Ocado’s wellbeing delivery
Exclusive interview with Ocado Group’s new Global Head of Health and Wellbeing as she reveals the HR thinking behind rolling out a new wellbeing strategy…
Employee wellbeing has been a front-and-centre topic in the world of business over the last 18 months or so. Luckily, the people function was already pretty savvy to its importance, usually understanding good employee wellbeing – whether that be genuine happiness or lack of worry, mental health concerns or general financial security – breeds better productivity, increased engagement, and improved business outcomes. Statistics back this up.
In fact, Gallup data has found that highly engaged teams (underpinned by good wellbeing) show 21% greater profitability whilst a study from Oxford University Saïd Business School, carried out in collaboration with BT, found that workers are 13% more productive when happy. Additionally, Aon research found that overwhelmingly employers have correlated wellbeing with performance. It seems, therefore, that focussing on this area should be obvious – and for many firms it is at the apex of the agenda.
This has especially been the case during the pandemic period. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, employers were forced to deal with furlough, lack of social interaction and enforced homeworking which all contributed to a myriad of physical and mental health challenges. For example, a recent report from RSA’s Matthew Taylor and Vitality found that multiple lockdowns had worsened employee physical health and mental health whilst burnout rates doubled during the early days of the pandemic, as remote workers struggled to switch off and distinguish between work time and life time.
The challenges faced by homeworkers was just one half of this difficult landscape, though. In fact, many employers, situated in sectors that delivered food, medicines and necessary goods, had a large portion of staff continuing to go into a central place of work, or out and about, which came with its own set of challenges. What it's all led to is employees, universally, looking for greater wellbeing support from their employers – something which could help firms attract, engage and retain talent if executed correctly. With this in mind, it is crucial that employers have a 2021-appropriate wellbeing strategy in place to focus on various aspects of workforce wellbeing, whilst also considering the short and long-term approaches to help staff thrive at work.
Inside Ocado’s wellbeing basket
One employer, with both front-facing and remote staff, that appears to be prioritising wellbeing, and is in the process of crafting a new wellbeing strategy to support this agenda, is Ocado Group. The people function at the technology-led global software and robotics platform – the parent brand of Ocado Retail and Ocado Technology among others, and which has its headquarters in Hatfield, England – went through a period of transformation over the last 18 to 24 months. This saw the creation and recruitment of several senior hires including Arti Kashyap-Aynsley, who is the new Global Head of Health and Wellbeing at Ocado Group.
The importance of wellbeing
Sitting down for an exclusive interview with myGrapevine magazine, Arti explains that wellbeing at Ocado all starts with the regard in which it is held – which all started with her boss introducing Arti’s current role so it could have acute focus. “We had a new Chief People Officer come through and when she came in, she then built her team,” she explains. “And my boss, when she came in – which would have been just before the pandemic hit – she hired or put out a call to action for roles like mine as the Global Head of Health and Wellbeing, [as well as] someone that looks after inclusion, talent and development, so she covered off these areas.”
“Now [with these new hires] there’s this opportunity to put a bit more structure behind it and actually develop out what a strategy looks like, what the focus is about [and to] make sure that it is weaved into everything that we do.”
Designing a wellbeing strategy
With Arti only coming into her role in April 2021, she explains that the new strategy isn’t complete yet – and is something that she is starting to work on – but she has some distinct ethos guiding it. For her, she says there are several different elements that will likely inform the strategy. “One of the big things is really on linking pieces together across the business, ensuring that areas including health and safety, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and diversity and inclusion (D&I), all of those areas, are [connected] together along with this linkage to the wider business strategy which is also something the business is working on.” Arti’s thinking – regarding the importance of linking the wellbeing strategy to the wider business – dovetails with the contemporary understanding of why many of these areas are, and should be, linked. For example, the Sydney-based consultancy Include-Power.com – as was reported by Culture Plus Consulting – argues that D&I and wellbeing are linked in several ways. It explained that: inclusive workplaces foster enhanced staff wellbeing and that effective wellbeing initiatives cater to the needs of different employees. Many in HR will already know that better wellbeing is closely linked to performance across key people metrics.
