If there’s one thing that is firmly embedded in my mind from my health, safety and wellbeing career so far is a comment from a close ex colleague who quite openly said in a meeting ‘’we should be the health and safety department but in reality we are the ….and safety department’’.
The comment resonated with me all those years ago, yes it was nearly 20 years ago! When you think about it, it’s still to a degree correct today, even though we are making small steps in isolated areas. Over the last couple of decades, there has been a significant continued focus on safety, but often health has been left sitting on the sidelines.
But as it has with so many things, the global pandemic has potentially created a beacon of opportunity, aside to the devastating impact it has had and continues to do so across the world, its shifting mindsets in how we understand and focus on health. Not only is health now seen as a ‘’nice to have’’ together with wellbeing, they have become business critical elements, defining how we engage and support our colleagues in the workplace.
I really believe that this focus on health and wellbeing in the workplace will be beneficial to everyone, investors, employers but perhaps most important employees and wider society. Just as companies have been introducing their digital transformations, it’s fantastic to see tangible discussion on health and wellbeing becoming commonplace in boardrooms across the world.
So, what are the ways that companies can improve the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees, and how exactly is Ferrovial doing it?
Don’t keep secrets
I recently read a story about the car manufacturer Volvo and how they invented the V-type three point safety belt (the one we all know and use) in 1959. It’s an idea that’s probably been one of the most widely adopted in the car industry. And there’s a reason for this. Volvo decided it would be more beneficial to share the patents with its competitors, rather than use the design to generate more profits. It meant that any manufacturer could implement the feature, and they wouldn’t have to pay a penny.
I bring up this story because I feel that health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace should follow the same rules. Strategies to protect the health and wellbeing of people should never be seen as a competitive advantage for companies. They should be actions that we share and discuss, so we know what works and what doesn’t.
Because I’m a firm believer of this idea, I want to share with you how Ferrovial has been improving employee health and wellbeing since the pandemic began. There’s no one fits all solution, but hopefully some of these ideas can be implemented in your organisation too.
Here’s how we improved health safety and wellbeing during the pandemic
As many headed home with their laptops we knew that technology would be playing an important role not just in the work environment, but in how we would be communicating and engaging with our colleagues in an array of jobs across the world. We had colleagues now confined to their homes, we had to build connections and opportunities to ensure everyone was cared for despite being at home.
Our first job was to create an enhanced clear and factual communications strategy. We used a simple and concise communication methods to explain how to use new apps that were being introduced to improve engagement. It may seem like an obvious first step, but for us, if we could save someone 30 minutes of stress, removing friction form their day, trying to figure out how to use an app while also navigating a pandemic at home, an unfamiliar workplace to many, especially with perhaps children around, it would be a good start.
From here we took a step back and looked at Ferrovial’s global workforce. Each country was dealing with COVID-19 in different ways, and not all countries were affected in the same way. We needed to make sure our communication was adapted to local teams to make sure advice was timely, relevant and easily applied.
Because so many different experiences were being lived simultaneously across the world, we set up micro and macro committees where we shared knowledge and ideas. Things that worked at a local level in one country might be able to work somewhere else too. Sharing ideas and knowledge in an agile way was and still is a key part of our strategy.
Then there was the need to embrace the tech available to us to better communicate our advice and the resources that were available. We created an app called HASAVI, for physical and mental self-care. We also used the apps within the Office 365 suite to create internal networks where we could share content on things like stress management, resilience and other webinars. Some of our employees also created online sports groups through social media; groups that they still use today.
Ferrovial has also had employees working on the front line when little was known about the virus. So, we wanted to make sure that everyone had a voice and felt confident to engage across the management structure. We also wanted to ensure that everyone knew that they weren’t alone, and that they would be fully supported. All Ferrovial employees on all levels would be in this together.
Adapting to the new normal
Because everything is continually changing, our health, safety and wellbeing actions had to be fluid too. One thing that has remained consistent though, being efficient in communication and clearly engaged on colleague needs. By doing this, we created a trusted environment where we all felt empowered to make the right decisions at the right time.
With workplace injury and illness resulting in an estimated 2.78 million deaths a year according to ILO and according to the World Health Organization, 450 million people currently suffering from a mental illness, it’s time to put the health into health and safety an seize the opportunity in front of us. If this is not enough to convince us, then may be this statistic will drive business to be better and look after employee health, safety and wellbeing. In UK its costing the economy 15 billion pounds a year, not looking after colleagues, certainly costly for any company neglecting it. I really feel that a company that looks after its employees will not just have a healthy engaged and inspired workforce but will also be able to attract the best talent and investors in the future.
I know that as workplace habits change at such a rapid rate, we’re being faced with a moving target; maintaining the highest standards and being aware of everyone’s needs. However, I hope that sharing these experiences and ideas will inspire you to implement some of them in your own organisation, no matter how big or small. And don’t forget to share your successes and ideas with others, as we are all learning everyday!