The University of Sheffield’s realisation that its internal health and wellbeing activities were ahead of the curve is a story many who’ve launched their own enterprise will recognise.
Chief HR and corporate officer Andy Dodman describes the “lightbulb moment” of realising that there was a gap in the market for its new subsidiary Everyday Juice Limited.“The big bit is providing the IT platform to support businesses to effectively run their own wellbeing services,” explains Dodman.
“What we found when we launched our own scheme is there’s always lots of activities that take place, even in smaller employers, but there isn’t always one clear brand and one central point where staff can access those activities and receive lifestyle information and support.”
Everyday Juice also offers a health and wellbeing consultancy service, and runs a raft of activities – including tai chi classes, body health checks, seminars on mental health and boot camps – for a range of private, public and higher education customers.
Key to the idea catching the imagination of the University’s executive team was that selling expertise is something the University prides itself on, says Dodman. “There was a strong sense of: this is the entrepreneurial spirit we should be encouraging,” he says. “It isn’t that we want to make big profits. We’re doing it because maximising the reach and impact of our work is common practice for us as a university.”
The challenge to overcome was that the idea of an internal function selling expertise was “a bit odd” and risked distracting from core activities. The solution was to collaborate with partners for delivery.
“We were lucky because we managed to bring in a small group of people who could run the commercial offer, and were very happy to work with us in the first instance pro bono,” explains Dodman. “They saw it had legs and in return they wanted some ownership of the business. But they didn’t need upfront cash or a salary to begin with. So it was my expertise and knowledge of the HR community and H&W, but I could bring these people in to do the doing.”
An inability to access such a group of people for day-to-day delivery could prevent other HR departments following suit, feels Dodman: “You do need a group of people who will make it happen. If other people didn’t have that group I think it would be difficult. It’s really hard work to set up a business from scratch.”
The typically cautious nature of many in HR could also prove a barrier, he adds: “It may only work with HR people who are less risk-averse. I do wonder whether some of our community are too risk-averse to try,” he says.
But for Sheffield things are going very well, with a “modest profit” already being generated. This means the University has been able to take two of its partners on as salaried in-house staff.
It’s doing so well the team is considering branching into offering other services, says Dodman: “People have approached us saying: ‘we like what you’re doing in this area could you help us somewhere else?’ But the underpinning issue is to always remain focused on staff here.”
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