Baker Labels launched an employee wellbeing service almost a year ago after picking up the keys to a new unit next door to its existing base. Two-thirds of that new 1,000m² space was to be dedicated to storage of print materials; the remaining third, a more soothing space for the wellbeing service.
It makes sense: according to the Health & Safety Executive almost 26 million working days are lost due to work-related illness in a year, while mental health charity Mind estimates work-related mental ill health costs the UK economy up to £26bn each year in time off work and lower productivity.
It may make sense, but embracing formal workplace wellbeing can create almost as many problems as it solves. Staff wellbeing is often regarded in somewhat woolly terms by business leaders. It also costs money to roll out a service not all of your staff may welcome – not everyone wants to open up about issues that can range from money problems to depression, in which case your new service could damage morale and – counterintuitively – wellbeing. Would it work at Baker Labels?
“One of the first steps in effectively monitoring physical or mental health problems is to create a culture of openness, encouraging your staff to speak to their managers or HR team,” says Baker. “If managers get to know their employees, it is more likely they will be able to spot the signs of people struggling with either their mental or physical health.”
Baker knows her staff well. The family business run by managing director husband Steve was set up by his mum and dad, Roy and Marian Baker, in the early 1970s. Eight years ago the company moved 15 miles from its Walthamstow base to Brentwood where it continued to grow.
It now has 85 staff and recently broke the £10m-turnover mark. This is thanks to investments such as a Vectra SFTR glueless turret rewinder bought a year ago for rewinding labels printed on heat-sensitive substrates. However the Bakers realised that staying at the forefront of label printing meant not just reinvesting in the latest equipment, but in the staff who would run it.
“We have big, very expensive assets in the form of our completely renovated building and printing machinery. But by far our greatest asset is our people. We have grown quite rapidly in the last seven to eight years and it has become very apparent that the more you put into your staff the more you get out of them by making the workplace a more enjoyable place to spend eight hours of your day.”
Identifying the support your print employees need by working up a wellbeing strategy can seem an overwhelming challenge, especially given the, sensitive, taboo nature of some of the issues it will need to address, says Baker. A professional grounding helps and she has one, having gained a wellbeing coaching qualification gained on a two-year part-time course in 2016.
She is also experienced in neuro linguistic programming, a “silly name for a fantastic discipline” of drawing connections between neurological processes, language and behavioural patterns to achieve specific goals in life – including work. Human resources manager Clare Coles has also undertaken wellbeing coordinator training and together with the management team, they took a lead.
“But an important stepping stone to delivering a successful service, regardless of your expertise, is to talk to the people it involves; the staff. Their input is vital. It’s all very well coming up with ideas but they must be in line with what your staff needs. Not everyone wants to run around muddy obstacle courses, so you have to try to shape, or mould, what you do into a bespoke service,” says Baker.
Her team also had to shape its new premises next door, which they knocked through to create an enlarged unit. Wellbeing areas include two consultation rooms where staff can have private one-to-one chats with Baker, someone from the management team, or an external consultant where Baker feels professional counselling is needed. There is also a larger training room for ‘forward focus’ talks on work goals, accountability, motivation and collaboration training and exercise such as yoga.
Key themes emerged from Baker Labels’ wellbeing service, the first being prevention. Initiatives such all those yoga stretching exercises, structured lunchtime walks, mini marathons or social events, were introduced to help ensure a healthy, happy workforce to hopefully stop issues building up in the first place.
Another theme is intervention to spot and deal with issues before they flare into in something more serious. This is where the culture of openness and having a quiet place to talk about your issues comes into play. A third key theme is protection: offering staff the reassurance that if time off work is needed they will be supported to help them back into the workplace when ready to return.
Baker’s goal by the year’s end is to have reached out to each member of staff in a non-pushy way to let them know exactly what’s on offer should they ever need it. What is on offer is likely to grow, because Baker has plans. These include inviting motivational speakers to give talks, running workshops on teamwork, introducing health screening for those who want it, and even rolling up to that muddy obstacle course should the fancy take.
“You would expect there to be a few people who would feel they don’t need a wellbeing service, and that was our challenge: providing a service that everyone could relate to in some way. We achieved this because we had talked to them at the very start of the process to identify needs and wants and the best means of delivering them,” she adds.
Baker Labels recently booted up a new human resources and attendance system to record progress and while it may be too early to quantify the long-term success of the service, a good yardstick is to gauge the vibe of visitors. Nine tenths of customers and suppliers who swing by Baker Labels on Hubert Road, Brentwood say “‘I can’t believe the atmosphere and energy in this place’”, she says.
Such an impression is born out by the low staff turnover. Baker Labels “spends virtually nothing on job ads”, she says, and when a vacancy does come up, friends and family of existing staff members often want to snap it up. For a company enjoying rapid growth, this is a god-send, adds Baker: “We don’t have much problem recruiting staff, which makes everyone feel good.”
And introducing a staff wellbeing programmes does not have to cost vast amounts of money. Biggest outlay for Baker will be about £2,000 to introduce health screening to check things like blood pressure and cholesterol. But what it does take, she insists, is “imagination, a healthy attitude to challenge and above all people who are passionate about their work and everyone’s wellbeing”.
Location Brentwood, Essex
Inspection host Mandy Baker, HR and finance manager and chief happiness officer
Size Turnover: £10m; Staff: 85
Products A wide range of bespoke labels, from the basic plain to full-colour, dual-layer labels and including barcode, blockout, peel-and-reveal, personalised and security and tamper-evident labels
Kit HP Indigo WS6800, Screen Truepress Jet L350 UV inkjet digital press, Nilpeter FB-3 flexo press, multiple ABG Digicon lines encompassing various processes and an extensive range of finishing kit
Inspection focus Improving staff wellbeing
Don’t rush into it by kicking off a flurry of well-meaning (but poorly thought-out) initiatives. Do your research, talk it through with management and professional coaches, and plan implementation to a tee
Make it personal and bespoke: talk face-to-face with all of your staff – not just a chosen few – on what you are doing and why, and ask what they want or need from a wellbeing service
Appoint champions from management or human resources to lead on the project, liaise with staff at all stages, and then formally launch the initiative
Don’t take on too much; use professional counsellors where needed and follow up with benchmarking exercises such as HR systems and established wellbeing charters and models