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Meetings on the beach? How companies are striving for better wellbeing at work

PUBLISHED: 17:30 15 May 2018 | UPDATED: 17:52 15 May 2018

The beach at Southwold - surely the perfect setting for a meeting away from the office? Picture: Nick Butcher.

The beach at Southwold - surely the perfect setting for a meeting away from the office? Picture: Nick Butcher.

Archant © 2018

From Nordic walking sessions to staff meetings on the beach – there are few health-focused activities East Anglian businesses haven’t tried to improve the wellbeing of their employees.

The benefits of a happy, healthy staff to business productivity and profitability are well documented, but finding the right way to achieve this can prove problematic.

But an event in Norwich, held during mental health awareness week, enabled business leaders to get advice from some of the region’s biggest companies on effective wellbeing practices.

Among those recounting their experiences at the Wellbeing at Work conference was Sadie Lofthouse, director of culture and performance at Adnams in Southwold, who led the implementation of a health and wellbeing plan for the company’s 580 employees across its brewery, pubs and shops.

She said no business, “regardless of size, shape or nature”, is in the “ideal place” to implement a wellbeing strategy.

“We decided really early on that our wellbeing model had to fit with our wider model, around stakeholders, culture and brand, and it absolutely had to deliver our business goals,” she said.

“I think there is a social responsibility to do it and it makes commercial sense.”

The resulting strategy does not comprise pages of written policy, but an “omnipresent” culture of wellbeing which is embedded in recruitment, staff appraisals and day-to-day functions – for example “walking meetings” by the coast.

Katherine Billingham Mohamed, from the people function at Aviva, led the launch of the Wellbeing@Aviva programme in 2017 and has given a TEDx talk about the experience.

Designing a strategy for 17,000 UK-based employees, including 5,000 in Norwich, was no mean feat – so she enlisted help from the staff, gathering feedback on what they wanted it to include.

“I don’t think this top-down corporate approach works. Designing something you think people will benefit from, you probably set up for failure,” she said. “When you listen [to people] you get a truth, that means you don’t need to assume what people want.”

One major project under the new plan is Aviva’s 300 “health heroes”, who help to devise and implement wellbeing schemes in their own offices.

In the year since Wellbeing@Aviva was launched, the company has seen a rise in mental health related staff absences against a fall in overall absences – but Ms Billingham Mohamed says this is a point of pride as it demonstrates a “removal of stigma” around mental ill health.

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