Health at Work – How to win over hearts and minds for a wellbeing programme – Financial Times
Great mention in today’s FT for Allen Carr’s Easyway stating a 65% stop smoking success rate for United Utilities.
“Implementing a wellbeing programme at work is a daunting prospect. You might be trying to change entrenched unhealthy work cultures with staff in multiple location and with many different needs. Budgets can be tight and you might meet considerable resistance at first. The payoffs, however, can be vast.
Case Study 1 – The manager. Overcoming scepticism among a 5,000-plus workforce for a stop smoking service was the catalyst for some striking results from a water company’s wellbeing programme
At United Utilities, a water company in north-west England that serves 3m homes and 200,000 businesses, safety lias always been paramount. But four years ago, the company decided to raise its game and try to improve the wellbeing of its 5,300-strong workforce. Rebecca Eaton was hired as lead health and wellbeing business partner to manage the improvement.
The company’s board had backed the move, but there was some scepticism at first among the predominantly male workforce. Some thought of wellbeing as “pink and fluffy”, Eaton admits.
Today, “health and safety” at the company — which provides water as well as managing building projects and maintaining sewers and reservoirs — has become “health, wellbeing and safety”.
It helps that Eaton can point to two striking statistics. In 2015, when United Utilities started participating in Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, the national study and ranking conducted by Rand Europe on behalf of Vitality, 14 per cent of its workers smoked; now it is 5.8 per cent. As for physical activity, the percentage not taking the recommended minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week has dropped from 39 per cent to 27 per cent.
Smoking required the most drastic intervention. United Utilities offered employees a place on courses run by Allen Carr’s Easyway, a company founded by the eponymous author of many books on quitting smoking. They paid £50 towards it, and “if they did not smoke for six months they got the £50 back”, Eaton says.
She adds that the scheme achieved a 65 per-cent success rate — far higher than the UK-wide average for the National Health Service’s stop smoking services, which reported in a 2017 study that of those who had used the services 49 per cent said they had successfully quit at a four-week follow-up.
With such good results, it might be tempting to think they were easy to achieve, but Eaton says she quickly realised the scale of her challenge. As well as a large head office operation, United Utilities has dozens of small sites across the region. These include depots where maintenance workers are based, water treatment works, and individuals working from home. Eaton, therefore, enlisted the help of more than 200 members of staff as champions. However, she insists the culture is set from the top. “Getting the senior buy-in is really important,” she says.
There is an emphasis on exercise. The head office in Warrington, between Liverpool and Manchester, has a subsidised gym, and the company has struck deals on gym membership for staff who work elsewhere. Staff can ask for standing desks and are encouraged to take lunch breaks. Managers are told to model good behaviour. “If you take your lunch at your desk, your staff will do the same,” says Eaton. The default option for one-to-one meetings is now for them to form part of a walk outside.
One particularly effective intervention has been to set up United Utilities sponsorship for employees who participate in events that benefit the company’s chosen charity, Macmillan Cancer Support. In the canteen, meanwhile, chips are now available only on Fridays.
Eaton believes the company’s interventions will pay off in the long run. “The way I have sold it is that obviously we have huge assets. We’d never install a big waste waterworks and not maintain it or look after it. Why wouldn’t we do the same with our people when they are our biggest asset?” by Andy Bounds”
From the desk of John Dicey, Global CEO & Senior Therapist, Allen Carr’s Easyway