About the Author
Q&A with Victoria Robinson-Noble, Senior Director Human Resources, Europe
At ECI, we know how important employee wellness is. It’s because of people like Victoria Robinson-Noble, our Senior Director Human Resources in Europe, that we’re able to act effectively on that. We sat down with Victoria to learn a bit more about what’s behind a great wellness program and how they can help other companies.
As a people professional, I am generally passionate about ensuring the wellness and happiness of people anyway. My interest in what makes people “tick” is one of the reasons I ended up choosing Human Resources as a career path when I decided I wasn’t going to enjoy being a geography teacher at university and switched majors to Behavior in Organizations and Human Resource Management. This grounding gave me a great insight into how working in different organizational structures, cultures, and management styles can have a real impact on how satisfied, happy, and healthy people are, which is ultimately what our well-being is.
Having worked in HR for over 20 years now, I have seen many times over the impact that decreased well-being and mental illnesses can have on individuals at work and in their personal lives. As a working mom, I have also experienced times when my own well-being has suffered because I’ve been too busy taking care of others and not recognizing my own needs. I am a big advocate of “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and find it very easy to say in support of others, but also struggle to maintain my own cup!
Having taken time out of work in the past to recover my mental health, I understand the stigma that is still associated with mental health and am passionate about working to create safety in organizations so that it is okay to say when we are not feeling okay and create organizational cultures that encourage and champion all round well-being to ensure that we can live happy, healthy, and satisfied lives. I am incredibly grateful and honored that I have been entrusted with this responsibility as part of my role at ECI.
Well-being is important as the state of “being well” is our natural state as humans and how we operate best. We are intrinsically wired to seek happiness and satisfaction from life so when our physical, mental, and emotional health are all optimized, we are able to live happier, healthier, and more fulfilled lives.
Taking care of our physical health though nutrition, movement, and sleep helps prevent disease and enables us to move through life without pain or discomfort. Our mental and emotional health govern how we think and feel and has significant impacts on our relationships and how we interact with others. Good mental and emotional health enables us to cope more easily with stress and anxiety and any challenges we may face in life.
From a business perspective, employees that are happier and healthier have been shown to be more productive and engaged in their work. There are also greater levels of teamwork and collaboration which leads to improved problem solving and greater innovation. Organizations with high levels of employee well-being also see lower rates of absenteeism and turnover as employees are less likely to take sick days or look for other roles. “Well” employees save organizations a great deal of cost in terms of lost productivity, sickness pay, and recruitment activity.
Additionally, in today’s recruitment market, candidates are not only choosing employers that can pay well, but they are also actively seeking out organizations that promote and encourage employee well-being. Businesses that prioritize well-being are winning the battle for the top talent and gaining reputations as employers of choice, with high levels of employee morale and employee engagement scores. By investing in employee well-being, businesses can create a more positive work environment, promote employee engagement and productivity, and ultimately, improve organizational performance.
As there are several different aspects of well-being and so many options now available to businesses to help support their employees, it can be difficult to know where to start when implementing a wellness program. A key first step is to assess what your employee group needs or what you want the program to achieve. No two organizations will have the same approach to their wellness program, as different people will benefit from different initiatives, so it is important to understand what your employees will appreciate and make use of, as well as decide how you want the initiatives to support your organization’s culture or any changes in culture you may want to make. Surveys, focus groups or meetings with employee representatives are a great way of gaining this employee feedback. Looking at data already available in the organization, such as engagement surveys, exit surveys, and any absence trends also helps to inform what a wellness program may need to address.
Budget is also an important consideration. Competition for finances is fierce in all organizations. However, many businesses start their well-being programs with little or no specific financial budget by maximizing the use of the many free resources that are available to employers, and by using existing employee expertise. Simply sharing information or highlighting any of the various “awareness days” is a great way of starting to create an emphasis on employee well-being. Of course, having budget gives the ability to do more with your wellness program and helps to encourage engagement with initiatives as employees value the investment made towards their well-being.
When you know what your employee needs are and what budget is available, you can determine some goals and objectives for your program. Are you aiming to reduce stress-related absences in your organization? Do you want to create a more open culture around mental health? Do you want to improve the healthcare benefits available to your employees? Are you looking to provide more education on well-being generally? Having clear goals and objectives for your program helps ensure you stay focused on what’s important for your organization. Goals and objectives also provide a means of measuring progress and effectiveness of particular initiatives that will enable you to adjust and develop your offerings. You can then design your program based on your goals and objectives.
You can focus on physical well-being by encouraging people to take regular breaks to move and stretch their bodies. For desk workers, taking micro breaks every hour to stand up and stretch or getting out for a walk at lunchtime is a good example of this. Setting up a walking group one or two lunchtimes a week also encourages connectivity and participation. Those that work from home can join in as well with a virtual walking group that holds each other accountable for taking a lunchtime walk on particular days. “Walk and Talk” calls or meetings are also another popular way of getting physical activity into the working day.
