“One of the most challenging skills for managers to acquire was the ability to really listen to the employee without jumping in to give advice or tell them what to do.”
Deborah Astles, HR Director, Corporate Responsibility and Policy, Unipart
When Unipart, a leading logistics and manufacturing company, set about putting in place a strategic wellbeing strategy as part of its focus on employee engagement, training managers to help employees manage their pressure positively became a key part of the solution…
Deborah Astles, HR Director, Corporate Responsibility and Policy for Unipart, explains, “As a logistics company that has a proven ability to improve productivity and now specialises in helping other companies to boost productivity, we understand more than most just how important having engaged employees is. When one of our logistics centres found itself taking 80 hours a week to create and run reports, it was engaged employees who took the time to work with their colleagues in IT to redesign the reports and automate part of the process to halve the time taken and save £20,000.”
She adds, “There’s a wealth of untapped potential in every employee, but you can only tap into that if they’re at work and well. Ultimately, we believe a healthy, engaged workforce will do their best for us and the customer, which is why we’ve always placed wellbeing at the heart of our employee engagment iniatives. Even so, most of the wellbeing activities had been a little bit adhoc and opportunistic, so we wanted to create an even more strategic approach. The key business objectiveswere to reduce overall absence and make employees feel even more cared-for.”
“We wanted a proven process for managers to follow.”
When it came to creating a wellbeing strategy, Astles decided to start by putting in place a good Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to underpin everything. “We decided to appoint Validium on the strong recommendation of our private health insurance provider and haven’t been disappointed,” she says. “We’ve got a really good relationship with our account manager who helped us to go around different sites to promote the service and now provides ongoing online newsletters and other promotional materials to keep awareness of the EAP high.”
She adds, “During the first year, a good number of employees used the Validium EAP for support. The trend data provided to us by Validium, highlighted that the majority of calls were related to relationship issues, debt and finance, with a significant number of calls relating to sleep loss due to anxiety and stress. Going forward, we wanted a higher uptake of the service, and we wanted to encourage even more employees to access the EAP support. The next step was to create a working environment where managers had the skills and confidence to talk to any employees about how the service can support them and their families when they are struggling to cope.”
“Our ultimate goal is to train managers internally to talk to employees about any issues they might be struggling with,” says Astles. “To get a psychologically sound foundation in place, we asked Validium to create a bespoke workshop, entitled ‘Managing Pressure Positively’ for managers who already had experience of training others or delivering occupational health to attend. Each attended the workshop twice – first as a participant so that they could become familiar with the content – secondly as an observing trainer so that they could sharpen their ability to deliver the workshop to other managers themselves.
The first part of the half-day workshop involved exploring how to recognise when pressure, a positive force motivating us to succeed, can become negative and turn into stress. This was followed by education on how to identify the early warning signs of stress and a five step process for helping an employee affected by stress to come up with their own solution for making things better.
“One of the most challenging skills for managers to acquire was the ability to really listen to what an employee had to say, without jumping in to give advice or tell them what to do,” says Astles. “Instead, managers were encouraged to work through a number of case studies using a clear five-step process of: Role, Listen, Summarise, Self-Solve, Action Plan.
She adds, “For example, managers on the course were asked to consider a team member who was working longer hours than usual, accused of being snappy in a meeting and receiving lots of personal calls. The managers were then encouraged to role-play the situation, listening without interruption, and remembering that while they were experienced at solving workplace problems, they were not mental health professionals and not required to act as pseudocounsellors.”
Instead, their ROLE was to invest the time and energy it requires to really LISTEN to the employee, so that they could SUMMARISE the facts of the situation and empathise with the feelings the employee had displayed. Next they had to resist the temptation to jump in with their own solution, so they could instead help the employee to explore the options and support available so they could SELF-SOLVE by creating an ACTIONPLAN of specific steps to take to improve their situation.
“The workshops have been very well received by managers who feel much more able to support employees now that they know their role is to help them to access the support in place, rather than solve their problems for them,” says Astles. “The EAP and Managing Pressure Positively workshops provided by Validium, along with other wellbeing activities, have helped us to reduce overall absence by 5% and made employees feel more cared about by 0.5 points in our annual employee engagement survey. We’re now looking forward to doing a further ‘train the trainer workshop’ so we can get our trainers to start delivering the workshops part of our ongoing health & safety and management training.”