppy also provides support for the LGBTQ+ community and offers fertility and parental support for same sex couples.
Singh says the pandemic had a significant effect on new parents, who were less able to book appointments with health visitors. Access to appointments and one-to-one advice via Peppy’s app made this challenging period slightly less frightening for new and expecting parents.
“Often [mothers] don’t get to bring a partner to appointments, and it can be such a scary time as a new parent – you’ve already got a huge amount of anxiety about the experience,” she says.
“Peppy is available for both partners, and can bring couples together to help them understand everything that they’re about to go through.”
Singh says Wickes employees value the fact that they talk to an “anonymous” person through the app, so they can ask questions they might feel too uncomfortable to ask their GP.
“We’ve been trained to think that women’s health issues are embarrassing,” she says. “Yet, when you’re on the app you can ask those in-depth questions that you might feel too shy or embarrassed to ask face-to-face… It’s like having a friend there, which I think is really special. I don’t think you’d get that from a GP surgery or a clinic.”
Rees says: “For those embarrassing questions, very often people turn to Google. The results you get back are at best incomplete and it can be pretty dangerous. With Peppy, you’re not talking to a robot – you’re talking to a qualified person. If we can’t help, we can signpost you to somewhere you can get that help.”
Some of the success stories from Wickes’ partnership with Peppy include women who discovered symptoms they feared were early dementia were in fact peri-menopause or early menopause symptoms, and women who were told by their GP that they could not have hormone replacement therapy because a family history of cancer, but have been recommended alternative menopause therapies by Peppy practitioners.
One Wickes employee who had a toddler and an 18 month old baby who did not sleep through the night was given support and access to a sleep consultant via Peppy.
“She said it had changed her life,” says Singh. “She is an amazing colleague and design consultant for us and brings a great amount of revenue for the business, so it would’ve been a huge loss if she’d decided to leave. It was having a huge impact on her health and her family’s health and within three conversations the situation had completely changed.”
Male employees have also benefitted from access to Peppy’s menopause, parental and fertility services, with many reporting that they now have a greater understanding of their partner’s experiences, which has benefitted their relationships.
It’s no longer come to work, leave your personal life at the door and be a bit of a robot. When you experience these issues they do seep into your work.” – Claira Singh, Wickes
“I think that’s really powerful because it’s not something you expect to talk about at work,” says Singh. “It’s no longer come to work, leave your personal life at the door and be a bit of a robot. When you experience these issues they do seep into your work.
“We now have a much more open environment so that we know how to adapt and help you in work… Peppy is an amazing tool to help support our business to move towards the culture we want to have.”
It has also helped equip managers and male colleagues with the knowledge they need to support female colleagues, as well as men whose lives can also be affected by fertility issues or parenthood.
On the partnership winning the 2021 Personnel Today Awards, Singh says: “We knew we had a good chance of winning the Employee Benefits Award because we knew it was an amazing offering, but we were gobsmacked to be named the Overall Winner.”
Rees says the success of Peppy at Wickes is testament to the people team’s efforts to help colleagues understand the benefit and signposting to the support on offer.
“You might expect these benefits from a big four accountancy firm, for example. For a retailer paying national minimum wage this is exceptional,” she says.
Full criteria for the 2022 awards are available on the Personnel Today Awards website.
The awards ceremony itself will take place on 15 November 2022. Past celebrity hosts have included Russell Kane, Claudia Winkleman and Hugh Dennis. The deadline for entries is 10 June 2022.