Everybody loves a sweet treat like cakes or cookies in the office, but making sure that there are healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, and health bars on hand as well helps to promote healthy eating habits and provides energy throughout the day. Similarly, if you have staff restaurants or food outlets, ensure that they also offer healthy, nutritious options.
Improving access to mental health resources and openly discussing mental health in the workplace is one of the biggest things that can have an impact on breaking down the stigma around mental health that still exists. Sharing mental health information and training can be done simply and at little cost by using the readily available, free resources and helplines provided by many mental health charities and organizations. Providing employees with information on stress and how it can be reduced, the importance of maintaining a good work-life balance, what contributes to a healthy lifestyle and where they can go if they need help, all helps to create an environment where it feels safe to discuss how we are feeling and know that we can ask for help at work if it is needed.
Encouraging social connection through team coffee breaks, lunchtime gatherings and team building activities creates a sense of belonging, and there are a number of free quizzes and games that can be played virtually as well if you have a more remote workforce. Encourage both physical and social well-being by setting up sporting clubs or company teams that compete against each other or in local leagues or charity competitions. There are also fitness challenges that can be run within teams or across the whole organization.
Another simple way of enhancing well-being is by encouraging community giveback through volunteering and charity work. When we give back to others, it boosts our own well-being through increased feelings of satisfaction, achievement and purpose, as well as the social connection element when we volunteer alongside others. Highlighting volunteering opportunities that employees can get involved with in their local communities, providing some time off for employees to take part in volunteering activities, arranging charity events or sponsoring employees to take part in charitable challenges and celebrating the charitable successes are all cost-effective ways that can increase employee well-being.
At ECI, we are lucky that we already had an amazing employee-orientated culture before we started our wellness journey, and it was the start of the pandemic that really led to us switching our focus to well-being. Like many organizations, we were largely office-based and had thriving social committees that organized office events. We shifted to working from home almost overnight and needed to ensure that we were still looking out for each other and taking care of ourselves in those challenging times.
We already had Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and health care benefits available for employees to use which we started to promote more. We also started to share hints and tips on how to work healthily from home, encouraged teams to hold virtual coffee breaks and created a weekly newsletter to help maintain a sense of connectedness and community. We have then evolved our approach from there.
At ECI, we all work incredibly hard and being a global company with international teams in different time zones, work-life boundaries can become blurred. With that in mind, our well-being objectives focus on decreasing the stigma around mental health so that it is okay to say when we are not okay and encouraging a healthy work-life balance.
We work in partnership with a UK-based company called Everymind at Work who help us with some our awareness information and provide training webinars on different well-being topics which have been really well received. We also invested in LinkedIn Learning and more recently the Skillsoft platform to support our learning and development offering and encouraged employees to access well-being learning courses through these platforms as well. We also have social teams that encourage participation in lunchtime and out of hours activities and although we have fewer offices these days, we provide free refreshments and fruit and healthy snacks and are designing our working spaces to be more well-being friendly with break out areas and more ergonomically healthy workstations.
However, the event that has had the most impact on our employees was our first Global Well-being Day which we held in February this year. Our CEO Trevor Gruenewald wanted to dedicate a day for everyone to focus on their well-being without worrying about the emails and work that may be waiting when we returned, so he gave all employees this additional time off and closed the whole company for the day. Our employees spent the day doing activities that brought them joy and supported their well-being. Many used the additional day off to spend time with family and friends, book into health and fitness spas, go hiking or playing sports outdoors. Others chose to spend the day on DIY home improvements, catching up on tasks they had not had time to do, or simply taking the day to rest and recover. Feedback received after this day showed that 96% of staff found the day valuable for supporting their well-being and over 99% would recommend holding well-being days to friends and families in other organizations. Individuals shared how much they appreciated being given this additional day off for themselves and how they had returned to work feeling more positive, revived, and able to be more productive.
Promotion of well-being initiatives is important to make sure that employees are taking advantage of the activities and services available. Using multiple communication channels, such as email, messaging platforms, intranet, social media and notice boards in offices ensures that messages are seen by as many people as possible. In larger organizations or those with multiple sites, recruiting employees as mental health or well-being champions is also another really good way to encourage engagement with well-being programs. These individuals who all have a specific interest in well-being can represent the well-being agenda in their teams or offices and can be used to help promote initiatives as well as organize and coordinate activities in their locality.
You will also need to ensure you are measuring the success of activities to be able to capture whether they are having the anticipated benefit or not. Post event satisfaction surveys are a great mechanism for this.
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About the Author