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Keeping workplaces well in difficult circumstances

Ibec’s KeepWell Mark puts workplace wellbeing centre stage, wherever those workplaces are

Whether employees are working from home, socially distancing at work, are working ‘short time’ or temporarily laid off, Covid-19 has changed workplaces dramatically. What hasn’t changed is the importance of workplace wellbeing.

In fact, given the anxieties and uncertainties that surround us, it’s more important than ever.

That's why more employers than ever are working towards achieving the KeepWell Mark, the Ibec programme helping organisations to develop their corporate wellness practice.

Since its launch in late 2017, Ibec has seen a diverse range of organisations of all sizes and from all sectors sign up. This includes companies from both public and private sectors, including transport, healthcare, food and technology.


Not only does attaining the KeepWell Mark provide them with a valuable tool for talent acquisition, retention and engagement, they know the ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ maxim applies to corporate bodies too.

That’s because workplace wellbeing isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it’s a business imperative.

“If you can achieve an organisational culture that makes workplace wellbeing a priority, and provides a supportive environment for people to work in, you will be rewarded in both productivity and creativity,” says KeepWell Mark programme manager Sophie Moran.

Enrolling provides employers with an assessment tool to help them conduct an extensive audit of all aspects of their corporate wellness practice.

An expert assessor then supports the business in identifying – and making – the changes required to improve its performance.

“It’s a partnership approach that helps benchmark your organisation and provides the metrics and measurements to help guide you,” explains Moran.

National Workplace Wellbeing Day on May 1st, another Ibec initiative, was an opportunity to showcase what companies around Ireland have achieved on this front. This year it allowed employers to send out a message of support and positivity in a difficult time.

We are seeing some really pioneering stuff happening in KeepWell organisations

“We are all navigating a strange new world,” acknowledges Moran. “However, workplace wellbeing will be really important for businesses as a way of helping them to stay connected to their workforce, and to remain relevant and competitive in terms of attracting talent and meeting the expectations of future employees.”

The KeepWell Mark programme takes a holistic approach covering health and safety, mental health, leadership and absence management. It also includes areas such as healthy eating, physical activity, smoking and intoxicants.

“We are seeing some really pioneering stuff happening in KeepWell organisations,” says Moran.

That includes a company that has designed its office around health and wellbeing. “When you walk in the first thing you see is a beautiful staircase, encouraging people to use the stairs as opposed to taking the lift,” she says.

Others use nudge theory, highlighting healthy options in canteens to make it easier for staff to make better choices. Right now showing understanding of how Covid-19 is challenging workplaces is central to workplace wellbeing.

Good communications are critical to protect employees from isolation and to support line managers as they cope with the challenge of managing remote teams.

Leadership is key, says Moran: “Workplace wellbeing needs to come from the top, and have real buy-in from leadership, in order to make an impact. We can see this clearly in companies that are excelling in this space such as Microsoft Ireland and Avantcard.”

[To find out more about Ibec's KeepWell Mark programme, visit thekeepwellmark.ie]

How Microsoft ensures workplace wellbeing

“At Microsoft Ireland, employee wellbeing is a fundamental principle,” says Joanne Morrissey, HR director of Microsoft Ireland. “For us it’s about creating an environment where people always thrive.”

It has invested significantly in a “Fuel Your Everything” programme, providing tailor-made supports to enhance the lives of employees. These include everything from access to nutritionists and financial planning supports to mindfulness classes and yoga.

KeepWell helps it identify new areas where employees might need support. Achieving the Mark provides important recognition of the company’s work in this area too.

“At Microsoft we have always encouraged our employees to live by the motto, ‘Come as you are, do what you love’. In bringing out the best in our people and supporting their personal, as well as professional growth, we can provide a distinct offering that attracts new talent from around the world, and retains our existing highly skilled teams,” she explains.

Microsoft has a Mental Health Wellbeing Support Programme and a dedicated Modern Parents and Guardians programme, which provides advice on building resilience for parents, as well as workshops for managers to better support working parents.

With the advent of Covid-19 many of its programmes have migrated online.

A range of virtual fitness classes take place every day using Microsoft Teams

“We have created a One Microsoft Virtual Community, so that employees have access to most of the wellbeing resources they would have in the office, and can remain connected with colleagues through virtual social activities.”

A range of virtual fitness classes take place every day using Microsoft Teams, while nutritional experts are on hand for one-to-one consultations.

“As a result of this work, Microsoft employees can continue to engage in a holistic wellness experience,” she says.

“Everyone’s experience is different,” Morrissey adds. “We continue to offer learning resources and community spaces like virtual employee town hall meetings and Yammer groups, where employees can ask questions, share anecdotes and brainstorm ideas for staying healthy, engaged and productive.”

How Avantcard prioritises corporate wellness

Consumer finance business Avantcard was the first financial services provider in Ireland to achieve the KeepWell Mark.

It has its origins in MBNA, which withdrew from Ireland a number of years ago. Focusing on employee wellbeing played an important role in helping staff come through a period of significant change back to growth and opportunity.  Today Avantcard employs 250 people in its offices in Carrick on Shannon, Co Leitrim, and Dublin.

“We have always kept health and wellbeing at the forefront of the business. When Ibec launched the KeepWell Mark programme we had gone through a lot of change as an organisation and wanted a framework to measure ourselves against,” says Helen Richardson, Avantcard’s HR Director.

The result is an array of initiatives including couch to 5km, onsite yoga and pilates, optician visits, health screening and experts in diets and nutrition. Last year, 32 employees walked the Sligo Camino.

A sense of purpose and community engagement is part of workplace wellbeing. Staff work with North West Hospice, Avantcard’s charity partner, and have a monthly charity draw, with the proceeds going to a charity of the winner’s choice.

When the pandemic was declared, a carefully choreographed strategy was put in place – at speed. “It was no mean feat to get everyone up and running from home in less than three weeks. It took fantastic work by our tech people but also from staff to adapt to this new environment,” Richardson says.

Its focus on workplace wellness paid dividends, with good communications proving the key to reducing feelings of isolation and ‘overwhelm’ among staff.

Right now, workplace wellness is about keeping people connected

A weekly newsletter provides updates from CEO, Chris Paul, as well as tips for health and wellbeing. Promoting its confidential Employee Assistance Programme as a resource helps too.

Among the simplest, but most effective supports, is simply making wellness calls, “not business related but just to see how people are doing,” she says.

The company has moved ‘town hall’ meetings and even its company choir online.

“Right now, workplace wellness is about keeping people connected – and as connected to normality­ as much as possible,” Richardson says.