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Wellbeing Strategy – Roundtable Report

14 November 2012     London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.

DELEGATES
Jennie Pintore, Associate in Wellness – Goldman Sachs
Adam Perry, Global Inclusion Leader – Aviva
Sonia Gooljar, HR Business Partner – Mercer
Jo Winstanley, Human Resources Manager – Addaction
Kevin Pratt, Health & Safety Manager – Nelsons
Simon Rickatson, Director of HR – Nelsons
Dan Henry, Chief Human Resource Officer – Bright Horizons Family Solutions
Sharon Williams, Director of HR – Bright Horizons Family Solutions

Businesses that undervalue the importance of wellbeing, pay lip service to it or are unable to define it will, as a direct consequence, struggle with significant employee issues that undermine productivity, performance and competitiveness.

Never before has wellbeing been so central to the heart of an organisation, nor has its role been more integral to galvanising the capability, fitness and agility of the workforce, whose commitment and engagement businesses are wholly reliant upon. Against a backdrop of a challenging economy, bleak predictions and protracted austerity, businesses are operating lean and that exacts a cost on resources doing more with less. This directly impacts on mental and physical wellbeing and this cannot be overlooked. Add to the agenda the Government directive for employers to take greater

responsibility for employee health and wellbeing, and the relevance of such a debate is obvious. To operate under these challenging circumstances requires focus, commitment and engagement from the organisation, at all levels. The roundtable focused on how employers can most effectively introduce, manage and sustain a strategy within the workplace. The topics on the agenda explored the current approaches and best practice, and how best to build a foundation that can support improved outcomes for both employers and employees.

What are the challenges facing employers and the impact of poor health in the workplace, considering issues such as long-term absence. The Government directive is that employers should increase their efforts, resources and budgets in employee health & wellbeing. Is that practical or indeed fair on employers?

Sharon Williams: I would say I think the perception could be that the Government is pushing the responsibility onto employers, but at the end of the day, you’re going to end up paying if you’re not doing the right thing for your workforce. So from an employer perspective, it’s the right thing to do, to create an environment where your people can thrive and be successful. Obviously the cost implication of that could be significant but it’s significant anyway. Absence is a huge cost and disruptive, causing attrition and poor engagement across the workplace, so I think focusing on cost is missing the big picture.

Dan Henry: It comes down to how you define wellbeing it’s often used interchangeably with wellness. If you broaden the definition and you address wellbeing, there are a whole series of interactions we can engage in that will contribute to people feeling whole, and less distracted by unmanaged stresses in their lives, things that sap their wellbeing. I think about gross national happiness as a measure to consider in GDP and employers should be rushing to play in that space because there is a tremendous positive effect on human performance to be gained.

Simon Rickatson: Our long term absence is minor, it’s more about sporadic short term, repetitive absences that create the issues. I think it’s about working with the individuals, with a how can we help you” approach, because its often issues such as childcare, not illness and it’s trying to get an honest discussion going so you can get to the real issues. With short-term absence we didn’t really properly have a grip on what impact it was having and managers are often not confident dealing with absence, so creating a culture of transparency is a good start. For managers it’s having the confidence to take action, and armed with the correct information you have a better chance of improving the issue.

Adam Perry: There is a question of scope, we know our absence statistics and the costs and disruption. The cost of absence in the UK is huge so the Government is right to make this directive and external pressures too, societal issues such as cuts in the NHS, obesity, an ageing population. Employers can’t directly change things, but they can serve the public good by working in partnership with Government. Every organisation has to choose its journey, its ambition and define its scope.

Sharon Williams: We need to move away from the culture that Government’s going to tell us what to do and have the answers for us. We know how to manage our businesses and our employees. No it isn’t the role of employers to have to explain to people how they should live their lives, but creating the right environment and providing option can only improve outcomes.

But it does fly in the face of the trend is moving away from the paternal employer/employee relationship.

