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Forster Communications are a London-based PR agency, focused on social change. They are also two-time consecutive winners (2016 and 2017) of the coveted title of Britains Healthiest Workplace in the Small company category (20-249 employees). We caught up with Kate Parker, who leads their wellbeing programme, about how they have managed to create such a successful strategy.
What have you done to promote physical health?
The short answer is, we have done loads of things. For a long time we have being doing stuff around exercise and sustainable travel. We bought a whole bunch of Bromptons that anyone can use for free. Staff also get cycle confidence training and free servicing for their own bikes. We give extra holiday for anyone cycling or walking to work and anyone cycling to meetings gets cash back as incentives. We also have a cycle to work scheme to help with the cost of purchasing a bike, and have regular running and walking clubs.
What have you done to promote mental wellbeing?
We do lots of work to help reduce the stigma and create behaviour change, from big public mental health campaigns to creating toolkits for employers with BITC and Public Health England. Every year we run activities around Time to Talk day and Mental Health Awareness Day; that includes stuff things like external training on how to have sensitive conversations or paid for coffee catch-ups where you can go offsite and chat with someone from another team about totally non-work-related stuff. We try to focus on building a culture where people feel supported and that they can talk, using simple interventions like providing free healthy breakfast for everyone to eat together away from their desks.
We have had mindfulness coaches come in and give talks, provided Headspace app subscriptions, and encourage the team to shake up their meetings by taking them outside or standing up. Each week we have a company-wide meeting, where we can check-in on any pressure points and discuss what’s going on in the news. Whether it’s suicide, mental health or drug use, we can reflect on the issues and have a conversation about it, helping to fight any taboos head on. That way staff feel that if they aren’t feeling ok, they feel like they are able to talk to their managers about it.
What other activities and initiatives have you brought in?
Strongly embedded flexible working practices, including shared core hours with a flexible start/finish time, the option to work from home and hot desking or fixed desks are offered to all employees to give a better work-life balance. As well as early summer getaways, an EAP, paid time off for volunteering, and even trailing new VR technology for mediation in the office and onsite yoga classes. Ultimately though, we believe it’s the strong flexibility and support backed up by good communication and employee engagement, rather than a bunch of bananas or a giant Jenga in the office, that really make the difference.
How have you made this part of the company culture?
Creating an inclusive culture is at the heart of everything we do. Built into personal development reviews is a discussion around the individual’s personal needs to make sure that regular check-ins and reasonable adjustments are being made; whether it’s to their environment or workload. Providing employees with really accessible options to help them improve their physical health – free fruit in a bowl in the middle of the office rather than chocolate vending machines or lunchtime walking clubs which even an exercise-phobic employee can enjoy, and encouraging them to suggest and set up their own activities so they are staff-led and championed.
How do you feel it has helped?
We have recently won Britain’s Healthiest Workplace for the second year in a row, which showed we had 30% lower rates of health related presenteeism and absenteeism than the UK average. Around a third of the company cycle to work regularly and flexible working has increased by 15% in the last year. Two thirds of the team say our Wellness in the Workplace programme has kick-started a sustainable positive change in their lifestyle.
What metrics are you targeting and how has it improved them?
As a B-Corporation we track our performance against a range of influencers like benefits, training, communication, flexible working and corporate culture and set ourselves a range of targets in these areas. These include reducing sick days and turnover, increasing L&D, volunteering and flexible working. The Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey has helped us look at factors like smoking and drinking habits and gives us a presenteeism indicator, which shows how many days productivity are lost. Through that we also look at indicators around work and autonomy, as well as physical and mental health.
What do you feel is a vital ingredient to a successful wellbeing programme?
Building a culture of transparency where people feel supported and able to talk about, and engage in initiatives improving their physical and mental health. Our experience shows that the most successful ways of supporting employee wellbeing are often the most simple.
Advice for small companies?
Check out all the free stuff you have access to, for example our EAP, bereavement counselling, and advice on injuries and occupational health are free through our insurance provider. By being a member of a Business Improvement District we get access to lots of employee benefits, like cycle confidence lessons and free bike checks, so look at the business networks and connections around you. Cycle to work scheme help staff to spread the cost of a bike and they now even have a laptop scheme to help with working from home. The BITC Toolkits have really useful and totally free advice on mental health, musculoskeletal health and suicide awareness that is relevant for all employers. Time to Change have amazing workshops you can run that are all online and free, and don’t be afraid to ask other companies what they do. I am always happy to share what we are up to if it helps other organisations improve the health of their employees.
Advice for larger, more established companies?
I would give the same piece of advice for small and large organisations, which is to find champions who are passionate about simple interventions. If you start doing something around physical exercise, and there is someone who is really interested in running, harness their enthusiasm. If you have these champions who get excited about it, they can spread the word or even act as a sounding board for ideas.
What would you say to get buy-in from businesss leaders who don't understand the importance of corporate wellness?
I don’t think you can be a leader in UK business and not get the importance of promoting employee health and wellbeing, you can’t ignore the statistics on mental health. We are looking at a generation joining the workforce who see this as a priority, so companies will just lose out on talent if they don’t. We are lucky that we have always had senior management buy-in, but if you are trying to get buy-in at your organisation, relate it back to the bottom line and show them how much money they could be saving on things like sick leave cover and recruitment. There’s lots of uncertainty at the moment, which means wellbeing programmes could be the first thing to get cut, but it’s now more important than ever, to show our commitment and to not let them slide.