Arti’s wellbeing picks
My three tips for good wellbeing at work are…
- Ensure you are looking at wellbeing through a holistic lens versus just one particular area such as physical and / or mental health. Your employees are as varied as the definition of wellbeing, and therefore it is important that you are addressing things in the same manner to ensure that you are giving everyone an equal opportunity to engage.
- Spend time understanding the employee experience across all areas of the business to really get a sense of the challenges, the demographics, interests, needs, etc. Designing strategies and / or initiatives around workplace wellbeing need to be relevant for the employee to drive engagement, uptake, etc.
- Connect the approach, strategy and vision of workplace wellbeing to the broader business strategy to help bring it to life and to also engage the voice of leadership which is so important in setting the overall organisational tone.
And although Arti hasn’t fully rolled out her new strategy yet, there are several things she is looking to focus on, including defining what wellbeing means as a business and ascertaining the right approach for the business and its stakeholders. There are also clear things that Ocado has been doing during the pandemic. With some of the bigger initiatives, the global wellbeing lead says that she is trying to get a sense of what the level of education looks like around mental health, as well as a broader gauge of wellbeing in the business. Yet, she is keen to get started and testing will be a key part of this. “There has been a few... pilot learnings that we are doing with different groups across the business and the idea is to run those pilots between now and the end of November. Then [we will] be able to step back and look at the feedback from that and be like ‘right, that’s the right global approach and... go with that’.”
Defining the strategy
But how to get started? When rolling out a wellbeing strategy, and this should interest HR, Arti suggests that there is also an element of ensuring that different things link back to the overall strategy. “This idea of a narrative and what’s our definition and how we either look at and define wellbeing as a business and how we address it – that’s another thing.”
Another part of rolling out a new wellbeing strategy is ascertaining the right approach for the business across the world and how this supports stakeholders. She adds: “A couple of other things as a global organisation: we are trying to figure out what the right approach is from a global perspective and then therefore what the operating model is in different countries.” This will, undoubtedly, have follow-on questions regarding how Ocado supports that model, and how the firm supports stakeholders on the ground – whether this is their people partners, managers or employees.
She continues: “Then in a broader context there’s this element of understanding the benefits that we have in place at the moment, benefits and rewards. The providers we’re working with, what can they offer, how can [we] become more strategic partners verses ‘we offer EAP and that’s it’. Like how can we work with them to get the most benefit from them but making sure that we are being strategic?” she adds. Arti also admits that there are quite a few elements to this, but that they are “not necessarily all pinned together in a strategy just yet”.
In the driving seat
A key part of success for any new strategy is making it work for the people. While Arti is fairly new to her role within Ocado, she has already spent some time getting to grips with how the business operates and how different workers fit into it – something she insinuates is key. In fact, the Global Health and Wellbeing lead has spent some time with colleagues out in the field which has given her greater insight into their roles. For example, so far Arti has spent one day shadowing a driver, one day doing ‘pick’ training – which means being a personal shopper in a warehouse – as well as a day getting a tour of another warehouse, and one day at a tech development centre. Arti explains: “The next stop for me is a construction site which I haven’t done yet.” She adds: “I think there’s this element of really understanding your demographic. So, for me, a really big context was just being able to understand that not everyone sits in front of a computer all day and does [video call] meetings, and that they don’t have the luxury of working from home and running down to the kitchen to grab a snack when they want it.”
In fact, with many Ocado employees out and about, wellbeing looks different for this cohort. She adds: “Actually for our drivers, they are often on the road – and shifts vary in terms of times and lengths – and they’re so focussed on customer delivery and customer experience that they don’t necessarily take care of themselves.”
Therefore, it is possible that having experiences like these as a senior leader could help give the firm a sense of how they can improve the employee experience, as well as appropriate interventions to help them thrive at work. This notion is supported by a Management Study Guide article which explained that getting to know employees is a core part of motivating staff so that they can deliver to the highest level possible.
