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Happy people: are you doing enough for your workforce?

To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, Drapers looks at what retailers are doing to support their staff and the increasing emphasis being placed on well-being.

Google staff on beanbags

Google staff on beanbags

Source: Google

Inside Google’s glossy King’s Cross headquarters in London, drowsy employees can take a five-minute nap in cocoon-like sleep pods. Come lunch-time, all food and drink is complimentary. On sunny days, they can take to the roof terrace to enjoy sweeping views over the city. Fitness fans can hit the gym or jog around the 90-metre running track. The tech giant has redefined the concept of workplace perks.

Google’s famous commitment to its staff and their happiness has brought tangible benefits. The company is widely recognised as one of the best to work for in the world, scoring highly on employee satisfaction surveys, attracting top talent and fostering long-term loyalty. A third of Google’s first 100 employees are still working at the company, says its HR boss Laszlo Bock.

Few businesses have the resources to be quite as generous as Google, but retailers are also waking up to the importance of prioritising staff well-being. Poor health, particularly mental health, can be a major barrier to growing a successful business. Stress, anxiety and depression are behind around 12 million missed work days every year, figures from the Health and Safety Executive indicate. More than three-quarters of the 20,000 workers surveyed by charity Business in the Community last year said they had experienced symptoms of poor mental health.

Happy staff, healthy business

The challenges of trading on today’s high street means many retailers are seeing a happy, healthy workforce as an increasingly important way of staying ahead of their competition.

“There are countless pieces of research supporting the benefits of looking after staff – things like employee engagement, retaining the best people and attracting talent,” explains Beth Ryder, wellbeing manager at Marks & Spencer. “At M&S, we see well-being as linked with strategy. We recognise that a fundamental way to make M&S stronger and keep up with the competition is to have a high performance culture. We’re not going to have that if we’re not helping our staff fulfil their potential and if our employees are not well and happy.”

Mental health has been a particular focus at M&S. The high street giant was the first retailer – in 2014 – to sign the Time to Change pledge, which tackles workplace stigma and discrimination. It has introduced an online hub of support materials, giving managers tools on how to deal with mental health issues and guidance on how to make adjustments for staff if needed, as well as help for struggling staff. In March, it also launched its Frazzled Café project with comedian Ruby Wax, which gives community members a space to talk about their problems and destress.

Frazzled cafe and m&s pic 2

Frazzled cafe and m&s pic 2

Frazzled Café

HR teams have received mental health-specific training and an awareness week is held every October, where colleagues from across the business can share their experiences. Senior leaders have also spent eight weeks working with external mental health charities to understand the issues and challenge their own perceptions.

“We’re bringing mental health on a par with physical health,” explains Ryder. “It’s not about making people experts, but giving line managers the confidence and skills to support staff.”

Jigsaw Group’s HR director Toby Foreman agrees that ensuring staff enjoy their jobs is becoming more important, as the retail industry faces external pressures and more established businesses fight to keep up with online pureplays. Young fashion etailer PrettyLittleThing, for example, refurbished its Wellington Mill head office in Manchester last year, adding a gym and new healthy restaurant. Fellow etailer Missguided’s headquarters offers sleep pods, arcade games, a hair and make-up space, swings in one of the meeting rooms and a ”selfie tunnel”, encouraging staff to have fun at work. 

Prettylittlething gym

Prettylittlething gym

PrettyLittleThing’s staff gym

“Pureplays that don’t have a bricks-and-mortar presence often have more to spend on staff well-being [as they do not have to meet the costs associated with physical stores], so we need to stay competitive,” Foreman points out.

Jigsaw was named the Best Place to Work at the 2016 Drapers Awards. Its Richmond head office is certainly impressive. Based in an Edwardian manor house, staff are offered chef-made lunches, yoga classes and various team-building events. There is a well-equipped office gym complete with personal trainer, who is putting chief executive Peter Ruis through his paces when Drapers visits.

What really matters is giving your employees opportunities to create change within the business

Toby Foreman, Jigsaw

But although good benefits are important, Foreman stresses that they are not a silver bullet for staff happiness: “It’s easy to get hung up on flexible benefits, but what really matters is giving your employees opportunities to create change within the business and the ability to learn within their roles.”

To try and achieve this, he explains, managers within Jigsaw’s head office have been trained to act like mentors or coaches, prioritising communication, daily discussion and closer team-working over rigid corporate structures. The training will also be rolled out to Jigsaw’s store and warehouse staff.

Jigsaw our chef

Jigsaw our chef

Jigsaw offers chef-made lunches

“We want and need people to drive their roles here, to challenge their job descriptions, take on new challenges and remain agile in an ever-changing, dynamic industry,” adds Foreman. “The objectives that someone starts the year with may be completely different from those they end the year with and the only way this could be managed is with regular communication.”

Workplace well-being initiatives are not enough on their own. Retailers also need to create a culture where staff feel able to get away from their desks and make the most of what is on offer.

Sarah Morrison is a people specialist at ethical kidswear brand Frugi, which runs an extensive roster of activities for the 55 staff at its head office in Helston, Cornwall. Past activities have included a guided walk for all staff around local coves and nature reserves, as well as a beach arts and craft sessions. There are weekly guided lunchtime walks and yoga sessions, as well the chance to start and leave work early in the summer to hit the beach for surfing or bodyboarding. Mindfulness sessions, mental health workshops and blood sugar checks are all also in the offing.



Happy workers: the team at Frugi

She argues a cross-section of people need to be involved with well-being initiatives to make them successful. “Our managing director [Tracy Carroll] and founder [Lucy Jewson] join in with the activities, like the guided walks and yoga sessions,” she explains. “If staff see the senior management team supporting the healthy initiatives, they feel allowed to join in. Creating an environment where people feel happy and healthy then increases productivity and commitment to the brand.”

This commitment has not gone unrecognised: earlier this year, Carroll was crowned Workplace Health Champion of the Year for 2016 at the Workplace Health Awards, and Cornwall Council awarded Frugi Silver at the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Healthy Workplace Awards.

Retailers might not be able to match the workplace initiatives being rolled out by the technology giants, but the industry is recognising the importance of happier and healthier employees. Those who choose to invest in their people will be one step ahead of the competition.

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