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Nationwide develops a compassionate continuity plan

"The creation of a properly thought through plan has enabled us to handle all sorts of potentially traumatic situations both quickly and sensitively.”

Tracy Conwell | Head of Employee Engagement | Nationwide Building Society

The challenge

After reviewing the people element of its business continuity plans, Nationwide Building Society decided to create a clear process to help employees exposed to a traumatic incident to keep functioning and limit the risk of psychological issues…

Tracy Conwell, Head of Employee Engagement for Nationwide, explains, “With frontline employees responsible for handling money in around 700 high street locations, we’ve always had a critical incident plan in place to help anyone exposed to incidents such as armed raids. However, since increased security measures have brought that risk down to an all-time low, we felt that all of our employees, from branches to administration centres, were likely to be exposed to trauma in other ways such as dealing with unexpected deaths or security threats – an inevitable part of employing more than 17,000 people.”

She adds, “At the time, the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines on how best to deal with employees exposed to trauma were being updated to replace the old-fashioned, one-size-fits-all ‘defuse and debrief’ model with a much more flexible psychological first aid approach. In response, we invited business representatives to look at how best to keep our employees supported, improve their recovery and minimise the risk of long-term psychological difficulties that can result in the aftermath of a traumatic event.”

“The most difficult thing was planning for the unexpected.”

The approach

“The group was made up of people from HR, security and safety, communications and risk, who were all keen to contribute,” says Tracy. “We also asked Validium, the psychological health experts responsible for running our employee assistance and rehabilitation programmes, to help shape our approach. The resilience and trauma department at Validium became a part of the group. Their role was to help us understand how serious incidents unfold, the psychological implications for affected employees, and the importance of taking a strategic, proactive and considered approach.”

She adds: “The most difficult thing was planning for the unexpected. We needed a clear process but couldn’t predict exactly what unforeseen events the plan needed to address. Over the course of a year, Validium helped us to focus on creating clear guidelines that could be used in any scenario, rather than trying to be too prescriptive about what actions to take in the aftermath of any particular serious incident. That led to the creation of a comprehensive compassionate continuity plan, which we called the Employee Welfare Plan (EWP).”

The solution

“A key challenge was recognising when to put the EWP into action. In the end we decided to make it ‘any event which had the potential to cause distress to a number of employees’, regardless of whether or not it was serious enough to stop the business from functioning.”

She adds, “We were also mindful that information about an incident serious enough to invoke the EWP might not come through the usual channels, such as a line manager, but rather the news, social media, emergency services or an employee who had witnessed something. Validium advised us against issuing statements against or acting on the first bits of information to emerge, as they’re not always accurate. For example, someone might be reported to have died, when this isn’t actually the case. The process therefore starts by getting key people together to immediately review what’s reportedly happened, so they can verify the facts and agree the next best steps.”

If the incident is deemed serious enough to invoke the EWP, members of the incident team quickly set about delivering their actions, reporting back to each other before meeting again to assess progress and decide further actions.

The results

“The creation of a properly thought through plan has been an incredibly worthwhile exercise, enabling us to quickly and sensitively handle all sorts of traumatic situations with much greater care and less potential distress to employees than would otherwise have been possible,” says Tracy. “The first time we put the EWP into action was after a serious road accident involving one of our employees. The plan enabled us to swiftly and professionally co-ordinate our efforts with external agencies, such as emergency services and the media, to quickly deal with a serious incident that could have otherwise proved much more traumatic to employees.”

She adds, “It’s also helped us to deal with the unexpected death of a much-loved member of staff. We used the principles to handle everything from how best to break the news to colleagues and offer them emotional support with feelings of sudden loss, or fears that someone they love could suddenly pass away, to how best to represent the company at her funeral.”

She concludes, “The insights and expertise provided by Validium has dramatically increased our ability to support employees exposed to traumatic events. Validium always works in partnership with us and is ready to step in and act as part of the incident team whenever anything traumatic happens. They continually add value to our business by attending all our review meetings and helping us to continually refine our approach to protecting the psychological health of employees.”

“The insights and expertise provided by Validium has dramatically increased our ability to support employees exposed to traumatic events.”

Tracy Conwell  | Head of Employee Engagement | Nationwide Building Society