There is also an element of finding out more about how employees work and what support can be put in place to help staff outside of work time. Arti continues: “[It is also] about educating them on the impacts of shift work on your health and what mechanisms they can put into their life outside of work to help support them in their long-term gains. So, I think all of these things came up for me when I spent time on the road.” One thing to come out of this experience, according to Arti, is understanding “that a one-size-fits-all strategy is not going to work in a business like this with the difference in demographics that we engage with”. She adds: “I think the other thing was just around having this level of compassion and empathy for the fact that they just require a different type of education... approach and engagement because they are different in terms of the way that they look at work, and the way that they engage with work as a function of their life.”
Getting buy-in for wellbeing initiatives
When rolling out anything new, including wellbeing initiatives or policies, getting buy-in from senior leaders is critical. But, how can HR put forward the business case for better wellbeing?
In a recent interview, Arti tells myGrapevine magazine that, for most working in the health and wellbeing field, the importance of employee health and wellbeing will be clear.
Yet, in order to get buy-in from senior leaders, she said it’s critical to put it into context from a business perspective.
Taking Ocado as a cross section for example, she explains: “It’s being able to say to business leaders ‘well look, we are an organisation that relies on investors and we have external stakeholders, we have external partners, we have employees, we are on aggressive hiring targets to grow as a business and therefore we need to be an attractive employer’.
“Also, you want to retain and keep staff and provide a platform for them to thrive. And I think if you put all those elements together, and are able to contextualise it, bring in the stats, bring in the figures and tell that story, it becomes a lot easier [to get senior buy-in],” Arti adds.
Linking it back
While the wellbeing strategy isn’t complete yet, Arti has laid out some distinct ethos to guide it. Many of the points raised – ensuring that the wellbeing strategy is linked to other areas of the business – appear to make organisational sense. In fact, data has pointed towards the crucial link between inclusion and wellbeing. For example, a Wellbeing Lifeworks article explained that staff mental health is closely linked to the experiences of inclusion and diversity at work, adding that one of the biggest threats to wellbeing is “Emotional Tax”. This occurs when employees are in an environment where they feel different to their colleagues, whether this is due to gender, race or something else and can have a negative impact on wellbeing. As such, ensuring that D&I is part of the overall wellbeing strategy is crucial as is making sure any wellbeing strategy rollout doesn’t sit in a silo, not complementing, and interweaving with, other programmes.
Another key element for success, as Arti explains, will be understanding the current landscape that the wellbeing strategy is rolled out on. For her, understanding what benefits and rewards are in place at the moment, and what workers want, will be key. This appears to make sense too. In fact, the Employee Benefit Research Institution, as was reported on by Black Hawk Network, found a correlation between a benefits package and job satisfaction – which could also point towards the importance of linking the wellbeing strategy. This is further supported by a Your Well Space article which explained that staff who benefit from workplace reward schemes feel valued at work, are less likely to suffer from mental health challenges, take more exercise and can be more engaged on the whole. With this in mind, it seems that many of the elements Arti proposes within the wellbeing strategy look set to be the right tack to take.
While Arti may have only been in her role a couple of months, she has already spent some time out in the field getting to understand Ocado’s workforce so any wellbeing strategy she does roll out will be successful. It’s a core part of the ethos that underpins the direction Ocado want to take. When asked what staff wellbeing means to her, she explains that from an Ocado perspective, it’s important because, “at the heart of everything that we do is our people”. It therefore makes sense that Ocado gets to grips on what people want.
This can be seen in how she views work at the business, adding: “20 years ago it [Ocado] started as a start-up and it has grown dramatically over the last five or six years. But what hasn’t changed is this culture of really caring about each other and being this family. So, from a wellbeing perspective, it’s important because there’s this element of just wanting to take care of each other and be in it together which is what our values kind of say. And so, I think that’s an element of why wellbeing takes such a big stance or is such a value and level of importance in the business.”