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Wellbeing over strategy: 5 pointers for putting your people first - including in a pandemic

Many companies are solely focused on growing, driving profit and beating their competitors. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as after all, we’re in business to make money. But that cannot be the be all and end all of a good company, because when stuff happens, like being advised to work from home during a global pandemic, we need to have contingencies which allow staff to continue doing their jobs with any support they might need.

MVF Global is currently the Sunday Times’ best company to work for (2020), and has consistently placed high on the list. We didn’t get there by being one of the fastest growing martech companies in the world (though we are), we got here by putting our employees first, before strategy, and creating a safe and inclusive space for people to be their authentic selves, especially during a global health pandemic!

Not only are we an award winning business with an award winning Wellbeing Team, we also have an award winning tried and tested wellbeing strategy; so here are some top tips on how to put your people first.

1. Develop a sustainable wellbeing programme

You’d be surprised how many organisations tag wellbeing on to the job description of an unwilling HR generalist. Looking after the physical and mental health of staff is really a job on it’s own and the best way to create focused and targeted programmes is by planning. A well thought out strategy means you can meet the needs of your staff whilst being realistic about your available resources.

At MVF, we offer a range of physical activities to engage in across the day including employee-led exercise clubs, personal training sessions and five yoga classes a week, all online so staff can enjoy these at home when they’re unable to access the office due to the pandemic.. We also offer therapy, mental health coaching, and even free premium Headspace memberships for every person in the business. We get that small companies might not have the budget so if that’s the case: be flexible. Recognise that wellbeing isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept and can mean something different to everyone. So, allow your people the flexibility to do the activities they need to feel well and bring them some sort of peace as let’s be honest, life is hard and we don’t need work environments that make it feel harder. Wellbeing hours are one of the most effective initiatives we have introduced and they cost nothing! 

2. Be transparent: communicate better

We know that most staff offer a collective groan when asked to fill out a survey, but gathering regular feedback is a great way to temperature check how employees are feeling. Internal communications like all staff emails and newsletters are great, but it’s also important to offer two way communication so people feel heard. That’s why we run regular pulse surveys, alongside our annual staff survey, which take less than two minutes to complete; they help us get a real sense of staff sentiment, no matter the topic. Also, every month MVF holds an OMMA (once monthly management assembly) hosted by our CEO, with updates from various members of staff, both senior and junior, on current activities across the company. We end with a Q&A so anyone in the organisation has an opportunity to ask questions, share ideas, or raise concerns with senior management. Where there is transparency, there is trust. We love holding these in person, but we always stream them so our people can join no matter where they are working from.

3. Develop your people

Learning and development is an important part of all our lives and doesn’t stop when we finish formal education; lifelong learning is key to ongoing wellbeing and strengthening our brains as new neural pathways are developed. It also challenges our perspectives and inspires creativity. These are just some of the reasons why MVF provides a £1,000 budget each year for every member of staff - investing in our people’s development is a priority for us.

Where that’s not possible, creating in-house courses and programmes with clear learning objectives equips staff with confidence that a) you are invested in their development and b) their skills remain relevant for their role. And each can be taken online.

Creating an environment for consistent learning also has a positive commercial impact: MVFers who complete our Management Development Academy stay with us on average two and a half years longer. We see the same trend with our Mate to Manager programme, with those who complete it staying almost a year longer than others.

4. Show you care about diversity and inclusion, don’t just say it

The pandemic really highlighted injustices around the world for certain groups of people. Businesses and brands responded to this in different ways, many showed public support and others implemented tick box exercises to be politically correct. Navigating inclusion can be difficult when you don’t know where to start, so the most important thing businesses can do is create a safe space for marginalised groups to be heard, and to bring their authentic selves to work.

In the last two years MVF has facilitated the start of various D&I networks such as our women’s network, LEEP (lived experience of ethnic people) and LGTBQ+, and we’re about to launch a neurodiversity group. Our networks have budgets to put on events, create and implement programmes and to celebrate their differences unapologetically. Like us, businesses can support these networks with executive sponsors who can help them set tangible objectives like closing the gender pay gap (if there is one) and creating leadership programmes which will see more ethnic people promoted to senior positions. Be the change your staff want to see in the world, and lead by example. When we aren’t able to celebrate together, we encourage the networks to hold webinars and invite speakers allowing all our people to join and learn about things they may not have experienced or even thought about.

5. Be a family friendly employer

A recent McKinsey report claims the majority of working mothers are having to pull a “double shift” as they take on more responsibilities in the home than their male counterparts. The report also claimed that almost 70% of fathers have struggled mentally during the pandemic. Recognising that people have families and caring responsibilities outside of work which can affect their mood, mental health and overall productivity levels is really half the battle. Providing various options to support individual needs is the other half. There will never be a resolution that fits everyone, so being flexible and creating purpose built programmes to support parents and carers can have a massive positive impact on retention. 

MVF launched its Family Forward approach in 2021 made up of three parts; facilitating the progression of our parents at the same rate as non-parents, ensuring all MVFers have a fair and consistent parental leave experience, and flexible working for everyone - we don’t want MVFers to have to make a choice between having children, or having a career; we think it’s possible to do both.  Part of this approach includes creating an exec sponsored returnship programme for new mothers for 2022. The 2019 Women in the Workplace report revealed that company leaders believe returnship programs helped them develop and retain talented women, contributing to their representation of women in the C-suite at more than double the industry average. This illustrates that thinking about families will most likely support your inclusion goals too. In the meantime, we’ve partnered with family coaching service, Parent Cloud, offering our people access to free antenatal classes, a hub of webinars and 1-2-1 support sessions, because parents and carers matter!

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