Healthwatch Essex – developing a culture with wellbeing at its heart

Active Essex

Healthwatch Essex has been developing a culture focussed on wellbeing for some time but, expedited by the pandemic and the need to work differently, the senior management team worked on a wellbeing policy to support staff with flexible working, enhanced communication and a focus on work-life balance.

Samantha Glover, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Essex, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of prioritising the mental and physical wellbeing of everyone. The lockdowns and strain on health and social care professionals has been felt across the nation and staff at Healthwatch Essex were no different.

“In an effort to address wellbeing and ensure that our staff feel valued and cared for we took a holistic approach to reviewing our current practices and identified what was already in place, what could be improved and what could be instigated.

“The main asset of our organisation is our staff and, as they support all the citizens of Essex, it is vital as a responsible employer that they are looked after. This ambition is supported by our board of directors and is now costed into our annual budget.”

Through this work, Healthwatch Essex has set aside a fund each year to support individual wellbeing. £200 per staff member is allocated per year to be spent on something that improves their wellbeing. Information on local gym memberships, exercise classes, meditation apps and specific wellbeing courses have been provided as a range of possible uses for the fund. So far, staff have been using this in different ways including; one off purchases of an exercise app and devise to track activity, a monthly private physio appointment, subscriptions to Mindspace and a monthly gym membership.

Staff at Healthwatch Essex work flexibly in patterns that best suit their needs – for some that is primarily home-based, for others more of a hybrid approach. All staff are kept connected through monthly development days and team lunches, at a series of venues close to the office, supporting the local economy.

Healthwatch Essex also encourages staff to take regular breaks from their desk, making available a series of activities that promote physical activity – from gentle to more demanding. These include developing a library of walking routes in the village, highlighting local exercise classes and creating a running group for staff. A recreation club offering football, cricket, tennis, and gym facilities is also available a short walk from the office. Staff are encouraged to fit physical activity into their day, even if that means breaking from work for an hour to attend a class or go for a run.

Rachel Horton-Smyth, Communications Manager at Healthwatch Essex, said: “I used my wellbeing allowance to fund an Apple Watch as I’m often out with the dog during the day as a break from my desk and, having access to the fitness app, encourages me to walk a little further each day.

“I feel fortunate to work for an organisation which prioritises wellbeing. We are trusted to manage our time appropriately and it is completely acceptable to block an hour out of your day to attend a class or take a walk. In the end, healthier employees are happier ones who tend to be more productive so it makes complete sense for the organisation and for the individual.”

If you would like any guidance or ideas on how to get your workplace more active, as well as ways to support employee wellbeing, find more information here.