One of the biggest frustrations of wellbeing professionals that we hear of is the feeling that their expertise and discipline aren’t taken seriously enough by the c-suite.
This is something on Business in the Community’s (BITC) radar, which hosted an event recently on how the business community can do more to better stress the importance of wellbeing and how it aligns with financial performance and the economic value of it.
Andy Agg, group chief financial officer (CFO) at National Grid, was part of a roundtable discussion on ‘Backing business to revolutionise ways of working’. We caught up with him after this to ask him about the key themes that came up, and for his insight into how wellbeing can put forward its case more effectively to the board.
What grabs your attention as a CFO? What makes a compelling wellbeing case for you?
I think about it from two angles. Firstly, it’s thinking about the health of our employees and the value proposition associated with wellbeing.
And secondly, how do we, particularly in my role as CFO, engage with our stakeholders and investors around this in order to share our story.
Yes, internally I’m thinking about investment decisions like what initiatives will really help us to drive meaningful change for our colleagues. But, actually, overall, what we’re trying to do is demonstrate – a bit like physical safety – that the psychological safety and wellbeing of our employees are entirely aligned with efficiency and delivering business objectives: we want our employees to be well and happy at work.
And to what extent is the wellbeing function able to demonstrate that, at the moment, in your experience?
In reality, like many organisations, that’s the journey we’re on. There are a range of different indicators that we use to capture important metrics, like engagement levels and survey results. But there’s good healthy debate in the industry right now about whether a good engagement score or positive survey results are always an indicator that you have a healthy workforce. The important thing for me is the actions businesses take once they have seen these survey results. It’s really important that there’s a desire to act and to make a positive difference.
For instance, this year, as the cost of living crisis is felt by our employees, we have put in place simple support mechanisms around the financial aspect of wellbeing, so that we can offer additional financial support to those who need it most as we go into winter.
What other metrics are important to you?
We also obviously focus on metrics like attrition, to gauge how successful we are at retaining as well as attracting colleagues. But while there are a lot of these specific metrics, I don’t think any one metric answers the question of how well an organisation is doing on the wellbeing front. They are all part of giving a sense of whether you are truly moving in the right direction and valuing employee health and performance in a meaningful way.
What other questions do you find you are routinely asking yourself in your job when it comes to the wellbeing agenda?
As I’ve said, we’re on a journey with wellbeing so one of my key questions to myself is: how can finance support that journey?
And, at the same time, I’m also asking: how do I make sure that my team, when they’re working with the business, are managing budgets and investment decisions and thinking through the consequences of funding decisions to make sure our wellbeing work is having a positive impact?
We’ve heard repeatedly that the missing link when making the case for wellbeing is data on how effective interventions actually are, rather than just reporting on how many employees accessed a certain intervention. Is that something you’ve come across too?
Yes, I’m sure this is a challenge across lots of businesses.
For example, because of the nature of our projects, employees sometimes have to stay away from home a lot. We ask them how they feel about their jobs and what additional support we can give them, which allows us to better focus on the areas of wellbeing that matter to them most at that time. However a lot of the metrics organisations want to measure in these sorts of situations are hard to track, and that is part of the challenge.
We’ve run some pilots on providing different types of healthy food when people are away. We’ve had feedback that they like the choice and the fact that we are looking at new ideas and different ways to support them, but it’s early days and it’s hard to say precisely what the impact is. We are doing research on this as we speak.
You’ve mentioned stakeholders a couple of times. Where do you feel stakeholders are in terms of their understanding of how integral employee wellbeing is?
It’s a growing theme and investors are definitely taking more interest in it. A few years ago there was relatively little interaction with investors on the topic of ESGs, for example, but that has really increased and I think that trend will absolutely continue as we move forward.
As CFO, it’s my job to set targets, collect data, report on this data, measure performance and ensure that when we do talk to our external stakeholders that the metrics are objective, credible and reliable.
You also mentioned the cost of living crisis this winter. We’ve heard anecdotally that wellbeing professionals are worried budgets are going to be cut at this crucial time. Do you plan to cut wellbeing budgets as we go into a hard winter?
We absolutely recognise that now is not the time to cut wellbeing budgets and we need to continue to step forward in supporting our colleagues.
We’re really focused on investing in our employees and, in light of the additional challenges at the moment due to the cost of living challenges, we’ve put in place additional emergency support.
For example, if a colleague’s boiler breaks down and they are struggling to pay that extra bill, there are grants available to help them pay that unexpected cost.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for professionals working in the wellbeing sector and wanting the ear of the CFO?
Don’t let perfectionism get in the way of progress. If you try and design the perfect metric, the risk is that you will miss out on all the valuable learning and debate that is currently going on, so my message is to be proactive in making a difference.
What is your ultimate goal when it comes to the conversation around mental wellbeing at work?
For the conversation around mental wellbeing to be as prevalent as it is around physical health and safety.
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