Flex helps people to be at their best

people for successEY’s focus on their employees’ health and wellbeing isn’t just a feel-good initiative. It’s a strategic priority that runs through every level of the organisation, with flexible working at its heart.

It’s an obvious point, perhaps, but one that’s worth repeating; when people are well, they work better. And for employees, knowing that this is taken seriously by the people they work for is not only reassuring; it’s also a powerful boost to morale, loyalty, productivity and even creativity.

One firm which takes health and wellbeing incredibly seriously is EY. They launched their Health EY programme back in 2014, and have refined and expanded it in the intervening years. Today, it covers a range of elements, from support with managing physical and mental illnesses, to tactics for developing qualities such as resilience that support personal wellbeing. According to Sally Hemming, an Associate Director for Employee Relations in the Talent team:

“We want our people to be at their absolute best – both for their own sakes and for the business – and we’re here to support them every step of the way. Our Health EY programme is designed to pull together a range of policies, resources and networks to show our people how much we value their wellbeing. It gives them the tools they need to make it a priority, and to manage it successfully.”

Helping employees to take action to support themselves

The programme has several key strands, each tackling a different aspect of personal health and development. For example, Thrive EY is focused on giving employees the knowledge to take action to support their own wellbeing, through regular webinars and other initiatives. As Sally explains:

“The Thrive EY part of the programme brings important wellbeing issues out into the open and helps people make better lifestyle decisions. For example, most of us know that we should eat better and move around more, but sometimes people need a bit more information to nudge them into taking action. So, we recently ran a webinar on ‘Lazy Exercise’ which acknowledged that we don’t all have time to train for a marathon, and gave some tips for easy ways to build extra movement into our daily routines.”

Thinking differently about mental health

Another important strand of Health EY is the Thinking Differently programme, which focuses on mental health. As well as providing access to counsellors and coaches, the firm have trained line managers to respond to issues such as stress and work-life balance, and put a range of supportive networks in place.

Key amongst these is their decision to empower employees to become Mental Health First Aiders. To date, they have trained over 700 in the role, teaching them to identify and support people who may be experiencing mental health concerns. It’s brought the issue out into the open, as Sally explains:

“We know that people can find it harder to admit to mental health issues than physical ones, so we want to take that reluctance away. As well as giving practical support, the visibility of our Mental Health First Aiders demonstrate the way we respond to people who are struggling. It allows them to feel confident that they will be properly supported through any issues they may be experiencing, and that the firm will work with them to make any adjustments they need.”

The role of flexible working within Health EY

Another important ingredient in the drive to support employee wellbeing is the firm’s commitment to flexible working. EY are well-established champions of the right to work flexibly, and have invested a great deal of time and energy into creating a culture in which flexibility is the norm. That’s really important when it comes to supporting employee wellbeing, according to Sally:

“Flexible working is absolutely fundamental to our Health EY programme. Our default position is that anyone can work flexibly, and we have the trust and confidence in our employees to make it work. If people need to work less, or work differently, to manage illness, stress or other lifestyle issues, we’ll work with them to find the best arrangement.

“And we don’t just see it as a way of tackling existing issues; we also encourage people to use flexible working to be proactive about their wellbeing. For example, if someone feels better for going for a swim before work, and needs to adjust their start and finish times to make that happen, we’re open to that. If it’s good for them, and it works with their role, it’s good for us.”

Managing a long-term health issue with a part-time arrangement

EY employee Jodie Forbes knows first-hand how valuable this flexible working culture is. A Director who joined the firm’s data and analytics team in 2013, Jodie was diagnosed with Parkinson’s early in 2017, and has nothing but praise for the way the firm has worked with him to manage its impact. As he explains:

“There’s a whole network of support in place at EY, from the formal occupational health team to HR and the Partner who heads up my group. When I was first diagnosed I didn’t feel I needed to change anything, so I just had regular check-ins to see how I was getting on. Then in 2017, when I felt I needed to cut back a little, I was supported to find the arrangement that worked best for me.”

Jodie found as his condition progressed that he needed to reduce his hours and take time to rest during the day. He was given the key to the medical room, along with the freedom to take as many rests as he needed, and he worked with his Partner and HR to develop a part-time role.

“We came up with a solution which suited both me and the firm: a four and a half day week, with the ability to work from home and to rest whenever I needed to.”

The firm also made it clear that they didn’t see Jodie’s condition as a barrier to career progression: “After my diagnosis I wondered whether it was still appropriate to try for promotion. I spoke to HR and their view was that I should go for it, and I was promoted late last year.”

Jodie’s advice to others in a similar situation is to be as transparent as possible, although he recognises that he is fortunate to work in a firm with such a positive focus on health and wellbeing: “Once people know, they can help you. I feel empowered to make the right decisions for my own wellbeing, knowing that I’ve got the support of my team; the whole process has been brilliant. I’m now looking to set up a network for employees with long term medical issues, with the firm’s backing.”

And Sally agrees that empowerment is at the heart of the Health EY programme: “We want to do everything we can to enable our people to live and work at their best. We know that people become ill, or have other challenges to deal with, and we’re right behind them all the way, helping them to make any changes, large or small, that will allow them thrive.”

This article has been written in association with EY, one of our Timewise Partners

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