Case studies

How creating a culture of wellbeing is helping Schneider Electric build an engaged workforce

23 Aug 2018 By Eleanor Whitehouse

The multinational energy management firm crowdsourced its wellbeing strategy from its 142,000 employees

As Schneider Electric’s employees commonly joke among themselves, it’s the biggest company no one’s ever heard of. But for an under-the-radar business, it has enviable credentials. 

Boasting global revenues of more than €24bn in the last financial year (5 per cent of which is invested into energy research), the self-described “global leader in digital transformation of energy management and automation” counts the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and EDF Energy among its customers.

Headquartered in France, the company has over 50 sites in the UK, and a presence in more than 100 other countries across six continents, together employing in excess of 142,000 people. With such a large workforce – all critical to the company’s success – it’s important that those people feel able to perform at their best.

“We know there’s a clear connection between employee wellbeing and company performance,” says Colleen McKnight, VP of HR for the UK & Ireland (pictured). “So when the company began work on its new five-year strategy back in 2015, we knew that wellbeing had to be front and centre. We’d had various people initiatives in the past – some of which related to wellbeing – but this was the first time we’d made it part of our core company strategy.”

With the workforce spread from the Thames to Tahiti and Tokyo, putting together a comprehensive wellbeing programme suitable for them all was an unenviable task. “The idea of ‘wellbeing’ means different things to different countries and cultures,” says Barcelona-based global wellbeing leader Diana Bacanu. 

“So we spent almost four months listening to people’s individual needs across the globe in a ‘bottom up’ approach. It wasn’t just a small team sat in an office deciding what wellbeing was – we took the time to analyse all the suggestions.”

The resultant programme was designed to be holistic, covering not just physical wellbeing but its mental, emotional and social aspects too. “For us, wellbeing is a broader picture of everyone being able to make the most of their energy not only at work, but also at home,” says Bacanu. 

The programme covers five ‘pillars’ of wellbeing: healthier behaviours, which encourages employees to make better decisions and take care of themselves; flexibility, ensuring a good work-life balance; the physical workplace, and how it supports wellbeing; overall culture, helping employees feel good at work beyond policies; plus a pillar designed specifically for leaders. 

While roughly a fifth of the content is common across the board, the rest can be tailored to individual countries and their specific requirements. At the programme’s core is a 90-minute basic training session, covering topics including sleep, nutrition and mindfulness, delivered face-to-face in local languages by a team of 150 trainers. Countries that don’t yet have in-person training can access it via a webinar.

Stemming from the basic training is a catalogue of 71 other sessions, including a neuroscience-based series on tackling stress; basic and advanced mindfulness sessions; and webinars on sleep, nutrition and exercise. Employees also have access to an impressive range of benefits and services so they can take better care of themselves at home as well as at work.

“The entire programme puts the individual at the centre and allows our people to take control of their wellbeing and look after their needs,” says McKnight. “So far, over 30,000 staff across the world have taken the basic wellbeing module. While we don’t want to make it mandatory, we find inspiring people to take it up is enough encouragement on its own, because the benefits are very clear.”

To complement the organic nature of the programme’s design, the 2,000 most senior managers across the company took an extended, two-day version of the core session – delivered in partnership with wellbeing consultancy The Energy Project – giving them the ability to take the lead in embedding it into company culture.

“I think that’s quite powerful,” says Peter Hogg (pictured), talent mobility and acquisition manager for the UK & Ireland. “This has been crowdsourced from the bottom up, but it’s now being adopted by senior management and pushed from the top down as well.”

Alongside the curated resources, the company has also launched Wellbeing Labs, encouraging employees to take local programmes 
into their own hands and experiment (hence the name) with anything – big or small – that will generate wellbeing-related change. 

“Anyone can launch a lab – they just need to have an idea that will help improve wellbeing,” says Bacanu. “Anything from a yoga teacher running sessions for colleagues, to trying stand-up  desks. We have over 1,000 labs across the globe – it’s something very special that people want to share their passion and contribute to everyone’s wellbeing.”

Helping embed this new culture is a team of more than 200 ‘champions’, whose job is to take an active role in bringing wellbeing to life for their own communities. “Because 80 per cent of the programme is at a local level, part of the champions’ job is to translate the global content into more fitting local projects,” says Bacanu.

A handful of champions are full time, and the rest spend around a quarter of their time on wellbeing alongside their day-to-day roles. “Champions can be from any function,” adds McKnight. “This is a company initiative, not an HR initiative, so it is important that its champions are not just from HR.”

Three years on from its inception, the programme is making waves in the business, and has received 13 awards around the world.

“Although it’s early days, we’ve already seen a 10 per cent increase in our engagement, which has in turn improved customer satisfaction and turnover,” says McKnight. “We have a lot of qualitative feedback from people who used to struggle, but who say this initiative has changed their lives – we know it’s making a massive difference.”

The company’s openness to flexibility is also helping it retain and attract talent. “Candidates are starting to be more open around their wellbeing and flexibility needs, whereas it’s been taboo in the past,” says Hogg. “Through our job adverts and employer brand, we’re helping make those conversations more comfortable, and using flexibility to retain employees and attract new ones.”

Beyond the three-year mark, there’s plenty of scope for wellbeing to get bigger and better, says Bacanu. “As well as strengthening our existing programme, we want to expand into new fields like financial wellbeing, and encourage collective behaviour change rather than just individual,” she says.

“There’s still a lot to do, but it’s part of our DNA now. As they say, healthy and happy people change the world.”

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