This post, written by C3’s Ina Andersson, is based on a piece of work carried out by C3 for The Health Foundation in 2016, creating case studies showcasing workplace health initiatives across a range of companies and organisations. We’ll be sharing these case studies over the next few months through our blog.
In 2013 Serco Health implemented a staff health and wellbeing initiative, the ‘Health & Wellbeing Champions Programme’. It focused on the three major risk factors for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – poor diet (including the harmful use of alcohol), physical inactivity and tobacco use – and was organised in partnership with the Community Health and Learning Foundation (CHLF) and C3 Collaborating for Health (C3).
Serco Health recognised that preventing ill health in employees could deliver significant benefits for the business as well as for Serco Health employees, through better health and improved engagement. Developing a strategic approach to improve the health of employees was also in line with Serco’s operational priority to make Serco Health a ‘great place to work’.
Serco Health implemented the Health & Wellbeing Champions Programme, which was set up to support staff to improve their own health, as well as influence their co-workers, family members and friends to lead healthier lifestyles. The programme focused on the three major risk factors for non-communicable diseases – poor diet (including the harmful use of alcohol), physical inactivity and tobacco use.
Across six key Serco Health sites (hospitals) in the UK.
All staff across the involved Serco Health sites, with varying levels of uptake and engagement among staff members. The programme was delivered in partnership with the Community Health and Learning Foundation (CHLF) and C3.
From Spring 2013 to September 2014.
Serco Health recruited Health Champions to drive the programme forward. The Health Champions were members of staff who received training and resources to build their confidence, knowledge and skills to take the lead on actions and activities that support healthy lifestyle choices in the workplace.
As part of the programme, each different Serco Health site focused on a different health challenge. The role of each Health Champion varied to fit in with the specific challenge of his or her site, but the role had some common responsibilities. These included, for example, supporting the delivery of health-promoting activities, communicating activities to staff and motivating them to take part, directing people to local health services and tracking progress on the programme. The Champions participated on a voluntary basis, and they received training from health experts and had support from senior management. Examples of activities and initiatives delivered by the Health Champions include sports clubs, health-awareness presentations, fundraising walks and runs, free fruit in the staff canteen and weight-loss challenges.
The programme had a clear direct positive impact on the participating Health Champions and on the employees, as well as indirect benefits for others such as family members of Serco Health employees. Benefits included improvements to the Champion’s own health behaviours and an important shift in how employees were engaged with to a more positive and person-centred approach. Both Champions and staff also found the way they thought about health and wellbeing was challenged and altered in a positive way, and Champions reported that the programme had made them feel confident that they could influence change in the workplace.
One specific example of the impact of the programme is the activities developed by the Health Champions at the Serco Health site in Margate. The Champions made a range of physical-activity options available to staff, including a football tournament between the management, domestic and front-line staff. The tournament attracted a diverse range of staff and proved an excellent way to build team morale across the site. The Champions at Margate also made use of existing fundraising events, such as ‘Race For Life’ in July 2014. Employees reported benefits such as strengthened relationships with colleagues, new friends and the opportunity to be more physically active.
I’ve developed a passion for being healthy and I engage more with my colleagues in a very positive way.
– Health Champion
There were a number of challenges that Serco Health and its delivery partners came across while implementing and running the scheme. They included, for example:
- conflicting and competing priorities for the Health Champions, juggling the role with their day-to-day jobs;
- inconsistent levels of engagement with the Health Champions training;
- inconsistent levels of engagement from staff and managers;
- staff challenges, such as continuity problems due to staff turnover and engagement with shift/night workers; and
- challenges of communicating the programme to all staff, especially to shift workers.
Evaluation also proved challenging. Two surveys were sent out to staff, one before the programme started and one after the programme had finished, but the response rate was low. There were only 553 responses in total, despite there being 600 staff at each of the Serco Health locations. Further, only 6 per cent (37 people) completed both surveys. This made measuring impact difficult – and learnings from this include allowing sufficient time and dedicated resources for engaging more people and demonstrating changes in health behaviour.
C3 and CHLF made a number of recommendations at the end of the programme. It was emphasised that the enthusiasm and commitment from the Health Champions should be built upon. In particular, it was suggested that the Health Champions Programme was linked to Serco Health’s overall business plan. Champions must also be supported by senior management and they should also be given sufficient training. Mechanisms should also be developed to maximise the use of resources and enable experience-sharing across the Serco Health sites.
Other recommendations include a communication and engagement strategy to reach all staff, linking campaigns with other Serco Health activities in partnership with Public Health England as well as developing rigorous tools for monitoring and evaluation purposes – these should be qualitative as well as quantitative and enable continuous review and development of the programme.
The Health Champions programme continues at Serco. There is a now a system in place in which new champions have a more experienced ‘buddy’. The monthly calls have dealt with issues including cancer and blood pressure. Step-count challenges have been successfully combined with charitable fundraising, and there have been special restaurant events and cardiac checks. Some sites have a health and wellbeing newsletter, and team briefings and technology have been used. Serco Health is beginning to see the benefits of the programme, and is also beginning to use an absence management system.
Read more: a workplace health infographic for your office.