Employee wellbeing: Tips for co-ops at the Practitioners Forum

Sharon Pegg from Northern Powerhouse Consulting suggested policies on healthy lifestyles, mental health and promoting joint activities

How can co-ops support their employees’ wellbeing? During Co-operatives UK’s Practitioners Forum in Manchester, delegates heard from HR experts who looked at how businesses might help improve their employees’ wellbeing.

Sharon Pegg from Northern Powerhouse Consulting encouraged practitioners to examine policies around wellbeing and drive change by encouraging healthy lifestyles, removing the stigma around mental ill health and promoting joint activities for employees.

She explained that looking after colleagues also means looking after your own wellbeing. “We can’t support people unless we know whether we are OK first,” she said. “Like on a flight, we put the oxygen mask first before helping others put theirs.” 

Distractions at work can mean workers fail to spot problems – their own and those of their colleagues – she warned. And wellbeing can be affected by a number of issues, such as adequate sleep, a balanced diet, an adequate physical environment, secure finances, a sense of belonging, relationships, and a sense of purpose.

With one in four people affected by mental illness at some point in their lives, spotting signs can help provide employees with the support they need. These signs include being anxious and irritable, having a low mood for a long time, finding it difficult to concentrate or remember things, becoming isolated and withdrawn, undergoing moodswings and finding it difficult to manage everyday life.

The Co-op Group embarked on a colleague wellbeing journey in 2018, said health and wellbeing manager Paul Caudwell. The Group looked at the biggest risks to wellbeing and their potential impacts on the business.

It found that absence was the biggest problem for Co-op stores, followed by colleagues having insecure debt and little savings. A colleague survey revealed that absences were caused by mental health issues. As a result, the retailer’s wellbeing team started prioritising addressing mental health issues, promoting financial wellbeing and tackling absence among store staff.

A key element in the Group’s approach is working with charities such as the Samaritans, which provides emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, and Grocery Aid, which helps employees across the whole of the grocery industry. Through these charities, staff can get access to financial, legal or career advice, health and wellbeing support and a 24-our confidential helpline.

Mr Caudwell’s key tips for HR practitioners were to communicate with sincerity, treat colleagues like customers, use resources that are already available, consult colleagues to find out what they want, think about long-term and short-term goals and keep reviewing policies while staying agile.