Sonia Gooljar: That is the challenge, the workplace is changing, and there’s a whole conversation about what people actually expect from their place of employment. Work is now not just a place to go from nine-to-five, and wellbeing initiatives form part of that new culture and contract. If employers want to improve retention and absence they need to have a wellbeing platform and a flexible working culture to stay competitive as a business and an employer.

Adam Perry: We’ve started with a real cultural diagnostic, and asked every single employee in the company about their personal values and where they see the current culture of the organisation, and where it needs to be. If we don’t understand our people and what motivates them, then we can’t know how to get the most out of them. There’s a measure of what we’re calling cultural entropy which is essentially a percentage of energy and productivity in the organisation that we think is lost due to wasted energy. Whether that’s bureaucracy, whether that’s people feeling insecure about their jobs. So we know that’s a performance improvement opportunity for us.

Jennie Pintore: Given the current environment in the markets in the financial services industry, there is a change in how work is being perceived. Employees are putting more emphasis on the broader value proposition of their company and this includes the wellness support that a firm provides. We see this in our biannual employee survey and, in building a wellbeing strategy we try to respond to these trends. Our Wellness facilities try to cater for various elements of employee’s wellbeing, and to accommodate employees while they are in the office. This includes areas such as personal fitness, childcare, and healthcare, and our facilities are aimed at promoting these. Additionally, the role of managers in supporting employees is important and there is a growing focus on managers helping to manage their teams’ resilience. It’s important that managers feel equipped to have conversations with their teams around this and that they are comfortable to help direct them to the right resources.

The paradox is it’s taken as read… heads down and plough on, versus a heightened expectation of work/life balance and flexibility in the workplace? This in itself creates pressures.

Adam Perry: Employees are becoming more vocal about telling us what they would like to see in the workplace. Work/life balance may not be high on the corporate agenda, but it still matters for so many reasons. Our engagement scores are roughly holding steady or trending slightly down, and we know there’s a link between engagement and performance, but it’s important to really use the data to form opinion and strategy.

Dan Henry: Employment has fundamentally changed and if we’re still prescribing the same old solutions, we run the risk of missing the mark. Engagement is critical to wellbeing, but even the most engaged experience life disruption that causes them to behave differently to usual perceptions and expectations. The real weak link in that chain isn’t skills development, it isn’t even engagement, it is life disruption, so until we understand exactly how to tap into that, we will miss it and I think wellbeing allows us to get to these life issues, in both a direct and data intensive way.

It’s a sensitive issue, delving into people’s personal worlds, a lot of people don’t want their employer and colleagues know about their private lives. Also how “bespoke” and individual can employers afford to be?

Jo Winstanley: Our front line workers are working with people with drug and alcohol problems, it’s a difficult job. It’s about how we support them in doing that and it’s about how you look at the whole person. Looking at our Employee Assistance Programme data 70 percent are related to personal issues, nothing to do with work at all.

Adam Perry: I don’t think companies have an obligation to accommodate every personal life crisis, fundamentally that’s not our responsibility. What we’re trying to do is help smooth out the bumps in the road, that’s the focus. There are tactical things you can do, but I think there’s a danger of going too granular, you’ll get sucked into building corporate policy around compelling individual life stories that pull on your heart strings.

Simon Rickatson: I still think there’s a confidence issue that if I tell you something about me, that’s going to come back and bite me further down the line, that you’re going to use that against me.

Sharon Williams: It’s about treating people as whole people, we talk about “not leaving your whole self at the door”, we encourage people to bring their whole selves to work, so if you’re building an organisation based on a culture of trust, recognising that you have life outside of work is crucial in supporting managers’ capability, so it’s just about how you develop that culture.

Simon Rickatson: The thing is getting people to be aware, it takes somebody who’s observant to notice there’s something not right about colleagues. Managers need to be aware of staff and understand that they don’t leave their personal lives at the door. Having the external support such as the EAP programmes because this provides a level of anonymity.

What are the key and reliable indicators when assessing and monitoring levels of wellbeing? How do you correlate wellbeing with individual and collective performance?

