SUEZ: “Peer-to-peer support & openness has much more of an impact than a million corporate messages”

Tracey Leghorn-3 (1)

These are the words of Dr Tracey Leghorn, Chief Business Services Officer, at waste management company SUEZ, whose remit extends from HR to health, safety and wellbeing, IT, business transformation, project management and facilities..

She joined the company in 2018 and has transformed its approach to wellbeing, growing it from the ground up.

For instance, approximately 30% of SUEZ’s 6,000 strong workforce is now trained in first aid for mental health, many of its 1,500 drivers.

Leghorn is speaking about putting wellbeing at the heart of the employee experience at our sister event next year, The Watercooler, on April 23 & 24, in London.

We caught up with her to chat all things workplace wellbeing…

What do you feel most passionate about regarding workplace wellbeing? 

Holistic wellbeing. By that I mean, rather than individual elements, it’s thinking about the whole person, inside and outside work. 

Tell me about your wellness charter…

We created our wellness charter in the autumn of 2019. It was created by our people for our people. Around 75 employees were involved in writing it and giving their views. After getting initial views, including from our Works Council, we took 50 people, from all parts of the business and all levels including the frontline, to a spa hotel where they could be relaxed and be at their best and we did an all-day session to create it together.

It includes our eight domains of wellbeing: social, mental wellbeing, physical health, job related, work environment, and inclusion & diversity.

The commitments start with the fact that your wellbeing is your responsibility. But importantly, our Charter is founded on the recognition that wellbeing extends beyond the workplace. 

Can you give me an example of an initiative outside the workplace?

We are mindful of the additional pressure on parents and carers. For example, during Covid we provided expert guidance for parents on supporting their children through the situation. We run webinars on returning back to school and on helping their children transition into those next chapters in their lives – and their parents! 

We have a thriving veteran’s network of more than 200 and provide specific training and support for them but also their families.

The majority of our weekly webinars have been suggested by our people. Where there’s a keen interest from the webinar, we go beyond that. For instance, we might arrange a group therapy session with the expert for 12 people, or even one-to-ones if we feel they could be helpful. It’s not always about reaching large numbers but about helping people with areas of wellbeing or life-challenges that are important to them.  

And what about the ‘job-related’ – what does that cover?

This is about enriching roles where they can be, bringing in variety, developing people and having agility across roles, providing secondments across the business, which is something we really encourage. It’s about growing people within their roles but also beyond them ready for their next career move within SUEZ, including global roles.

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It is also about things that you wouldn’t necessarily see sitting here, such as providing our people with time outside of what would normally be considered the ‘day job’ to contribute to our sustainable development, biodiversity and social value agendas. For us, that is part of everyone’s day job!

Inclusion and diversity is a key topic for you too, and one of the wellness charter domains. What are you doing in this area?

We’ve put a lot of focus on inclusion and diversity over recent years and continue to draw on the views of our people to grow our inclusive culture.

We now have several networks – such as a women’s, multicultural, LGBTQIA+, disability, parents and veterans networks – and they’re all building momentum. They are coordinated by our wellbeing and inclusion manager. In the last year, we have recruited two other wellbeing inclusion officers; one for the north, one for the south. 

We also have 20 wellbeing and inclusion ambassadors across the business. It’s important that wellbeing and inclusion is developed from the bottom up and to do this you need ambassadors on the ground. Our ambassadors have at least a half day a week dedicated to focusing on wellbeing and inclusion in their areas. The key is creating a psychologically safe space for everyone to speak openly about their wellbeing and lived-experiences.

Over the last couple of years we’ve seen our people being prepared to create video vlogs sharing their own journeys around their multicultural background, mental health, and more recently, as part of men’s health month, around very sensitive and personal issues such as a prostate cancer diagnosis.

The courage of our people to share their stories humbles me and makes me extremely proud of where we have got to on our wellbeing and inclusion agenda. Peer-to-peer support and openness in wanting to raise awareness for their colleagues has much more of an impact than a million corporate messages could have.   

What results of these inclusion initiatives have you seen?

We know that the efforts that we’ve made around wellbeing and inclusion have improved our employee experience and engagement as well as significantly reduced our sickness absence levels.

We’ve seen an increase in the reporting of mental health (a clear sign that our people can be honest about their absence reasons) in the context of a reduction in sickness absence overall and a reduction in the average time our people, who are off with poor mental health, from six weeks to four weeks. Regarding the latter, this is in part because when people more accurately report their absence reason, we can target the appropriate support in a more timely way.

What about social wellbeing, which we’ve written about a lot recently and is becoming increasingly centre stage?

Social wellbeing is extremely important. I am a doctor of social science so it is a subject that is close to my heart. It’s importance to people’s wellbeing and is one of the reasons that, here at SUEZ, we aren’t supporters of full-time home working. We want our people to interact together in-person and we put a lot of effort into providing lots of opportunities for our people to network in person. Human beings need social interactions – whether they realise it or not.  

For instance, we have an internal in-person conference schedule throughout the year including our annual management conferences which are held across the business with 700 – 800 attendees. Other conferences including our Wellbeing and Inclusion Conference with a high level of frontline employee attendees, our Apprenticeship Conference, Veterans Conference, Continuous Improvement Conference and Women’s Conference.

We are also proud of our commitment to social value and fundraising – we partner Macmillan – and we’ll raise over £100,000 this year. Volunteering, too, is important which is why we give every employees a day a year to volunteer. With regards to social value we generated £2.2bn in social value last year as measured and verified externally by Loop. We are working to increase this to £3bn annually.

You’re known for pushing the boundaries. How challenging has it been to get Board buy-in?

I’ve worked in a lot of male dominated workplaces but it wasn’t easy joining an all-male Board in a very male dominated organisation five years ago. There was me, a brand-new female who didn’t know anything about the waste industry! But for me that is what excited me. I love throwing myself into new business and industries, the learning energises me. I love putting my stamp on things and there was work to do in the wellbeing and inclusion space.

So there was a little bit of a nervousness on their part but ‘slow and steady wins the game’ and we’ve really grown into this space together in a way that is right for SUEZ. As I recommended, start small with one or two initiatives and grow from there. Do those one or two things well, build the evidence to support the effort and resource that is being dedicated to it.

When we started getting amazing feedback on our initial initiatives and our engagement scores reflected that, the door was wide open to do more. I’m very fortunate that I’m in a company, and have a great boss, who trusts me and my expertise and gives me absolute freedom to do what I do best and what I know will add value for our people and our business. Who can’t succeed when you have that and the backing of my Board colleagues? The results speak for themselves. 

What do you think is the most innovative thing you’ve done?

I don’t think you need to have ‘big bang’ innovative initiatives. People search for these elusive, different ways of doing things but it’s actually some of the more obvious, small things you need to do. Ultimately, it all comes down to being kind to each other.

One thing I would say is it’s really important to do wellbeing from the ground up. Empty corporate messaging without the substance behind it achieves nothing but distrust and scepticism. Your people know the reality. Have them help create the reality they want their workplace to be. As Evans ’96 states: ‘It’s human nature to resist unless you’ve been part of creating it!’ 

It’s the role of senior leadership to facilitate this. To create psychologically safe spaces for authentic conversations, to provide the channel through which their people can contribute and to help turn their ideas and suggestions into reality that contribute to our wellbeing vision of ‘Wellnes for All’.

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