Creating an actionable employee wellness strategy: HR Insights Series

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Anne-Maire Lowry, HR Business Partner joins us for our second Q&A session of the Robert Walters HR Insights Series. Focusing on employee wellness, Anne-Marie speaks from her experience on the importance of a well-structured employee wellness programme within an organisation and how to best measure its overall impact. See what Anne-Marie has to say here:

Can you tell us a little about your background and your current role(s)?

I have spent many years working with multinational companies across various industries in a HR capacity. While my background was originally in communications and media, I made a shift into the world of HR and subsequently went on to complete a MSc in HRM. I have worked on talent acquisition roles, in business partnering functions and also in a stand-alone HR Manager position.

Currently I have the pleasure of working with a number of various teams in a business partner capacity and supporting managers and leaders from a HR point of view. In addition to the HR field, I am an executive and personal development coach and use this skillset to run my own business, The Inside Out Coach. Through this business, I spend time working with teams and individuals in unlocking their own potential. I often work in the outdoors and use nature with clients to gain clarity in their thinking.

What do you think the normal challenges for a HR Professional working in ‘BAU’ conditions are?

I think every role within HR will have different challenges. Given the current world of work and the pace that many organisations move at, it requires HR professionals to often think on their feet and pivot and shift where necessary. The employment market in the last number of years has meant that finding talent can be challenging at times. I think building a strong brand as a place where people want to work will always help with this. It comes back to what’s within your control and as HR professionals we can certainly partner with the business to begin this journey. These are some of the challenges that make the world of HR interesting and allow us to have an impact.

Often, we are exposed to an ‘always on’ culture due to technology. While I’m a big fan of what technology can do and what it allows us to do in the working environment, as a HR professional I firmly believe that we need to be mindful of how we support the business and work with them in ensuring that all employees are equipped to handle and deal with the ‘always on’ culture and pace.

In the current situation, Covid-19 has meant that questions have been asked of us as HR professionals that we do not have the answer to.In the current situation, Covid-19 has meant that questions have been asked of us as HR professionals that we do not have the answer to. We are all navigating through uncharted waters and it’s common for the business to turn to HR for support and answers. It’s important to remind ourselves that we too are human and don’t have the answers all of the time. Leveraging off of those around you and collaboration in coming up with answers is something that has worked really well in my experience.

What has been the most useful lesson for you to learn from a professional perspective?

Understand what your boundaries are and honour them. It’s certainly a lesson that I’ve had to work hard to bring it into my rhythm of work. It’s always a work in progress!

Ask yourself what is important to you and make this a non-negotiable. I often use self-coaching techniques to figure this out and while it does not always go to plan, creating that awareness and reflecting regularly certainly helps me. Ask yourself what is important to you and make this a non-negotiable. I often use self-coaching techniques to figure this out and while it does not always go to plan, creating that awareness and reflecting regularly certainly helps me. Partnering with a business, working with hiring managers, facilitating team sessions whatever it may be means that we can often have weeks that go by without having an opportunity to take time to be proactive, to think strategically, whatever it may be.

Recently I have reworked my diary to allow for this thinking time and proactive approach so that I can continue to be impactful with those who I am working with. This means that I keep certain times across the week that no other meetings take place, the emails and instant messages notifications are switched off too. That’s one of my boundaries and it certainly works for me. 

In your view, what are the quickest and most immediately impactful programmes a busy HR Manager could implement from a ‘Wellness’ perspective?

I think wellness sits with the whole organisation. While the onus often sits with the HR Manager to kick it off and implement, for any wellness programme to be successful it needs support of managers, leaders and employees. I think the quickest and most impactful programmes start with looking at what is the feedback from the business? What does wellness look like for the organisation?

The term ‘wellness’ covers a multitude of areas and this also includes quality conversations within teams and asking people how they really are, listening to their responses and checking in to ensure that everyone feels a sense of connection and community.The term ‘wellness’ covers a multitude of areas and this also includes quality conversations within teams and asking people how they really are, listening to their responses and checking in to ensure that everyone feels a sense of connection and community. Generating connection and an opportunity for downtime are relatively straight forward to implement, most of us have access to green spaces near by our offices, simple step challenges, park walks or encouraging downtime or encouraging times across the week for no meetings may work.

For me it always comes back to conversation, generating quality conversation and listening to what the business is saying. It sounds simple but quality conversation goes a long way and often step challenges (or similar) can be the band aid without really looking at what is causing the need for the band aid. When implementing any wellness programme, quick or immediate or not, we need to ensure that it does not become a tick the box exercise – that is when it loses its impact.

Sometimes Wellness Programmes can be seen as an unnecessary luxury and a programme that is difficult to track from a ‘real’ results perspective – how do you demonstrate success?

I think in recent times, how wellness programmes are viewed is shifting. That said, as a HR Manager trying to indicate tangible results to a leadership team can be difficult. It is possible to track real results however it does take time and a certain level of trust in the programme needs to happen. Engagement surveys are one way to understand the impact of a wellness programme and from experience I have seen a shift in engagement off the back of a wellness programme.It is not all down to exercise classes and Step Challenges; it also comes down to a shift in how we see our employees and understanding that their careers are only one part of who they are.

It is not all down to exercise classes and Step Challenges; it also comes down to a shift in how we see our employees and understanding that their careers are only one part of who they are.

We all have different priorities as humans and understanding this can have a big impact on engagement and how people show up in their roles. Ultimately, I believe as HR professionals we need to ask what are we implementing a wellness programme for? What is our why? What are we looking to solve or support within our business? When we keep this in mind, there are certainly ways to measure a wellness programme’s impact – engagement, productivity and retention are three that come to mind.

What do you think can be the most immediately impactful ‘exercise’ an individual can implement when trying to combat stress?

I am hugely passionate about the outdoors, green & blue spaces and allowing ourselves time out to even sit in the outdoors. We live in a society whereby social media can often mean we tell ourselves we need to do X or Y to have an impact on ourselves and to switch off and combat stress. The outdoors are limited for us at the moment due to the current climate with Covid-19.  However, if we can even manage to get out within our 2km radius without any technology and walk/run or even sit and focus on your breath, this can be really impactful.

Biophilia hypothesis is a term coined by Edward O. Wilson and suggests that all humans have an innate tendency to look for connections with nature and other forms of life. If we think about our evolution as human beings, we have spent the majority of our history in the natural environment and only in recent times have we moved into a more urban living setting. Our attraction, identification, and our need to connect to nature is thought to remain in our modern psychology. It’s a free resource that we can continue to tap into on a regular basis. (I’ve written an article previously on nature and personalities and the impact nature can have on us, regardless of our personality type).

If you would like to find out more, or to enquire about the HR Insights series, please do not hesitate to get in touch today. 

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