Digital support with a human touch: using apps to combat lockdown challenges

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To help its workforce adjust to the challenges of lockdown, insurance giant Aviva adopted app-based assistance backed up with a personal approach.

The organisation

Founded in 2000, Aviva is one of the largest general insurers in the UK. Headquartered in London, it has customers in 11 countries around the world, with local offices in France, China and Canada.

It provides products across the spectrum from investment and savings products to general insurance. In the UK, the company’s most familiar work is in motor, home and travel insurance, but it also works in the business and commercial sectors. Of the 30,000 people it employs worldwide, 16,000 are based in the UK.

The company’s HR team focus is to ensure every colleague can thrive as an individual, which they believe will go on to transform the performance of the business. The HR team also strive to have a diverse workforce, an inclusive culture and aim to recognise and highlight the importance of wellbeing in the workplace to all of its employees.

As part of the FTSE 100 Index, the company’s values are published in order to hold itself accountable: care more, kill complexity, never rest and create legacy.

The problem

When the UK went into its first national lockdown on 23 March Aviva employees, much like the rest of the country, began to work remotely. At this time the company became aware that the mounting stress of the global pandemic would take its toll on its employee’s mental health.

“Supporting employee wellbeing through the first lockdown was incredibly important to us,” says Darren Cornish, Aviva’s people services director.

With a digitally adept workforce, online resources would be the go-to way for employees to interact with any kind of health and wellbeing support. But the type of help the company wanted to offer to remote workers was to blend technology with a more practical approach to help them in a more real and physical way.

“We wanted to put wellbeing in the hands of our people and enable them to be better placed to manage their health and wellbeing through what has been a difficult and disruptive time,” says Cornish.

According to The Health Foundation, more than two-thirds of adults in the UK (69%) reported feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on their life. Aviva was not prepared to let its staff feel as if they were being forgotten about by their employer.

The method

Rather than email a link to a self-help website and consider their job over, the HR team instead took a more personal and proactive approach. “We wanted to provide digital support in the most human way possible,” says Cornish.

For this reason, Aviva provided a set of wellbeing options, which are initially delivered through an app, but with the option to connect with a real person should they wish to take their issue further or feel they need to have more personalised support.

“We made a clear decision that we wanted to put the ability to access flexible wellbeing support that is available at any time of the day, in the hands of our colleagues and our leaders,” Cornish says.

The apps Aviva selected for this purpose are Headspace and Peppy. Launched in 2010, Headspace allows users to access informative articles and videos about mental health and wellbeing. It also has guided meditation audio and video clips as well as mindfulness exercises.

Recognising some of its employees may be struggling with the impact of menopause and how it disrupts their daily lives, Aviva also introduced Peppy, which offers employees specific menopause support and advice.

It has online group exercises, one-to-one chat support with expert practitioners, and an eight-week menopause programme with the option for follow up appointments.

Cornish says: “The plan is that any colleagues who want to engage with and understand more about the support and help they can get as they go through the menopause, can sit down with a cup of tea in their kitchen and use Peppy through their smartphone.”

Both apps provide employees with the option to go further and have a video consultation with a specialist should they wish to. They were also provided for free to use on their personal mobile devices. Cornish adds: “Once employees have turned off their work phones and computers, they can access the app knowing that they won’t be disturbed by work notifications.”

It also means that employees have access to specialist health and wellbeing care out of office hours.

The result

Employees who have taken up the company’s offer of free app subscriptions welcome the wellbeing support they provide, says Cornish. “Aviva staff are taking full advantage of the apps, the feedback we’ve had has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Aviva has been tracking employee use of the apps and is pleased with how often its colleagues are picking up their phones to ease their peace of mind. “We want staff to be in the best state of mind possible right now when working. The world is so full of stresses right now that seeing a strong up-take in app use is really positive,” says Cornish.

Of those who are subscribed to Headspace, 30% have become active users and are engaging with the app on a regular basis.

Cornish adds: “There is another 30% who return to it when things become overwhelming and use it for a while, so they are using it when they feel they really need to. And then there is 40% who downloaded the app and have thought, ‘that doesn’t quite solve my problem’, so have decided to not use it.”

Cornish says that the 30% of active users are predominantly using Headspace to watch its meditation videos and are using the app’s other functions at least twice a week. As well as a positive increase in overall employee mental wellbeing, he says the apps have also offered other benefits to the company.

“Overall, we’ve seen a substantial reduction in absenteeism and sickness over the last year,” says Cornish. While he did attribute some of the reduction to remote working, he believes the apps have helped have a positive impact.

“Some of our colleagues who had long commutes would have previously been worried about carrying a cough or illness to the office and taken a sick day. But now given they are able to work remotely, they feel better about carrying out some work tasks from the comfort of home,” he says.

A reduction on absenteeism has also had a positive effect on cost saving. “All the time that has been saved can now be given over to customers who need our help,” explains Cornish.

“The apps have shown that by taking care of your employees, they will in turn take care of your business. We always knew this of course, but the wellbeing apps have gone that little bit further and it’s really great.”

Looking to the future, Cornish says that the company hopes more female employees over 50 will feel able to continue working with more support for what they go through with the menopause. He says: “We hope that Peppy helps support those colleagues, we want them to continue working for as long as possible.”

“We are so concentrated on addressing the gender pay gap and gender balance support and we know that women going through menopause need greater support. Peppy can be that support, it’s un-intrusive technology that provides 24/7 advice and information.”

Cornish says that the last thing Aviva wants is for women to feel as though they have to step away from work to help manage any stress that menopause is giving. “So hopefully the apps will help us mitigate and keep those female colleagues working," he concludes.