Reckitt’s Flick Wileman: the importance of knowing your ‘why’ as a leader

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Delegates always tell us that one of the most valuable takeways from The Watercooler Event, which kicks off tomorrow and Wednesday in London, is the fact you hear directly from leaders how they are dealing wtih the challenges and opportunities in the fast evolving industry of employee wellbeing.

That’s why Wednesday’s session entitled ‘Lessons from the leaders – top tips for rolling out a global wellbeing programme’ is bound to be a popular one (it takes place in Theatre 1 at 2.30pm).

We were luckily enough to catch one of the panellists, Flick Wileman, Global Wellbeing and Employee Engagement Lead at Reckitt, ahead of her appearance on this panel to get the heads up about what makes her tick…

Your LinkedIn tells the story of how important you think it is to find your ‘why’. How can we help employees have this sense of purpose?

First I’d say it’s an incredibly personal journey to find your why.

Organisations talk a lot about helping people to connect their global visions with employees’ personal visions but, actually, not everybody knows what their personal purpose is. 

Creating a vision and purpose that you really connect with, and that links to your wider organisational purpose is quite a hard exercise to do; there are various tools people can use to do this. Afterall, as an organisation we’re not trying to manufacture or create a fake link to a company vision, it’s about helping to guide a personal vision.

I’ve heard companies say they are worried, if a person finds their true ‘why’ then they might leave. What do you think of that?

A ‘why’ for me is very generic. It’s not an occupational tool, it’s a personal development tool.

For example, my ‘why’ is to protect us from injustice so we can be the best version of ourselves. 

That to me is very, very personal and linked to my personal values and my experiences. But it’s also very generic, so I could arguably say that I’m doing that in my HR role right now, because I’m helping people from a developmental point of view to become the best version of themselves.

What a ‘why’ shouldn’t do is speak to a specific thing you should or shouldn’t be. It should more act as a moral, personal compass on a day to day basis. I’ve found that extremely powerful.

There’s much talk of ‘bringing your whole self to work’ at the moment. Do you think that is the same thing as being authentic?

For me authenticity is acting in alignment with your values, your experiences and what you feel really strongly about, whereas bringing your whole self to work has a psychological safety element in terms of inclusion.

Tell me more about that….

Well, I feel able to be authentic and to act according to my ‘why’ and I’m very privileged in that; I am a white female in my 30s. 

I think people feel able to be authentic, and act accordingly, depending on how psychologically safe they feel in their environment. That’s why I’d argue being authentic and your whole self are slightly different. 

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For me inclusion is a hygiene factor of wellbeing and if people don’t feel included, they’re not going to be engaged. If you think about it like a triangle, then ‘engagement’ is the peak of the triangle which is reached once someone feels included and like they’re looked after.

But as you’ve made clear you don’t work in inclusion, you work in wellbeing and engagement. Is there a separate inclusion team then?

Yes. And I work really closely with them. A lot of what I did last year was around accessibility, for instance, and how we could get people more engaged in wellbeing by making things more accessible.

Can you give me any examples?

Yes, last year, we ran a session during Ramadan about nutrition. If we’d just talked about nutrition then that might not have been very helpful for anyone who was fasting at that time. But we opened it up by using Ramadan, and its principles, to talk about fasting and avoiding certain foods, which can actually be linked to peak physical performance. So we used Ramadan as an opportunity to be more inclusive. 

(Throughout this chat, Wileman also touches on sessions that cover dual purposes too, like nutrition in relation to health conditions, as well as nutrition & biomechanics in relation to menopause)

That’s interesting as some experts we interviewed at the end of 2023 predicted that there would be a growing intersection between DEI and Wellbeing in 2024. What are your views on that?

That was a key focus for us at Reckitt in 2023. But I’d say, rather than being an ‘intersection’, I see inclusion as a hygiene factor for wellbeing and engagement. Employees are simply not going to feel highly engaged or have good wellbeing levels,  unless they feel there is a diverse environment that they feel included in. 

For me, DEI is a fundamental underpinning of Wellbeing.

In 2023, everything I did was around asking: how do we make our existing programmes more inclusive and accessible? Then how do we amplify and build on them?

What are your priorities in 2024?

2024 and beyond is now about how we scale the concept of creating a better life for ‘everyone everywhere’.

The biggest challenge is how do you scale globally whilst keeping and maintaining a personal feel and launching on a large scale. This is tricky for a big organisation. 

Caregiver wellbeing is also a big focus for you. Can you tell me more about that?

That was something that specifically came out of Covid-19. We learned through our engagement survey that caregivers specifically struggled. By that I mean anyone who had caring responsibilities, from caring for those with a disability to caring for elderly people. As a direct response to that, we built a Caregiver Programme, which we then rebuilt in 2023. We’re also in the process of setting up a support group at the moment. 

Given your experience, what would be your advice for someone looking to start supporting carers?

Make it really tangible. 

We focused heavily on emotional support models so people could implement the information we were giving them on a day to day basis. We know, for individuals with caregiving responsibilities, time is of the essence. They want to use the time they do have in a way that helps them, so we used ‘flip books’ which are virtual booklets to explain the tools. All they had to do was open the flip book and all the content was really easily accessible and digestible. 

That would be my biggest tip: make it something they can action really quickly.

You have a very diverse and interesting career background, spanning sales and consultancy and talent and recruitment, and you’re also currently studying organisational psychology in your free time! What do you think all these experiences bring to the Wellbeing function?

A much greater commercial understanding, which has been very helpful. 

Also, it means my view of Wellbeing is not at all siloed. 

For me it isn’t just looking at nutrition or exercise or mental health. Of course, these are all part of it but Wellbeing is actually about who you are and living a life that looks like you, so it links closely with self-development and learning and talent. It is also about language, communication, technology, accessibility and how you get information out to people. 

Wellbeing is a very broad concept.

Some people think that the word ‘Wellbeing’ isn’t helpful and we need a new word. What do you think?

Well, there is a lot of data showing that, actually, employee experience is the same as wellbeing engagement…

How much engagement is there in your wellbeing programmes?

Last year we saw a significant increase in engagement in our wellbeing programmes; we had over 20,000 attendees to wellbeing events and enrolment in our programmes increased three-fold. Wellbeing was also one our top five discussed topics in our global engagement survey for the first time ever. It just goes to show how important wellbeing is to people.

How has your degree in working organisational psychology helped you so far?

It’s been fundamental. It’s given me a really good view of how people think, and why they think it and, ultimately, that helps with engagement.

Flick Wileman is speaking at The Watercooler THIS WEEK contributing to a panel on ‘Lessons from the leaders; top tips for rolling out a global wellbeing programme’, accompanied by Gabby Wickes (Experian), Jamie Broadley (Serco), Yulia O’Mahony (Philip Morris International). This panel will take place at 2.30pm on Wednesday 24th April.

It’s still not too late to register for your free ticket here!

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