Adam Perry: In terms of metrics, there’s a few basic ones, you need to be looking at employee engagement levels, you need to be looking at your absenteeism rates, accident rates and you can work with your EAP provider to understand what issues are being reported. You’ve got to look at turnover rates not just in aggregate, and if you see bad trends emerging, you’ve got to have the courage to bring the concerns up.

Sonia Gooljar: We need to try to get HR to look at the same data in a different way, which will prove to have its own challenges. To understand what it tells you about wellbeing, versus what it tells you about absence management is step one. The data will suggest initiatives which have a cost and so the questions that will be asked are; “how is this going to change the bottom line, what will be the real differences in absence rates/cost per absence”, and so the challenge around analytics is understanding what to do with it and getting jigsaw pieces to fit so that a wellbeing strategy can be defined and brought into action.

Adam Perry: Watch out for short-sightedness in how some managers think about the importance of well-being. An “old school” manager might say “I just want everyone to show up and work”. HR will say: “well then you’ll have to hire someone else when they leave. How much of your time is going to be spent rehiring? How much will that cost? How much HR resource will be used up? The moral of the story is that initiative has a cost and actually, a lot of time it’s much easier to manage costs at the frontend, and in this instance, that’s wellbeing. Leaders must look at the whole value stream and in most cases, a modest investment in health and wellbeing will help you avoid lots of costs.

Jennie Pintore: I think having the data is certainly important, as it enables you to quantify your absenteeism, sickness leaves and related healthcare costs. However, there is a lot to be said for early intervention in absenteeism and an organisation should also focus on using their data to this end, to prevent sickness leave and related costs. This echoes what’s been previously said about the changing perceptions of work and the workplace, and our employees think about early intervention is certainly a long term goal.

Dan Henry: I think we’re all struggling with an inability to measure a key element that effects how productive people are at work. If we’re talking about a good service there is an infinite number of measures that people have been comfortable with for years. The old way of measuring was about how effectively we deployed wellbeing and value-for-money. People aren’t a cost to doing business, if organisations really believe people are the most important assets, we’ve got to manage them that way. We had a lot of good data, but what we were missing was what’s really going on in people’s lives, below the line of their iceberg. So we changed the way we asked questions – we still ask the work stuff – but we said “tell us how you are doing, tell us what gives you energy, tell us what makes you feel like you could make a best contribution, where do you have unmanageable stress in your life and what’s the net effect of that? How does your life interplay with work? What’s really going on in your universe?” And what happened was, people first thanked us for asking and they told us; the life realties: the car repairs, the pressures of being a parent. So we got an understanding about the wellbeing the whole self, about confidence, community, sense of resilience, optimism, humour and in terms of the data, health only accounted for eight percent. We have to reorient wellbeing drivers. We’re not talking about, bespoke, very detailed questions, so personal that people don’t feel like they can be honest. We’re talking general demographics, that we aim to improve upon by how we respond, as employers, to provide options, assistance and understanding and, at the same time finding the otherwisehidden life pressure reasons that causes absenteeism or performance decline. We’re not talking about wading into the deep end of the ocean with no data. We go into this very carefully with data so we know what we want to go after and what we frankly want to leave alone, but at least we’re not surprised about it because we see it reflected in the everyday.

Jennie Pintore: The traditional approach for disseminating messages about wellbeing and changing a company’s culture has been from the top down, so the initiative comes from senior management. This approach looks at the issues employees are actually facing, and trying to address the causes – essentially, trying to address the causes of certain issues and intervening early.

What impact will the changes in workplace convention have on employee wellbeing – flexible working/remote working, the change in the employer/employee relationship, for example?

Sharon Williams: Forward-thinking organisations are doing it already and they haven’t limited it to those who have childcare responsibilities, they’re inclusive to all employees with other care issues, such as looking after older parents.

