Feature

Wellbeing grown organically


Head of Keeping People Happy at Ella's Kitchen reveals why she is thinking differently about wellbeing…

Words by Sophie Parrott | Design by Matt Bonnar

Words by Sophie Parrott


Design by Matt Bonnar

The workplace wellness trend has soared over the years. What was once viewed as a luxury is now viewed as an integral part of most HR policy – supported by the idea that happier and healthier workforces possess better employee engagement, better performance and, ultimately, better business output. According to research from the CBI, in partnership with Bupa and HCA Healthcare, workplace wellbeing is now on the radar of 63% of employers. Furthermore, the 2018 Health and Wellbeing at Work survey, completed by Simplyhealth and commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), revealed that employers offering health and wellbeing related activities have noticed better employee morale and engagement (44%), healthier and more inclusive company cultures (35%) and lower sickness absence (31%). One firm who have recognised the personal wellbeing needs of individual employees, and have rolled out a variety of health and wellbeing programmes to support them, is the organic baby food brand Ella’s Kitchen.

With the company’s converted office barn tacked onto the rolling chalk cliffs of The Chilterns, bordering Oxfordshire’s luscious countryside – an area which boasts outstanding natural beauty – many people would question how their employees could feel anything but zen. However, Ella’s Kitchen’s Head of Keeping People Happy – a playful title intended to reflect the child-orientated nature of the brand - Catherine Allen, tells HR Grapevine that despite their tranquil countryside location an annual staff survey flagged stress as an issue. So, instead of rolling out a company-wide wellbeing solution, Ella's Kitchen decided to offer a wellbeing programme that catered to individual employee needs.

Catherine – who was coming to the end of an MSc in Psychology at the time of the survey – was quick to acknowledge that employee wellbeing means different things to different people. So, along with her team Catherine developed the Wellbeing Calendar; a customisable schedule designed to help each employee have fun and feel good about themselves at work. “The Wellbeing Calendar came from the philosophy that happy, healthy people do the best work. I think we all know that when you are feeling happy, well and fulfilled, you will work more efficiently,” she says. The calendar promotes a full programme of activities designed to keep the mind, body and soul happy and healthy at work. Employees are encouraged to build their own calendars that reflect their personal wellbeing goals with offerings such as ‘Digital Detox’ training, financial management help, healthy, nutritious daily breakfasts, pamper sessions, on-site health screenings and fitness bootcamps designed to help them along the way. With such a broad and adventurous wellbeing offering, it is unsurprising that 68% of Ella’s Kitchen employees have set personal wellbeing goals alongside their personal KPIs to better themselves going forward.

Ella’s Kitchen has also expressed a commitment to offering a range of regular activities that benefit employees’ individual needs, after realising that wellbeing stretches further than just physical and mental wellbeing. With that in mind, Ella’s Kitchen encourages employees to commit to four annual events, each of which have a specific focus on a vital area of wellbeing. Whether employees want to attend mental health or sleep workshops, undertake physical checks, or attend financial wellness classes, they have free reign to personalise their Wellbeing Calendar to suit their individual needs. A good example, Catherine explains, is that a large portion of their workforce have young children so sleep deprivation was cited as a common issue. “A few colleagues told me themselves that they were having problems sleeping. There were different things that came together to make us think that [exploring] this would be a good idea,” she says. Identifying sleep as a key problem sparked the introduction of their Sleep Workshop which now helps 53% of their workforce.

But, employees alone aren’t the only people to have benefitted from the Wellbeing Calendar. Catherine has noted huge personal benefits from engaging with the Wellbeing Calendar too. The HR lead suffers from fibromyalgia – a long-term condition that causes constant pain all over her body. “It’s something that I have had to manage for a long time, and I think setting a wellbeing goal for myself has really encouraged me to focus on my health while I’m at work, as well as when I’m at home,” she explains. And there are various ways that she uses the calendar to keep herself fit and healthy. “We’re in the middle of beautiful countryside so I go for long walks to keep me mobile. I’ve really enjoyed the meditation sessions that we run here which have been very relaxing and I’ve also committed to doing lunchtime Pilates,” she adds.

While there is an obvious wellbeing benefit for Ella’s Kitchen employees, Catherine notes that the programme has huge commercial benefits too. This is largely because having a happy, healthy workforce is key for business success. This is backed by the stats. A 2018 study from the University of Warwick found that workplace happiness results in a 12% spike in employee productivity. The research concluded that happy employees are more likely to exceed company expectations, reach internal and external goals and have increased performance rates. For this reason, the Wellbeing Calendar was an initiative that both Catherine and the Board were keen to launch from the get-go. “Our senior team very much personify the company’s values. They live and breathe Ella’s Kitchen’s values so the whole idea around people being central to our success and promoting our values was already there. [The Board] were looking for how we could bring this to life, but they completely supported [the Wellbeing Calendar] from the very beginning,” she adds.

With the programme covering so much ground, Catherine was quick to acknowledge that she couldn’t have achieved all of this on her own. She explains that Ella’s Kitchen teamed up with the experts to fill in the gaps, particularly when it came to creating their mental health at work sessions. “When you run a programme like this, you need to recognise that you cannot be an expert in all aspects of wellbeing, so we felt it was important to partner with the experts and we chose [the mental health charity] Mind to do that with us.” She adds: “What was great about our partnership with Mind is that it starts training people to become mental health first aiders; we didn’t want to do a once only session and just leave it there, we wanted to make sure that we were training people to be able to help a little bit more in the workplace.”

Finally, Catherine assures me that the Wellbeing Calendar wasn’t launched in response to the wider wellbeing trend, it was introduced to boost business and improve employee engagement. “[The Wellbeing Calendar] was genuinely about responding to feedback that we had received. However, I think what is great is that in wider world, wellness has become such a topical debate and I guess that has been built into our values. Everyone is now thinking about it and I think that helps people with being open and honest and seek support,” she explains. And for this reason, Catherine is adamant that the buck doesn’t stop here. “I think with regards to wellbeing, it’s an area that you can’t rest on your laurels. People change, their lifestyle changes, people have children and they get ill. People will have different needs and demands as the years go on so I still feel that this will be a big area of focus [going forwards].” She says that Ella’s Kitchen will continue to listen to their employees to determine what they want and need at work. But Catherine explains that the expectation works both ways; the employees expect employers to protect their wellbeing and the employers expect results. “Employees expect more personal growth so if you want to attract the right people and keep the right people then wellbeing should be an area of focus for all employers,” she concludes.


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