This post, written by C3’s Ina Andersson, is based on a piece of work carried out by C3 creating case studies showcasing workplace health initiatives across a range of companies and organisations. We’ll be sharing these case studies through our blog.
The Health and Wellbeing Local Business Partnership (HWLBP) was a pilot workplace health project in which three large companies – Mars, Novo Nordisk and Unilever – extended their workplace-health programmes to employees of small- and medium-sized (SMEs) businesses in the locality. Each large company implemented a different aspect of its workplace-health programme in each SME. Mars continues to engage with local SMEs and this blog will focus mainly on its work.
Mars, Unilever and Novo Nordisk all recognised that the HWLBP fitted in well with their commitment to the Health at Work Network, which was set up under the Public Health England Responsibility Deal to encourage the private sector to create workplaces that enable employees to live healthier lives. Keeping employees as healthy and productive as possible is also in the employer’s business interest. The participating large companies also saw the HWLBP as a good opportunity to establish relationships locally with the community in which they are based, local politicians, the media and with smaller local businesses.
Workplace health is also often a particular challenge for SMEs, as they may lack the funds and resources required to implement successful workplace-health programmes. The HWLBP pilot was undertaken to address this. The aim of the pilot project was also to establish how this kind of large company/SME mentoring relationship on workplace health could best be structured and replicated in other locations with other organisations.
A project pilot in which three large companies with successful and established workplace health programmes extended these to the employees of SMEs in their local area. Mars continued its engagement, which has evolved into a series of breakfast seminars on various health topics for local SMEs to attend.
At 26 SMEs in the locality of the three large companies in south-east England. Mars continues to support a programme running in Slough with the Slough Business Community Partnership (SBCP). Mars is a principal partner of SBCP, an organisation that facilitates the creation of partnerships between the private, public and voluntary sectors for the benefit of the communities of Slough.
Mars, Unilever and Novo Nordisk and an average of nine SMEs in each location, each with between 9 and 75 employees. The SMEs included, for example, a printing company, a hairdresser, a residential care home, a restaurant, a police station and a taxi company. C3 Collaborating for Health coordinated and evaluated the initiative.
Mars is a major contributor to the ongoing workplace health breakfast seminars, led by the SBCP’s Slough Working Well initiative. Other partners include Collingswood Health, Talking Therapies, and Blake Morgan LLP.
The large companies launched the project in their locality in January 2011. The project ran in 2011 and 2012, and was evaluated by C3 Collaborating for Health, with an evaluation report presented in September 2012. Mars has continued its engagement with local SMEs since.
The large companies each implemented a different aspect of their workplace-health programmes in the different SME locations. For example, in one location a new, branded workplace-health website was developed. By using the website, the SME employees had access to advice, posters, recipes and various health-related activities that they could join. In another location, a health risk-assessment service was implemented by an external occupational-health provider and the large company also replicated its ‘wellness week’ for the SMEs. In the third location, similar information and health risk-assessment services were offered and the employees were also given the opportunity to join a walking challenge.
Mars has been partnering on a series of breakfast seminars with the Slough Working Well initiative. The seminars take place three times a year, are free to attend for local SMEs, and feature specialist speakers on a variety of health topics, such as physical conditions, psychological conditions, health bias in recruitment, workplace wellbeing and employment law around health. The seminars include lectures as well as more interactive sessions, case studies and question time. Productivity is a topic that runs through all of the sessions as it underpins the rationale for workplace health – it is about optimising the health and therefore the productivity of the workforce. If a good work environment is created, performance will be at the optimum point and therefore investing time and money in this makes sense. Workplace health is about retaining talent and increasing productivity for the mutual benefit of employees, business and the community.
As for budget, Slough Working Well Partners share the costs, providing the venue and breakfasts, speakers and printing of promotional materials. The SBCP manage marketing and attendance.
The pilot project was overall well received by both the three large companies and the SMEs. All parties were positive about networking events put on by the large companies, such as events with the local chambers of commerce and breakfast meetings to engage the SMEs. The launch of the project was also a successful event that was attended by members of the local chambers of commerce and national politicians, as well as by representatives from the SMEs. The event was covered in local media. The materials and services offered to SME employees through the project significantly increased their access to information about healthier lifestyle choices and local services, which enabled them to take part in health-promoting activities.
Mars reports that its continued engagement has received positive feedback. Evaluation forms are distributed at the end of each seminar and the feedback received is always reviewed in preparation for the upcoming one. Some feedback received has been that participants appreciate having tangible things to take away with them following the seminars, that the speakers are very knowledgeable and that it is good to hear what big companies in the local area are doing.
SME employees who attended the Mars breakfast seminars on workplace health said:
‘Very useful examples, great presenters, flowed very nicely.’
‘Expert knowledge of speakers, perfect timing.’
‘Good to hear more about what organisations do to manage illness (such as access to work or the fit note).’
There were three main challenges experienced on the pilot project: resourcing, engagement and evaluation.
- Resourcing proved a challenge as there was a lack of dedicated staff to ensure that enthusiasm levels and participation were consistent throughout the project. Managing the workplace-health programme was both time-consuming and demanding, and staff changes complicated the relationships between the large companies and the SME employees.
- Engagement levels with the project also varied. It was at times difficult to engage the SMEs with sometimes low take-up rates of the services on offer and a low response rate when feedback was requested.
- As for evaluation, collecting evidence on an ongoing basis of the impact of the project was a challenge. Attempts to survey SME staff at the end of the project were also largely unsuccessful.
Challenges experienced by Mars specifically have been the project being run by a very small team, but also that there are many competing local public-health problems, so workplace health is not seen as a priority. Mars has sought to overcome this challenge by emphasising the positive ripple effects good workplace health can have for the community and raising the profile of workplace health – the mayor of Slough recently supported the group at a seminar on long-term mental-health conditions in the workplace. A further challenge has been that some SMEs feel that they do not have the time or resources to focus on workplace wellbeing. To help address this, the seminars run over breakfast as this has been the most convenient time of the day for SMEs to attend and network on these issues.
The HWLBP pilot project established that there is much scope for such workplace-health initiatives to lead the way in good business practice. It is crucial, however, that such future projects take into account the main learnings from the pilot and ensure adequate resourcing, a strong engagement strategy and built-in robust evaluation procedures. It is also crucial that the business case for taking part in the programme is made and that good communications are fostered between the large companies and the SMEs from the start and maintained for the duration of the project.
Mars has continued engagement on workplace health with local SMEs. There is no specific time limit on the programme and since the cost is minimal and the programme successful, Mars is hoping it will continue.
For more workplace health case studies:
- health checks at Nestlé
- health champions at Serco
- addressing musculoskeletal disorders at Britvic
- ‘Britain’s Healthiest Workplace’ at Forster Communications
- Smoking cessation at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust
- ‘5 ways to a healthier YOU’ at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTT)
This work was carried out by C3 and supported by the Health Foundation.