Adam Perry: A manager shouldn’t be allowed to stop flex working just because they’re uncomfortable with it. If the barrier is more a question of manager comfort, then people need to be helped to understand what it looks like, helping managers overcome the fear of loss of control factor. It’s a really acute issue right now as well because we see the clash in working styles and expectations in the workplace.

Simon Rickatson: We need to educate employees as well, about how to go about requesting flexible working and how the wider team responds to that and adapt, again culture and organisational issue.

Sharon Williams: And some businesses are just not set up for flexible working. But in general, I think a lot of is about ownership and selfresponsibility and accountability, but reality is, every situation and every workplace is very different.

Jo Winstanley: I think even when a workplace situation isn’t ideally suited, it’s very important to provide the opportunity, say for somebody coming back from maternity leave, whose talent you just don’t want to lose.

But at the end of the day we are businesses and would quite like to stay in business, that consideration must come first?

Adam Perry: Of course it’s essential that the business needs are met and you soon get a very good idea whether a person is less productive working from home. There will be challenges and a lot of management required at the beginning.

Jo Winstanley: It doesn’t take much to include flexible working questions in employee surveys and, of course, there will still be appraisals, targets and regular meetings with managers keeping people on track and measured.

How much responsibility do employers have for remote workers’ health & safety?

Kevin Pratt: The employer still has the responsibility for homeworkers as they do with workers on the shop floor, or anywhere else, because the Health & Safety at Work Act says it’s a workplace environment. But you can’t enter homes so controlling remote working environments is a challenge. We do risk assessments which the employee fills in, but monitoring for wellbeing, stress levels is difficult of course. But a rucked up carpet on the landing, that is outside of the Health & Safety remit, I know we need to sort of take it into account and ask if they are working in a safe environment.

Adam Perry: Beyond health & safety, risk assessments are important, as is self-awareness – the reality is that some people are not really cut out for working remotely and flexibly. You may really like the idea, but performance and productivity will go down in some cases.

Sonia Gooljar: If you actually try and break it down, what do you understand wellbeing to be and, how do you quantify it? In my opinion, the business case can only really come when you’ve got the wellbeing champion really setting the agenda and delivering a consistent programme.

Dan Henry: World at Work just did a global study, asking senior leaders what their top three people concerns are. First was benefits costs, second was talent management and talent shortages, and third was wellbeing  it’s there, it’s flashing! That suggested an opportunity for us to define wellbeing in a way that actually makes sense. We’ve taken a broad view but organisations may decide they want to take a different path, for us we have identified the areas where we see the greatest productivity potential.

What must be considered when establishing an effective employer blueprint for a wellbeing strategy? And what level of responsibility do we have as employers with regards to our employees and what does good practice look like?

Simon Rickatson: My personal approach would be providing the opportunity for people to become more connected with the organisation by giving the platforms and the confidence to engage and treating people as adults to take responsibility and not force the issues.

Jennie Pintore: Awareness of the services is key, although employees also need to have the right incentives to access the service. You can re-market your EAP service and give employees information, but you may still see a low takeup, as they may not realise this service could meet their needs or that indeed the workplace provides it.

Adam Perry: It’s got to start with the needs analysis. You’ve just got to know the boundaries of what you can offer sensibly and what you can’t. And you’ve got to understand the risks and benefits, alignment to business priorities and engagement drivers. And all that has to be pragmatically balance against some cost-benefit analysis. Jennie Pintore: It kind of comes back to what we were saying earlier, that you identify the real needs, make things convenient and make the services accessible and most important it’s making sure that what you offer is effective and valued. I think we don’t mandate it, we don’t have score cards or look at outputs.

Jennie Pintore: It kind of comes back to what we were saying earlier, that you identify the real needs, make things convenient and make the services accessible and most important it’s making sure that what you offer is effective and valued. I think we don’t mandate it, we don’t have score cards or look at outputs.

Adam Perry: In the US, we offer personal health and nutrition coaching and every year you can go through voluntary health screening, get feedback and talk with a dietician. I did it in 2009 and the report said generally you’re in good health but you are overweight. I thought, that’s good advice, and I lost three stone, and that’s a good example of a company that supports its employees, helps people make better choices that’s beneficial for them, for the company and for society.

Dan Henry: Another example is biometric screening and health risk assessments, they do yield some benefit to people who are motivated to make the changes to their lifestyle.

Adam Perry: I think that’s the benefit of some health coaching, just putting family history, health risks, etc., in context. And encourage people to really pursue these lines of inquiry with their GP as well.

Dan Henry: The way wellbeing unlocks the real potential is to shift a “want” to a “need” – I need to do this because it’s a real issue for me and I want to turn it around.

Adam Perry: That’s a great example why a quarter of the time people spent out of work is related to stress. These environmental factors matter.

So it’s procedure, structure, framework and culture, and getting leaders on board.

Sharon Williams: I’m not convinced that it’s necessarily just about leaders because I think a lot of the cultural change comes from the employees themselves, I do think the leaders, managers need to be role models demonstrating the right behaviours, flexible working being a prime example.

Adam Perry: In the health and wellness phase, just like in any other area of your agenda, you’ve got to find the leaders that are already doing it and those are your champions. Plus you have to put policies in place that keep that philosophy in mind and you’ve got to have some choice in the approach.

Sharon Williams: I think one of the most compelling ways of getting the message across and building awareness is story telling. It’s telling the story, and they’re real life stories that are really compelling and people really do buy into it.

We’ve discussed mental health and the stigma attached to for example people suffering from stress – can that ever be changed?

Jo Winstanley: Line managers are key because they’re the people that are managing teams on a day-to-day basis, and return to work interviews, for example, need to be supportive. We’ve signed up to be a Mindful Employer which is all about saying we recognise that people have mental health concerns, because about 40 percent of our sickness absence is to do with people’s mental health concerns, and we’ve also signed the Government’s health pledge in terms of a healthy workplace. These are statements about us as an organisation.

Adam Perry: Employees feel like they can’t say no, that they can’t say there’s too much on their plate. Generally, employers don’t do a good job talking about the tradeoffs of getting performance out of people versus people’s wants for a work/life balance.

What are Gen Y and Z’s attitudes to health and wellbeing and do they appreciate and use what’s on offer?

Jennie Pintore: I think it’s a really interesting concept and again one that is fairly new. The new generation coming into the workplace has very different expectations of what they want to get out of their work, and it’s important to be aware of this. You have to have a higher level of engagement with Generation Y employees, so as fresh classes of graduates join the workforce, they will value the health and wellbeing aspect more and more.

Adam Perry: This is why we’re seeing Corporate Responsibility move up the corporate agenda. The leverage for attracting talent is much more valuesbased, how people are treated in the workplace, how the company gives back to society. Younger workers in particular want to connect in some personal way with the purpose of an organisation – beyond pure profit. I’m not sure the current generation of top leaders have really figured this out just yet.

Sharon Williams: I think what differentiates you from your competitors these days is your culture, but you need to match what you say at the point of recruitment with the long term, as they will let you know.

Adam Perry: They’re very vocal and they are going to be testing whether what you say and what you do are aligned. Young people in particular want to work for companies with that kind of strong sense of social responsibility and mission.

Jo Winstanley: I think there is also the cost of reputation that you can’t put a price on. I think if you can create the right culture, and I think wellbeing is part of the cultural offering, along with your values and the behaviours. Then actually people stay with you.

So businesses cannot duck this, they have to invest in it.

Sharon Williams: Your people are delivering your business, your service, so you need to dothe right thing by them. Their input and performance or lack of it directly impacts on the business and the bottom line. Dan Henry: If you limit this conversation about wellbeing to just wellness then you leave yourself open to lots of conversations about cost returns, not just on investments, but on specific actions. Then it becomes a productivity discussion and people adjust and engage differently around those conversation than they do around medical or wellness cost. It’s a completely different conversation – you just come into it with a different frame of mind. That’s why I encourage expanding the discussion because it does create this really neat platform.

Adam Perry: Is there some of sort of hierarchy of needs at play here? Only seven to eight percent of employees in your data say wellness is really important, but do you think people would care more about it if other basic needs were better met?

Dan Henry: It’s possible, but to get to the actual answer you have to solve those other issues. We have undertaken the study outside of our organisation, to see if it performs in other businesses a global study and it behaved exactly the same. We’re in our second year the data and we thought we’d see differences, there were none, and what we concluded was, people are people with human issues, they’re not so effected by culture. We have to invest in it, it’s really important for organisations. The question is, are we overspending on things like, healthier vending machines or better menus, when in reality what we should be spending on is understanding people’s life challenges.

Adam Perry: But you’re not expecting a shift from survey to survey in terms of the shift of people’s focus or emphasis? Is there a danger that you become dogmatic about it saying that people are people and this will always be the same?

Dan Henry: What we don’t expect to change are the drivers, we think that those will stay the same. There will be five, and we’ve seen that in every data set we’ve looked at. The relative weighting of them has shifted, but there’s a lot of consistency in that data, so we expect that will stay the same. What we are intentionally trying to change are the rates. We’re already seeing early indications that on the employee opinion surveys, when we’ve got that in the field, that’s moving faster than we thought – in fact all of the gains we’re making on wellbeing internally are being attributed to manager interactions, even though we haven’t done a single thing to change the way supervisors are relating with their people. With the traditional wellbeing offering, you communicate, communicate, communicate, you measure, measure, measure… and you get frustrated, frustrated, frustrated, as to why nobody using them? With this, it’s just a completely different approach them and again for us it’s effective.

Simon Rickatson: I guess there’s a concern that you might come across as patronising, too paternalistic. The other consideration is scale, we don’t have a massive organisation and budgets are relatively small.

Adam Perry: Yes, how do you manage the costs? Is it mainly that you’ve negotiated with your EAP to provide a wider service set and negotiated it?

Dan Henry: We called all of our providers together and said here is the issue, we’ve studied in our organisation and it’s led us to different conclusions about how we need to support our people and you need to evolve, frankly”, and fortunately they did! So there’s a little bit of an incremental expense but not much, because we’ve got a dedicated 800 line that its staff are filtering and answering in the way we want them to answer it, so people are being greeted by the wellbeing health centre. It’s a little bit of cost but not much.

Simon Rickatson: We have a number of benefits and the EAP support is provided as a free benefit which gives you less leverage over them to say “you only give us what we want because you’re saying you’re getting it as part of a package from BUPA or one of the others”. Do you pay separately for EAP services and does that gives you better leverage?

Dan Henry: We do, although I think there’s probably leverage on the table for EAPs who want to differentiate themselves in their offer, maybe not as much as we got from direct contracting. But I do think it’s a conversation worth having. They need to evolve, in my view, because they’re structured around an old model and that isn’t necessarily reflecting our relationship with our employees. The opportunity is there to really define this with the data set that is available and giving you real intelligence about what is happening in your organisation – it’s amazing how you can really stand up a whole series of solutions against really good hard data that has good scientific backing at the outset. It’s a really powerful tool!

Adam Perry: You’ve got to find the sand box for yourselves somewhere in the organisation as a safe place where you can experiment with some simple ideas, capture the learning, prove some concepts. That’s where you get credibility, especially in an old-style organisation.

Dan Henry: In conclusion the World at Work study reveals key concerns about talent to the business, the huge cost of doing business with people, pay and benefits, these are the hard people costs. If those two things can be influenced by a deeper understanding of the third thing people put on that list, wellbeing, then why not go for it, because the way you address the people issues, it’s a really effective strategy for controlling the downstream costs, that big pool of spend that does have some controllable elements to it, but not necessarily in the way that we’ve been controlling it in the past. Let’s try to be ourselves, accept people truly are one of our most important assets and as the survey and research data showed us, if we invest here we’re going to get a return on investment, so why wouldn’t we go after that?

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