Case study: Tailoring a health and wellbeing strategy
Thirza Tooes, January 25, 2019
The workforce at Arconic’s Kitts Green site weren’t engaged with health interventions, so HR created a strategy around their specific wellbeing needs
Arconic is a global business that develops and manufactures products for the aerospace, commercial transportation and oil and gas markets. It has approximately 150 sites, around 40,000 employees, and in 2017 generated a turnover of $13 billion (£10.1 billion). Its history goes back a long way; the firm has been manufacturing in the UK since the 1830s, and supplied turbine blades for the first aircraft to be powered by a jet engine. Its 16 British manufacturing sites contributed around 6% to Arconic’s global 2017 revenue.
Arconic’s Kitts Green site in Birmingham manufactures and processes aluminium in a factory that runs 24/7. The shop floor employees work in a shift pattern of two 12-hour day shifts and two 12-hour night shifts followed by four days off. The workforce is largely male and ageing; 68% are over 40 and 20% are 55 or older. As such they’re vulnerable to health conditions associated with shift work (such as poor sleep), and older people (such as cardiovascular problems).
Prevailing attitudes among staff around seeking help at work to make changes were also a barrier. There was something of a stigma around using the wellness centre, for example, and engagement with healthy lifestyle messages was weak.
Although the site was running health campaigns there was no data on their uptake or success rate, and – chosen from an NHS list – they weren’t personalised to the workforce.
To identify the health and wellbeing status of the workforce and create a tailored two-year strategy, HR and health and safety joined forces. In 2016 the on-site wellness team (comprised of an occupational health nurse, an occupational health adviser and a healthy lifestyle adviser) planned a health-check roadshow in conjunction with HR.
These 10-minute checkups screened for 15 different health markers. Individual results were available to employees immediately along with personalised recommendations. There was also the opportunity to make a further appointment to see the nurse or healthy lifestyle adviser to discuss any concerns.
Although Arconic was already offering these checks in the wellness centre, key was getting out onto the shop floor to conduct them in canteens so that employees missed less time away from work.
“It was really important to get on the floor and start talking to the guys face to face. We feel that broke down a lot of barriers and made the wellness centre that much more accessible. They became comfortable, they put faces to the names, and I think that really opened the door,” explains Ines Balasa-Balint, Kitts Green’s HR business partner.
The easier-to-attend sessions proved much more popular than health checks previously had been; 175 employees took part in the roadshow checks.
The data gathered demonstrated that areas of particular concern were high body fat percentage, hydration and cholesterol. From this the team was able to establish a holistic health and wellbeing strategy focused around four key areas: environmental, occupational, social and health. Various interventions were launched under each area – for example more classes at the on-site gym, various health promotion campaigns on site, and health vending machines (environmental), free counselling, physio and chiropody services, and financial support through HR (occupational), and health screenings and subsided stop smoking programmes (health) to name a few. Particularly key was creating and developing a wellness committee (social).
“Ten different employees from different areas of the plant make up the wellness committee and they help with getting communication out to the shop floor. They’ll help us organise sporting events, external work for charity and family fun days,” says Claire Green, health and safety manager for Kitts Green.
Getting staff across the site engaged at the frontline was again vital to the interventions being a success. Posters were put up in each area displaying different shift patterns’ aggregate results from the health checks, which not only kept employees informed but also sparked conversations.
“It was like a bit of a competition actually between the areas. It became a good talking point between the work crews as well,” explains Green.
Generalised results were also published in the staff newsletter, which every employee gets a copy of.
To particularly target the three problem areas highlighted by the health checks (body fat, hydration and cholesterol), the business ran weight loss programmes, physical activity initiatives such as cycling clubs, a hydration campaign that included distributing informative water bottles, and took part in national awareness initiatives like National Heart Month and Know Your Numbers (which focuses on blood pressure awareness and testing).
Although not highlighted as an issue in the health-check roadshow, which tested mainly physical health markers, mental health has also been a focus. “We’ve sat down and said ‘look we’ve done really well with the physical side of things but now it’s time to step it up and include mental health’, because it is so important,” says Balasa-Balint.
It was decided some form of benchmark was needed, and that a mental health roadshow wouldn’t really work as it’s harder to ‘test’ for mental wellbeing issues. So a Mind Your Health survey was created and distributed earlier this year.
“We had an online survey sent out to all those who had computer access, but for the shop floor we decided that once again going out in person was key. So myself, Claire and Nadia [Fedotova, former environmental health and safety manager] spent a few weeks going to every single team briefing, and gave a 10-minute talk at the end about why it was important and what we wanted to do,” explains Balasa-Balint. “We actually gave people the option to fill in the survey then and there and had a whopping 320 people respond, which we were really excited about.”
Not only has Arconic enjoyed incredible internal success, it has also received external industry recognition in the form of HR magazine’s 2018 HR Excellence Awards Health and Wellbeing award.
Since the health checks and subsequent tailored health and wellbeing strategy there have been various broad improvements. Sickness absence dropped by 0.57% between 2016 and 2017, the lowest result seen since 2014. The latest employee engagement survey in late-2017 demonstrated that environment, health and safety areas are up by 3% and employee engagement is up 5% compared with other UK sites.
Kitts Green has collectively lost 138 kilograms, 30% of people identified with critical hypertension stage 2 blood pressure have been reduced to a less critical rating, and 61.5% of people screened in 2017 have hit the cholesterol target of a reading of 5mmol/L or below.
The stigma around seeking help also appears to have lessened; appointments to see the occupational health nurse increased by 139.9% from 2016 to 2017, and the on-site gym now has 288 members (42.4% of all employees). The team plans to repeat the health-check roadshow in 2019 so that it can compare data and establish whether there are additional areas requiring intervention.
“We expect a better uptake. We were chuffed with 175 at the time considering before then not much had been recorded or followed up really. But we hope to get numbers like we did for our mental health survey because that was just fantastic,” says Balasa-Balint.
She adds: “To have the success we’ve had so far is encouraging because I think we are making an impact on our employees. At the end of the day that’s what we want; we want happy, healthy people working for us who are happy to work for us”.