Groupe SEB's holistic wellbeing approach

Groupe SEB took a holistic approach to improving health and wellbeing, realising that an exercise-only focus can be off-putting for some

The organisation

Groupe SEB is the global €6.8 billion consortium most people won’t have heard of. But as one of the world’s largest manufacturers of small home appliances it owns household-favourite brands including Krups, Rowenta and Tefal. First founded in 1857 in Dijon, it has been responsible for key kitchen innovations including inventing the odourless electric deep-fat fryer. Since then it’s grown rapidly through acquisition (including acquiring Calor in 1972 and Rowenta in 1988), to employ more than 25,000 people worldwide. It manufactures products ranging from vacuum cleaners to hair straighteners, and now operates globally with plants in Poland, Canada, France, the Nordics, Brazil, the US, Russia and China.

The challenge

Recent European Commission data shows nearly half (49.8%) of the EU population do no sport at all. And with sedentary living now on the rise, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks physical inactivity as one of the leading risk factors for health, estimating it to be responsible for one million deaths (10% of the European total) in Europe per year.

Poland has historically had one of the worst healthcare systems in Europe so the burden of wellbeing increasingly falls to business.

Although Groupe SEB did not have a huge problem with inactivity-related sickness absence, part of its mission is to create a culture of appreciating ‘work well done’ and to ‘foster employees’ sense of fulfilment and personal enrichment’. So in recent years it has focused on improving employee wellness as a route to boosting overall happiness. Over the past few years physical activity-related wellness initiatives have been rolled out across the group, starting with Poland in 2017 and all under the watchful eye of Kasia Pisarska, Groupe SEB’s HR director (Poland and Baltics).

The strategy

“Our whole approach to wellbeing started with a question: ‘what best influences our employees’ sense of wellbeing, and what can we do as a business to strengthen this?’,” says Pisarska, who set herself the task of researching this huge area.

After digesting as much of the quantitative data out there as possible, she decided to concentrate on three areas: exercise, nutrition and rest. The scheme – ‘Get Healthy. Stay Healthy’ – was then officially launched in 2017.

“Being a cookery products-based company nutrition was a great first area to push to drive engagement, as staff could benefit from using our own range of equipment,” she says. “But to make sure it really took off we hired cooks and a nutritionist to show people how to cook better.”

What sets this wellbeing programme apart though is having a full calendar of events, with one area looked at each month. For instance, company ice-skating in January/February, cookery the next month, and then sessions in March on ‘looking good’ – where a hair and fashion stylist showed people which clothes best suited their body shapes.

These initiatives were picked to bolster each other. They were also deliberately chosen to engage people in different areas of wellness, especially those not engaged by the physical aspect of exercise.

“We decided that running the widest selection of sessions as possible would stand the biggest chance of connecting with the most people,” explains Pisarska. “As such we also introduced talks on developing ‘healthy backs’ [posture], offered on-site massages and brought in experts on stress relief.”

The physical exercise element was also important though, and initiatives here included hiring trainers to start ‘wellbeing jogging’ sessions, running football tournaments, and getting staff to take part in Nordic walking [a method of walking with poles that exercises the whole body]. “The key part is not marginalising or isolating any particular group of staff by making it all about exercise,” Pisarska says.

“We wanted to create the widest level of participation possible, and for some wellness isn’t about sweating in a gym but relaxing. So some of the less physical activities we’ve run have included board-game days where staff can come together, connect and enjoy a game in their lunch break or before/after work. We even ran self-defence classes.”

The result

The success of the scheme has been much more than sheer participation alone. “We really feel we’ve created a new corporate identity around health and healthy living,” Pisarska says. “Since launching the official programme it’s spawned lots of interest from staff who have made their own suggestions for activities. We’ve actually created our own sports club – complete with our own branded kit, shoes and equipment. And a movie now exists showing all new joiners our healthy ethos.”

According to participation data 78% of staff rated their experience of ‘Get Healthy. Stay Healthy’ sessions as good or excellent, 89% said they would participate in more sessions, and overall an impressive 97% said they would recommend events to others.

Particularly satisfying, says Pisarska, was the finding that 83% of employees who have taken advantage of step counters given to them are rated as ‘highly active’ (taking 12,500+ steps per day), compared to just 1% that are ‘somewhat active’ (5,000 to 7,499 steps per day).

“For me the big takeaway has been not just healthier happier staff, but staff that have created more connections with each other through shared wellbeing experiences,” she says. “It also proves that physically-active people are also happier people, and the plan for this year is to enter Great Place to Work to see where this places us against our peers.”

Crucially the scheme has been so successful because it doesn’t work in isolation: “Last year we also introduced flexitime and home working, and are right now testing people in teams of 15 across the business to see whether people are happier and more productive working anywhere they want. It all works in harmony.”

This piece appeared in the April 2019 issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk