This practice example is part of the Guidance for better workplace wellbeing.
Assure is a pseudonym: The company in question did not wish to be named. This case study is based on interviews with seven people, including those with managerial responsibilities, HR professionals and health and safety professionals.
ASSURE are an international law firm specialising in and structured around a range of sectors (energy, advanced manufacturing and technology, infrastructure, financial services, real estate, and core industries and markets). The firm has over 2,500 UK employees, an annual turnover in excess of £400m and has received multiple quality awards for professional work in different sectors and regions of the world.
ASSURE’s three core values of approachable, bold and connected are centre stage in their professional work and in their people management processes. These values manifest in behaviour expectations that aim to ensure employees are down to earth, treat each other with respect, act with integrity and maintain trust, whilst also innovating, driving to be bolder and strengthening their relationships with clients and communities across the firm itself.
Wellbeing risk factors
ASSURE are particularly attuned to key wellbeing risk factors that relate to the: a) wellbeing issues for their organisational communities and teams arising from the nature of work (i.e. around industrial accidents), long-term travel and fluctuating workload demands; b) rapid global growth that has presented challenges in ensuring consistency in health, safety and wellbeing standards as well as equitable provision of access to wellbeing services and support for all employees; c) move toward more agile working, which has generated a need to look at physical work space and particularly how it is used to support the physical and relational (psychological) wellbeing of users.
Overall approach to wellbeing
A key element of the overall approach at ASSURE is concerned with generating an open and empowering culture of wellbeing, that gives individuals the tools through education and dialogue to use the resources available to them; and is compatible with and makes the best use of the strong employee ‘bottom-up driven’ interest communities.
There is strong and visible senior leadership support and recognition of the importance of wellbeing within ASSURE; the management team have also taken a lead role on wellbeing within the sector. The approach to wellbeing is articulated around three pillars of wellbeing: Health, Financial and Environment. Around these three pillars ASSURE have set out their mental health and wellbeing strategy, and have established a number of governance structures to co-ordinate and mobilise action.
The Health and Wellbeing Steering Group are a pivotal governance structure whose priority is to sense check on the decision-making about what to take forward on a firm-wide basis and how plans meet the aims of being realistic, inclusive and transparent. They provide a coherent framework of priorities around which initiatives on local (and internal communities) actions could coalesce, co-ordinating the different activities within the three wellbeing pillars, knowledge sharing to support organisational learning on what’s working and what’s not, and prioritising financial investment in activities and resources that have inclusive and global reach.
The Steering Group mirrors the open approach of the wider organisation, which means also being open to an informed experimental approach in identifying ideas for wellbeing activities. Feedback from ASSURE’s annual consolidated benefit provider meetings as well as the management information received from their benefit providers helps them choose which initiatives to focus on. Not forcing activities on people for whom those ideas are not compatible and recognising different things work for different people enables variety and inclusiveness.
ASSURE’s intranet Wellbeing Hub locates all the wellbeing-related resources available to employees in one place. The Hub is essentially a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all things health and wellbeing, including policies and procedures as well as advice and signposting to support. There is a strong focus on proactive health and wellbeing provision, which builds upon the evidence base from their external expert health and wellbeing services providers. The Wellbeing Hub is very powerful tool because it allows ASSURE to:
- Make the resources that already existed more visible, i.e. about 70% of the content was pre-existing.
- Ensure all employee groups across the global firm have equal or equivalent access to wellbeing advice and services.
- Ensure consistency in the quality and content of wellbeing provision.
- Identify duplication and gaps to creating an integrated wellbeing provision.
- Amplify communications by make strategy documents, the wellbeing calendar and campaign materials e.g., video messages from senior management accessible across all locations.
Here we shine a light how the firm moved from a position of ‘silo-based’ or isolated innovation and provision to an integrated approach that was easily accessible and recognisable to organisational members.
Mobilising organisational communities: In line with their approach to consistency and connectivity, ASSURE provide the chance for employees to set up and seek out ‘interest’ groups to which they may feel that they belong. These interest groups are strongly employee driven cross-firm community-based networks, so provide ASSURE with valuable knowledge around issues that employees are engaging with. Examples of the networks include: LGBT+ and allied network, disability and wellbeing network, female futures, family support network (with subgroups for circumstances such as working fathers), and FREE – a network for faith, race, ethnicity and equality.
Each of the networks is accessible through fellow employees or via wellbeing events. When joining a network the organisation has charge codes, which staff can use to indicate they are spending time devoted to supporting the activities of a particular network. Each network is linked directly to ASSURE’s Responsible Business web-pages, with information, business plans, details of who the chairs are, key events that they have been part of and external groups they support. This enables employees to decide if they want to get involved and how, making sure joining and taking part in the networks is easy and accessible.
[these groups get started] usually it’s just from 1 or 2 people that have an interest, a personal interest that’s generally where it starts from. I mean these networks have been around for a lot of years now so you know there’s the LGBT one that’s been around since 2007 and that got off the ground because there was just about 6 people I think that were all based in London at the time that decided that it was something we should be doing. So that and it’s been a very similar practice for most of them you know a few key people that are you know have brought a personal vested interest that think that we need something and they’ve approached various people within the business and it’s been driven from them. Or centrally as a team we’ve looked at any gaps or anywhere we think where there isn’t representation for people that maybe requires the network. And we’ve maybe then gone out and approached specific people and said you know would you be interested in leading this and it’s kicked off the ground from there.
The networked communities are vitally important as they provide visible and tangible points of contact that can be drawn upon to help ASSURE sense-check ‘top-down’ or centralised initiatives. Representatives from the groups are also invited into formal decision-making for example, committees or steering groups, which provides a means for ASSURE to co-create resources and actions with users. Thus the whole approach to community presence and mobilisation has been an important element in informing and shaping of ASSURE’s wellbeing resources and frameworks.
The strong ethos of inclusivity embedded in the organisational DNA is highly visible in the range of communities that exist within the organisation and how these communities are actively involved within the wellbeing agenda. Specifically, ASSURE’s activities around wellbeing actively embrace feedback and ideas from across the disability and wellbeing network, HR, the responsible business team, facilities team, reward & compensation team, agile working taskforce, LGBT+ network. Global inclusivity is also important given the international nature of the business.
It’s not a kind of one size fits all. It’s just about saying, these are the different things on offer and if any of these resonate with you and you’d like to be involved, that’s fine. I think it’s an important point, that we don’t kind of force it if you like, because I think once you, you know, if you create that culture of there’s always something going on and I’m always being pressured to attend and get involved, then I think you can kind of lose it early on.
Given the diversity and number of communities, a key challenge for ASSURE was how to capture innovations that might have benefits firm-wide whilst also providing a degree of coherence around what is often a very diverse set of local actions. ASSURE achieved this through involving different communities within decision-making groups such as the Wellbeing Committee.
The whole purpose really behind the setting up of that group [wellbeing committee] was we found that we were doing lots of health and well being initiatives in different offices but it was very localised. And nothing was really getting fed back in terms of what we had done and what the results were of what we were doing.
Building capacity – Mental Health Champions. Building on the communities culture, ASSURE introduced a voluntary Mental Health Champion scheme, which was open to all employees to take up. So far, 178 Mental Health Champions have received training and are networked together, along with a senior Champion within the firm. The aim here was to reduce the stigma around mental health and signpost staff to support provided by, for example, the firm’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) as well as other support networks and multiple education and information resources that are now available on the intranet Wellbeing Hub.
There are physical signifiers to communicate who are Mental Health Champions in local offices as well as listings on the Hub. Before choosing to move forward with the Mental Health Champions’ scheme, ASSURE considered a mental health first aiders’ scheme, by looking into other firms’ experiences and the training requirements. This research revealed that mental health first aider training is more time intensive, while feedback suggested that the emotional demands on the first aider may be too high, which may restrict take up. The Mental Health Champions’ scheme was therefore deemed more appropriate for the firm at present; the large-scale uptake would seem to reinforce that this was an appropriate choice. The cultural impact of having this new role was visible:
The impact it has on the culture of the business is quite significant actually. Because you really feel like it’s a business that are committed to supporting its people. Whether or not you need that support is, for some people, kind of neither here nor there. It’s just, it’s about knowing that you can speak to someone on your floor. [Mental Health Champion]
The feedback has been absolutely exceptional, I have to say, I mean really amazing. I have people come to me all the time to say, you know, I’ve been speaking to my mental health champion about my problems and we’ve been talking about this, and they suggest I get in contact with you. And it’s just about, I guess it’s just an openness of people feeling that they can go and talk to individuals.
The open community culture within the company is key to enabling employees to feel welcome and comfortable in both expressing themselves and improving their tailored wellbeing provision within the company.
Impact and looking forward
Here we saw how ASSURE mobilised a pre-existing cultural anchors namely the ‘interest communities’ to support the delivery of their wellbeing framework. They did this by tapping into existing communities to gain feedback and ideas on the shape of wellbeing issues for specific groups. They also generated a new wellbeing community, via the mental health champions’ network, which became an action group of peer-to-peer support through signposting, amplifying cultural messaging, upskilling the knowledge base and information around wellbeing and providing the organisation will critical feedback for on-going development of their approach.
Impact indicators. The work around reducing the stigma associated with mental health and raising the visibility of services available to staff is clearly having an effect:
- ASSURE’s occupational health provider recorded 11 referrals for mental health related issues in 2016, 19 referrals in 2017 and 24 referrals in 2018. As is common in other firms, this is seen as a reflection of the success of a more open approach to managing mental health reporting.
ASSURE have already identified employee-led demand for more informal mental health sessions to support staff, are developing training for resilience and are building on their manager training.