Rebecca Eaton is occupational health and wellbeing lead at facilities management company Mitie, a post which she took up in January following three years at National Highways. She believes occupational health gives her a “great background” for this wider role because she’s used to thinking about how work is set up and the relationship between work and health.
One of her priorities since starting has been making the wellbeing offering more joined up, rather than being seen as support services on the side that employees are signposted to. The question she’s been asking herself is: how do we think about wellbeing across everything that we do?
Making wellbeing joined up
“There’s some fantastic support available to our employees but it wasn’t very connected so I’ve been focused on pulling it all together so there’s better visibility of what is going on in terms of wellbeing across the whole company,” she says.
Tapping into networks has been one of the most powerful ways to get this company coherence.
“I lead on both occupational health and wellbeing but I can’t do that on my own and one of the best ways to do that is to harness the networks, who are so keen to get involved. They pick the topics that are most relevant to employees and actually lead on some wellbeing topics,” she adds.
As she says, if an employer is not consulting with the networks and engaging with employees, how does it know whether a wellbeing topic is relevant and “hits the spot”?
Mitie Women Can
One of the most established networks at Mitie is the women’s network – called Mitie Women Can – with 650 members. It helped write the company’s menopause guide and incorporating menopause into other policies such as absence policy, in collaboration with the HR function, and is now working on similar guides for endometriosis too.
Indeed, one of the reasons that the Mitie networks have such motivated volunteers is that, in Eaton’s words, “they can see that good is going to come out of their labours, their work will not be fruitless because they can see change and feel empowered by that”.
But as well as co-writing these policy changes, Mitie Women Can also create content around the topic too to ensure colleagues understand the impact and point of the policy. For instance, it has run webinars on menopause, inviting a gynaecologist to speak, and has got colleagues to share their own personal stories, too.
Getting Mitie men involved too
“There’s no point having a policy that managers don’t know how to support so, together with the network, we create a whole training package around a wellbeing topic,” says Eaton. “And we’ve been sure to get male colleagues engaged in these women’s topics as well. A lot of these issues affect men’s loved ones so they need to understand to be able to give support. It helps that one of the sponsors of the Mighty Women Can network is male, and one of the co-chairs is male”
In October and November, for the first time, the Mitie Women Can network is running a campaign encompassing not only the more common women’s cancers (such as breast, ovarian and cervical) but also men’s (such as prostate and testicular). A central part of this is going to be a Macmillan Coffee Morning where as many colleagues as possible will be encouraged to come along and learn more.
“It makes sense to bring them together,” says Eaton. “Hopefully, we can get some more men joining the women’s network because ‘women’s topics’ aren’t just relevant to women.”
Addressing the lack of diversity of mental health first aiders
Another area that Eaton is tapping into networks for is to improve the diversity of the company’s mental health first aiders. Whilst the company demographic is about 65% male, Mitie’s first aiders are predominantly female (70%).
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“We’ve been engaging with our various networks around how we can change this, and to understand the barriers, as we need more men. Also, we haven’t got the ethnic diversity we want either, or LGBT representation in our mental health first aiders. Ideally, we want to have at least one mental health first aider from each network because we know that mental health impacts in different ways for different groups,” she says.
She’s also in regular dialogue with the race and ethnicity network called ‘Chord’, which stands for culture heritage origin race and diversity. Recently, one of its members told his story publicly, as did a representative from the LGBT network Proud to Be. . Eaton hopes that telling these stories will lead to a more diverse pool of colleagues getting involved as mental health first aiders, and with the wellbeing agenda in general.
Why are Mitie network volunteers so motivated?
As we heard in this article and the cries for help from frustrated network chairs and champions, it can be tricky to keep momentum and enthusiasm going around networks – but this doesn’t seem to be a problem for Mitie at all, with ultra engaged employees and no shortage of volunteers.
There are several ways that Mitie protects the wellbeing of these volunteering employees, so they don’t get burnt out or at the stage where running the network feels like a burden, which is one of the dangers.
One is that each network has about 3-6 chair people, depending on the size of the network, so the responsibility and work load is shared. Each chair usually only takes responsibility for leading on one topic rather than working across several.
Every network has an executive sponsor, too, which makes champions feel empowered and like the topic is taken seriously. They are also given time within their working day to devote to the network, in recognition that they are doing the role alongside their day job.
‘It’s not right if networks have to do extra hours’
“They are encouraged to do it within their job because it’s not right if you just add on additional hours. That’s why we also encourage several chairs, so they can share the work”, says Eaton.
As mentioned, they also can see that their efforts aren’t fruitless but, instead, lead to real change that makes a difference to company culture and day to day working lives of colleagues.
That’s not to say it’s always easy and, of course, diplomacy and tricky conversations are part and parcel of the job for Eaton.
“You’ll always get differences in opinion,” she says. “Typically we’ll get lots of ideas from networks and across the business as there’s so much we could do. Sometimes I have to rein people in and say ‘OK, let’s do this now, and then we’ll move to this’. If you do too much either it doesn’t land very well or it creates too much noise.”
Getting the message out about financial wellbeing is a focus now
One topic that Eaton will be focusing on in coming months with networks is financial wellbeing with the crisis of living starting to really bite. She’s working on a campaign currently called ‘Mitie Slice’ looking at how employees can get their ‘slice’ of benefits, such as discounts on some media subscriptions or energy bills.
Something that came up in conversation recently was that some employees were showering and charging their phones at work to save money.
“We want to remove the taboo and talk about these things and say that we know some employees are struggling and that it’s fine to do these things,” she says. “Networks will always be consulted on big topics like this and help us bring the information to light.”