Cornwall Council always had a strong reputation for the way it looked after its staff, but in 2016 it made a determined decision to move to the next level and make health and wellbeing an integral part of how it worked on a daily basis. Its CIPD People Management Award is testament to how spectacularly it executed the shift.
As Sean Oates, health, safety and wellbeing manager, says: “We aimed for longevity and sustainability. We wanted to make sure health and wellbeing didn’t become passing buzzwords.” That means top-down engagement from senior managers, as well as engagement with employees at every level.
The “heart and soul” of the new approach is a Health, Safety and Wellbeing (HSW) Champion programme to train staff to act as advocates for wellbeing. Volunteers who sign up for the scheme are released from their duties for at least 20 hours a year and devote the time to communicating wellbeing programmes and offering interventions in their team or location.
HSW courses for managers, meanwhile, promote a more proactive approach to wellbeing, while a dedicated intranet ensures employees have materials just a click away.
The new initiatives came against a backdrop of ongoing austerity that forced the HR team to pool resources and work with external partners. “We did so much work with partner organisations by identifying overlapping agendas,” says Oates. “We looked at what we were trying to achieve and local organisations’ strategies, to see how we could link them.”
With Macmillan Cancer Support, for example, the council developed ‘difficult conversations’ training, initially focused on cancer, and went on to broaden it to cover other subjects staff and managers may be reluctant to talk about.
The result is a council that wowed judges with how fundamentally it lived and breathed the topic of wellbeing, and how broadly it engaged staff. Since July 2016, more than 2,000 people have taken part in HSW training, 300 volunteers have been trained and an estimated 3,700 days of absence a year have been prevented. Engagement has also experienced a boost, with areas relating to wellbeing rising 24 per cent in a year.
Winning the award is “a huge deal” to Cornwall, adds Oates: “Receiving recognition for everything we’ve achieved is great. It shows we’re a place where people want to work and we prioritise health and wellbeing not because we have to – but because we want to.”