Having worked closely with the team at AmcoGiffen for the past 18 months, we interviewed Human Resources Director Shirley Haines and Human Resources Adviser Sarah O’Brien about the company’s wellbeing strategy. AmcoGiffen specialises in construction and engineering services across large infrastructure projects in the rail and energy sectors as well as flood defence and waterways.

Here Shirley and Sarah share valuable insights, from the specific challenges within the construction industry and the importance of mental health to practical aspects of engaging employees around a wellbeing strategy, in this case the SuperWellness Challenge.

Here’s a transcription of the interview:

SW: Shirley, in your role you look after a UK wide team of 1000 across 10 main offices plus additional sites. You support a diverse workforce who are office and site based, often travelling, working away from home and shift working on projects throughout the UK. What is your take on the role of wellbeing in the construction industry?

SH: Our industry as a whole is predominantly male dominated. We have an ageing workforce, not only within our industry but in the UK as well. People are living longer and as a result of the later retirement age, they’re also working longer. Wellbeing is an important part of this. In order to keep the skills that we need and we keep people safe and in good health, we have a duty of care to support the health and wellbeing of our employees.

SW: Could you talk us through the journey of wellbeing at AmcoGiffen over recent years?

SH: We recognised, along with the mental health, that wellbeing is an integral part and what could we actually do to help our workforce. We looked at different things. In order to be an employer of choice, for people to come and work with us and to stay with us, we’ve got to have something that’s absolutely unique in our offering. In this day and age it’s not just about how much money people are paid. It’s an important factor, but it’s also about what else is offered outside of the traditional salary and benefits that we offer to people. So we wanted to have a look at what our offering could be and retain our skilled people in our business hence our reason for looking at the SuperWellness programme.

Also recent research tells us that the older population would work 12-13 hour days – millennials want work-life balance and this along with our health and wellbeing offering is what can help us retain talent within our company.

SW: What have you done to address Mental Health in The Workplace? 

SH: We now have 40 mental health first aiders. We put it out to the workforce. Only 14% of our workforce are females and I was delighted by the number of males that came forward. Beyond getting people trained, I have a wellbeing coordinator as part of my team who is now training to be a counsellor – she’s now approaching the time where we’re considering a degree level – it’s quite a lengthy process, between 5-6 years.

SW: Can you tell us about the Workplace Wellbeing Charter and your experience of it at AmcoGiffen

SH: The Workplace Wellbeing Charter is managed through the local councils. There’s quite a stringent process to go through. It’s not just a document to tick to say we comply. We had a workplace assessment from the council who came in and verified what we do. We then had to provide evidence to support this. The council also visited our workforce, had several focus groups without us being there, up and down the country and asked them questions to verify what we’d said. As a result of that we were awarded the gold charter. There were some things that we had to do – one of the things that was identified was nutrition and that was one of the reasons why we have collaborated and partnered with SW to bring nutrition to the workplace and this has worked extremely well.

SW: How do you think nutrition and education on a healthy lifestyle has impacted your workforce and business?

SH: When we first introduced the programme, people thought it was like a traditional diet club. Obviously we’ve had quite a few people go through this programme now and when they come along we tell them it’s not a traditional diet club, the SuperWellness team are trained nutritionists who are there to educate you, not to tell you what to do. They cover a wide variety of topics each month. One of the biggest areas we’ve seen improvements in has been sleep. It can have such a debilitating effect. Some of our recent reports have shown that in one area, sleep improved by 40% which is a phenomenal improvement. It’s where the team has provided an education piece and it’s been an amazing result.

SW: Looking back on the nutrition challenge programme, what influenced its success from AmcoGiffen’s side?

SOB: Firstly it was the buy in from senior management who really drove and supported the programme, and this got people interested. I myself was championing the programme from the company point of view, so I attended all of the sessions, got people interested in attending, really spread the word and shared the feedback we were getting, how engaged participants were. I think keeping that constant communication helped, so between sessions, you’d see people come in and be amazed by what they’d found out, and they’d go back to their desk and tell their colleagues, who’d then come to the later sessions. It was great to see the buzz it created. In the regional teams that we were running the programme in, and in the wider company, we were promoting it on social media, sharing all the success stories, the great achievements that our employees were getting from it and that created a buzz, from up in Scotland to down south as well. It was great to see that.

Working in teams worked well too. They were very mixed teams, office people, site guys working in different shifts, all different ages and you saw them all coming together and really supporting each other as well, going for walks, sharing meals together, healthy snacks. And some of the results have just been amazing. I remember one of the site guys, who didn’t really know what to expect, he went from eating monster munch sandwiches everyday to drinking herbal teas, switching to brown bread and trying nuts and it really opened his mind, it’s been great to see some of the commitment people have shown.

A lot of people initially thought it was going to be like a diet club, and when they came it really opened their eyes and they could see that actually it wasn’t about that at all, it was about their lifestyle and that nutrition can affect different things like your sleep, energy levels, and stress levels and how just making small improvements can really help. It was great to see people feeding back about their lifestyle outside of work, taking it back to their families and cooking healthy meals and seeing the benefits that had. People were initially a bit apprehensive about getting on the scales, what those results would be and if they had to do it in front of people, so my role was to take that pressure away and reassure them that it was completely confidential and they could just talk one on one with the nutritionist if they wanted to. It was really great, it was tailored for individuals but suited everyone as a whole as well. You really saw people spur each other on, support each other and even outside of the group sessions, people were emailing each other, sending pictures of what they’d been eating, giving each other recipe ideas.

SH: On the part of the programme that we’ve recently run, one of the guys actually came up to me and said :“I didn’t really know what to expect, however just sitting through that, wow that’s absolutely amazing! It’s one of the best programmes that AmcoGiffen have run.” I asked how long he’d been with us, and he said “5 years but that was just absolutely amazing!” The enthusiasm that people have was just fantastic.

SW: What impact has AmcoGiffen’s commitment to health and wellbeing had on your business?

SH: When we tender for projects, there are stringent and strict criteria that we have to adhere to and we also have to produce evidence. This has been absolutely amazing from a people point of view because when tendering for work now, companies don’t just want to know financial and timescale aspects of the delivery, it is all about the people offering; how we treat our people and what we do for our people, so being able to put in the bid that we provide something quite unique puts us at an advantage. Other companies do have mental health first aiders, which is extremely important, but there aren’t many companies out there within our industry who actually can say they have brought in a professional team of nutritionists to enhance our employee offering. It’s helped greatly from a people point of view and when we’ve tendered for work. Clients like to interview employees and for employees to actually talk about it very naturally, it is quite powerful and it’s been quite a good success for us.

SOB: It’s been great for people to take an hour out of their day, to think about themselves and their own health and wellbeing – they can easily get pushed to the side in such a busy fast-paced industry, so for us to show commitment to our employees and encourage them to take time out, set some goals for themselves, communicate with the people around and show that we’re here to support them and help them improve their health and wellbeing if very powerful.

SW: What advice would you give to other construction companies when it comes to wellbeing?

SH: I think this programme has been absolutely excellent. You tell me where you would personally go out and engage with a professional nutritionist who can educate, guide you and improve the quality of your health and wellbeing so what I would say to people out there is: you invest in first aiders, you invest in mental health first aiders, and if you equate that back to a cost per person, this is no different and it most definitely is well worth the time and the commitment and if anybody wanted to speak to either Sarah or myself, we would quite happily fly the flag for SuperWellness because the team has been absolutely amazing and the feedback has been fantastic!