Danone is a French multinational food products corporation based in Paris with around 100,000 employees worldwide. The original company bearing the corporate name was founded in 1919 by Isaac Carasso, a migrant from Spain who set up a small factory producing yoghurt. The brand was named after Danon, the nickname of his son Daniel.
Today Danone has four business lines: fresh dairy products, waters, early life nutrition and medical nutrition. Danone UK has around 1,300 staff based in Liverpool, Chiswick and Trowbridge offices, and out on the road.
A review of its health cash plan and PMI premiums prompted a wider health benefit overhaul for Danone UK. “Our PMI costs were continually going up. Our annual premium was moving ahead of where you would expect on inflation,” reports head of UK reward and HR efficiencies John Mayor, explaining that this was because the private medical insurance pot was being used for things that could actually be covered more cost-effectively by Danone UK’s cash plan.
This revealed, he explains, relatively low awareness across the business around what health and wellbeing benefits were actually available to staff. Considering the nature of Danone as a business this was a missed opportunity, says Mayor. “It was taking our external message ‘Health to all’ and looking at how we could internalise that so our employees feel part of the journey,” he says. “That was one of the biggest things, and we are always looking at new opportunities to do that.”
So Danone UK decided to boost engagement with its health and wellbeing offering by creating one common benefits platform for all business units. A new online portal hosted by Thomsons was designed to make “benefits more engaging and fit for purpose”, says Mayor, and to “join all health and wellbeing programmes” together.
Harmonising all benefits necessarily led Mayor’s team to explore what all levels of the workforce got. A largely untapped and underappreciated health screening benefit, only offered to executives at the time, was spotted as the perfect way of boosting engagement across the UK business.
Mayor explains that on paper the health screening was seen by execs, and others in the business, as a perk. But in reality take-up was low because executives had to take time out of their schedules to visit a nominated clinic, which could amount to them feeling like they’d effectively “lost a day”.
“Thomsons introduced us to a company called Bluecrest in 2013. With Bluecrest there was the opportunity for them to come here rather than us go there, and within a 30-minute window you could have a robust health assessment, including a blood test, lung function, heart disease check, a mind and resilience assessment, and a fitness test,” says Mayor.
Danone UK realised that by offering this to all employees as an employer-paid benefit – including the 500 who work in the field and who go to a Bluecrest centre to complete their screenings – it could not only boost engagement, but also build a picture of which groups of the employee population might most benefit from what kinds of interventions.
The 30-minute screenings are conducted annually. After the data is interpreted by a senior health professional, advice is given on what needs to be done to improve the health of Danone employees, and how to best use a ‘nudge’ approach to do this. Immediate campaigns have been delivered in response to findings around Vitamin D deficiency and obesity levels, for example.
“Mental health is also very much a focus,” adds Mayor. “We’ve just launched Bupa ‘Healthy Minds’. This gives 24/7 cover, whether it’s for anxiety or just somebody to talk to. We had a week of sleep therapy in our Trowbridge office. That was incredibly well-attended. We also run lots of other localised activities.”
Engaging with the experts and building strong relationships with suppliers has been key, says Mayor: “People out there are experts in this field. We’re not. If we have a strong relationship [with suppliers] we can look at things that suit our business specifically, hence Healthy Minds was tailored for us.”
Mayor says the next step is bespoke screening. He adds that it’s been important to maintain momentum around the benefit. “Year one the engagement boost is tremendous. Year two we have to be careful it doesn’t become the expected norm; we always have to maintain that engagement level,” he says.
The solution Danone’s arrived at is spot testing. Nurses come into the offices outside of the annual sessions and deliver even quicker check-ups, particularly targeting those not yet engaging. “So it’s a case of: ‘this is what it is, this is what it does, it gives you an instant read-out on blood pressure etc. But next week have your full half-hour slot, get the full report, have your 30-minute MOT’,” explains Mayor.
Regarding introducing bespoke screening, Mayor adds: “If I’m an employee I’ve done that generic test for three years; now I want to have something a little bit more tailor-made to me”.
Engagement with the screenings has been high, a “phenomenal” 60%, Mayor says. He himself has experienced the powerful, life-changing effect having your vital stats laid bare can have; his test’s lung capacity reading was a significant factor in his decision to stop smoking in 2014. “It’s that stark moment of realisation where you recognise you need to make a change,” he says.
Though the business is demographically quite young, the preventative effect of the screenings and follow-up interventions is clearly paying off. Danone UK has very few long-term sick employees, reports Mayor.
There have also been falls between 2014 and 2015 in numbers of employees with ‘raised BMI’ levels, of between 11% and 6% depending on division. Numbers of smokers have fallen by between 12% and 5% depending on division, and those with alcohol-related liver conditions have reduced by between 10% to 5% depending on business unit.
“Also as ROI we’ve seen our private medical insurance premiums reduce by 15%,” reports Mayor. “Any saving we make we reinvest into our benefits portfolio.”
He advises that such strong results will only be obtained if the employer is willing to cover the full cost of the screenings. “It’s not cheap but the benefit of offering this as an employer-paid benefit is so much more interesting and engaging for the employee,” he says. “Even if it’s subsidised, because the employee has to pay something towards it there will still be reluctance. Disposable income is precious and if you’re a household you know how far it’s going to go.”
Providing the kind of private healthcare package traditionally only offered to top executives has been a real morale boost, which has undoubtedly contributed to a general improvement in employee perceptions of the health and wellbeing offer.
More employees now believe benefits offered are as good as or better than similar employers (an average rise of 5% across business units between 2013 and 2015). Additionally, the UK operation (the only locality with the public health screening offer) has, on average, a 16% higher score than Danone globally, and a 24% higher score when benchmarked against comparative UK employers (according to a Willis Towers Watson index).
For Danone UK employees then, it’s very much a case of ‘Health to all’.