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COVID-19 splintered our nation’s workplaces this year. Physical divides between colleagues not only challenged business continuity, it also created complex cultural issues for leadership teams in ensuring employees stayed physically healthy and mentally resilient.

Despite the growing number of organisations implementing programmes on mental health, new mental health problems have developed as a result of the pandemic, and existing mental health problems have become worse.1 Mental Health at Work report that within the UK, only 51% of people feel comfortable talking generally in the workplace about mental health issues.2 The shift to increased home and virtual working has amplified an ‘always on’ culture and has further highlighted the need to prevent adverse stress and presenteeism, which often leads to burnout.

Philips’ response was to evolve their existing health and wellbeing programmes to look beyond employees in the physical workspace. The company focused on a whole person approach, offering both prevention and support programmes, connecting to the needs of the individual. “Key to this change was the bravery to challenge everyday unconscious bias and stigmas to unlock the diversity and inclusivity that Philips UKI believes is needed to support workforces today and to set a new blueprint for future workplace cultures” says Karla Wellington, Health and Wellbeing Manager.

Authentic and inclusive leadership

Commitment and advocacy from senior leaders are crucial for sustainable and meaningful change. When Philips UKI CEO Neil Mesher signed the ‘Time to Change’ Mental Health Employer Pledge in October 2020, a comprehensive multi-year plan was launched, along with the appointment of two Mental Health Ambassadors from the executive leadership team – Stephen McMillan and Jodie Bridge.

“Leaders have an important role in making mental health and resilience as important as our commercial strategy. This includes helping to normalise the conversation and investing time in asking – and actively listening – to how colleagues are doing. People need to know it’s okay to not be okay. For many employees, this a new type of workplace conversation. Creating an environment where people can be this honest means being vulnerable and open in return. It is a step-change in our culture that might initially feel uncomfortable for some but as a result, our employee engagement and trust levels have never been stronger,” says Stephen McMillan.

Jodie Bridge adds, “For me, this programme is about challenging stigma, which is the major barrier that prevents individuals from asking for support. Managers often receive standardised training for helping employees with physical health. We need the same for mental health and resilience. With at-home working, staying at a desk for an entire day should not be expected. Taking a break to walk, or walking whilst in some meetings, during the day helps me stay motivated and productive. By sharing this openly, I hope my team feel empowered to adopt activities that help them stay energized during the work day and decompress at the end of the day, so that they feel supported in looking after their mental and physical wellbeing.” 

Igniting long-term positive behaviour change

Philips is using employee-led programs to drive engagement and provide ownership over wellbeing within the organisation. More voices represented are creating a ripple effect across teams at Philips where they are starting to see attitudes and behaviour change follow. “As a result of listening to our employees, we haven’t shied away from recently addressing the tough topic of male suicide,” says Karla Wellington. “The same active listening is also taking place on the topic of menopause where we developed a menopause network, led by passionate employees, to facilitate support and challenge the stigma.”

Philips openly acknowledges that cultural change is an ongoing journey for them. However, the company will continue to use data, feedback and best practice to architect wellbeing strategy and create meaningful programmes. They remain focused on leading with compassion, connecting more employees through wellbeing and providing education to support mental health, mental fitness and resilience.

Karla concludes, ‘’Change will continue to be made by putting our employees at the heart of the conversation. The future of work will be built on shared values. We need to create a culture that embraces different ideas, appreciates individual purpose and encourages people to be the whole version of themselves”

A significant 86% of employee respondents from our 2020 Pulse survey ‘Felt Supported’ during COVID-19, yet also experienced increased uncertainty, stress and anxiety. We dedicated our annual Learning Summit, to developing the workforce of the future to empower employees with strategic recovery tools such as breathwork sessions, art therapy and energy management workshops. These sessions contributed to our best engagement levels to date.

Read more at philips.co.uk

1Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/5929/the-mental-health-emergency_a4_final.pdf – Accessed 29 Nov 2020
2Mental Health at Work: https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/commitment/ – Accessed 4 Sept 2020

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