Imagine having 135,000 employees and setting yourself the challenge of making each one of them know you genuinely care about their wellbeing. And throw in the fact that many of these employees were essential workers in the pandemic, often the only human contact vulnerable people would see in a day, then a cost of living crisis. And industrial action.
That is the challenge that the Royal Mail’s Head of Health and Wellbeing Fiona McAslan is facing, having joined as part of the company’s employee experience team nearly a year ago, from NatWest.
Who better, then, to talk to us about putting wellbeing at the heart of the employee experience at MAD World on 12th October -alongside Saumya Barber from Unum? This is bound to be a fascinating session full of McAslan’s straight talking, honest insights and practical learnings.
We caught up with her ahead of her speaking appearance to find out more…
You are a big advocate of taking a personalised approach to wellbeing rather than a “one size fits all sheep dip” approach. Why do you feel so strongly about this?
What the pandemic particularly taught us was that the “sheep dip” approach to wellbeing isn’t fit for purpose anymore.
Probably pre-pandemic we had more of the mentality that “everybody needs to experience the same thing”. But, actually, when the pandemic came along it was really clear employees had so many different things going on in their lives and we had to tailor our propositions quite quickly.
So, during the pandemic, we offered many different offerings to colleagues, to the point where people became quite overwhelmed by the wellbeing agenda. Then we had to stop throwing things into the mix and pause and embed what we’d done, and use this as an opportunity to understand what our employees really needed.
You’re also a huge advocate of data to understand employee wellbeing. Tell me more about that…
Yes… I’ve used data more than ever before over the last two or three years.
For example, we introduced our own wellbeing index at Royal Mail. This consists of a series of five wellbeing questions which gives us more of an insight, especially by demographic, into what people want us to focus on and how they’re feeling about wellbeing. This creates such a rich amount of data and also enables our managers to truly understand the wellbeing of their team.
The other piece I’ve found hugely helpful is using our wellbeing supplier data; you get different monthly packs that come in from your suppliers with different wellbeing data. When you pull this all together into one story, it’s extremely powerful.
It also shows how much you are spending in that reactive space versus proactive. This can really help with any wellbeing business case, for example at NatWest this allowed us to show the split between spend in the reactive space, and in the proactive, that we needed to shift the dial.
How do you shift from being reactive to proactive?
This is a massive and complex challenge and one we’re going through at Royal Mail just now.
We’ve got a significant absence problem that comes with a significant spend, and we’ve done so much in that reactive space.
We are now focusing on proactive, early intervention support. This has meant going back to the drawing board and looking at what we want to be the core foundation of our wellbeing programme.
You’ve just relaunched your wellbeing programme two months ago, can you tell me more about that?
Yes. It’s called ‘Your Wellbeing’ and we’re repositioning wellbeing within the Group. It’s a move away from that parent-child relationship, which I think we’ve historically had at Royal Mail to a more adult-adult relationship. It’s less about ‘telling’ people what to do and working in partnership, outlining what we are giving, and what we expect in return. It’s a contract between us and the employee.
What are you offering as part of this new wellbeing programme?
One big step we’ve taken is we’ve given everybody access 24/7 to an online GP. And it’s not only available to employees, but also their partners and children, along with physiotherapy, unlimited mental health consultations and lifestyle coaching including nutrition and personal training support.
That’s landed particularly well.
We’ve also made our wellbeing proposition as easy as possible to access via our wellbeing hub so they can get the exact support they need at the right time. It takes people through a journey by asking them some questions, to guide them and avoid information overwhelm.
I don’t think you need to spend a lot of money but the key is good communication.
The challenge we have at Royal Mail is that not only have we been through a global pandemic, and we’re in a cost of living crisis now, but also we’ve had a period of uncertainty and industrial action. This has obviously caused a huge amount of angst in the workplace, so there’s a need to rebuild trust and, actually, wellbeing has got a really big part to play in that.
How can wellbeing help rebuild trust?
No matter what else is going on in the landscape of Royal Mail, and the employment sphere, wellbeing is independent. It’s confidential. It’s not caught up in the day to day issues. It’s purely there to support colleagues.
Also, we care. Wellbeing is a way to show colleagues that we care about them.
We’re writing more and more about how employers are recognising the need to, not only support their employees, but their families too. Why did you feel that was important to do?
Again, I think it’s an offshoot from the pandemic and what we learned during that time.
The root cause of so many wellbeing issues in the workplace are things that are happening in the family unit. That’s why the ‘social wellbeing’ piece is so important; what’s happening in your life can have a massive impact and spill over into work.
Historically we used to put these issues in a little box. But Covid meant we couldn’t push away wellbeing issues anymore. Suddenly things happening at home were very visible.
It showed employers need to be able to support family members and carers. This is a space I want to do more on because we know that so many people take time off sick, but actually it’s due to caring responsibilities.
What has the workforce reaction been like?
Often people feel that nobody understands what’s happening in their family, so to have an employer that is taking an interest and cares means a lot. It comes back to what I was saying at the beginning about personalisation.
Word of mouth makes a big difference in wellbeing too. We’ve had people talking about their experiences, like a parent waking at 2am with a sick child able to immediately access our online GP and have a prescription ready first thing in the morning. These personal, heartfelt stories have a knock-on effect.
Obviously during the industrial action, Royal Mail had challenges but we’ve seen a shift; from a wellbeing perspective there’s lots of these positive stories coming through now.
Fiona McAslan, Royal Mail’s Head of Health and Wellbeing, will be taking to the stage at the MAD World Summit on 12th October, alongside Saumya Barber from Unum, to talk more about putting wellbeing at the heart of the employee experience. She’ll be joined by an an impressive roster of speakers from Age UK, BAM UK&I, BBC, Belron, BITC, Britvic, Costain, Deloitte, Dentsu, EY, Goldman Sachs, Heath Foundation, Heathrow, HSBC, IBM, Ipsos, Mars, Metro Bank, Microsoft, Mind, National Grid, Novartis, Unipart, Royal Bank of Scotland, Starbucks and many more.
If you haven’t booked your tickets yet, don’t miss out. You can find full details and book here.