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September 8, 2016

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Health and wellbeing at the City of London Corporation

By Rebecca Abrahams, project lead of CityWell, the City of London Corporation’s employee health and wellbeing strategy and programme

Summarising the role of the City of London Corporation is no easy task. We describe ourselves as a ‘uniquely diverse organisation’, an understatement of sorts given the range of our responsibilities and traditions.

The City Corporation’s aim is predominantly to support and promote London as a world-leading financial and business centre. We work in partnership with local communities to increase skills, employment and opportunities, as well as enhancing the capital as a cultural and historical hub. We also manage three markets, five bridges on the Thames (including Tower Bridge) and maintain 11,000 acres of green spaces across London all for the benefit of residents, workers and visitors to London.

As an institution we are older than Parliament and it is perhaps this experience and heritage which underpins the role we have today to provide key services to the Square Mile, London and beyond.

To manage all of our functions we work across a number of corporate, service and institutional departments. Our services range from local authority functions such as managing housing estates and schools, ensuring the streets are kept clean to running our own City police force.

CityWell Thought

Overlooking and misunderstanding the significance of health and how it can affect the internal core of the organisation can be detrimental to the ongoing success of any business.

As an organisation we may be diverse in terms of our roles and the services we provide but we are brought together by our cultural values to Lead, Empower and Trust (LET). We apply these values to all the work we do, as we endeavour to bring together the best of the old and the best of the new. These values provide direction and are broad enough to be applied to all aspects of our business, and health and safety is no exception. Our emphasis on Safety Leadership is a strong behavioural driver which is our ambition for all of our leaders to develop. We see LET as the behavioural lynchpin to bring together our operational ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act’ model, which drives our safety management systems.

In previous years, if you asked the average employee to think about the role of safety at work, although accepted as a critical function, chances are they would view it as a piece of bureaucratic legislation imposed from the top and see it as simply an obstacle to overcome.

As a phrase, health and safety come as a pair, with safety having been the dominant partner for many years. In recent years though this balance has started to shift and health is now perceived as a more critical part of the holistic safety picture.

Workplace health is depicted very differently to safety. In complementary ways both can be considered as preventative measures but health is regarded as lighter and softer, more of a nice-to-have than a business imperative. However, overlooking and misunderstanding the significance of health and how it can affect the internal core of the organisation can be detrimental to the ongoing success of any business.

CityWell Bike

Good physical health and mental wellbeing are vital to a productive and motivated workforce. By adopting a progressive and proactive approach to wellbeing, organisations can reduce sickness absence rates as well as presenteeism levels. By implementing a holistic wellbeing strategy and investing in the health of employees, businesses can see in return higher levels of engagement and productivity.

With the current momentum surrounding workplace wellbeing, it appears increasingly sound business practice to not only incorporate employee health and wellbeing into strategy plans but also to embed it into the organisational culture. As time progresses, we may well be moving in the direction of workplace health becoming statutory legislation. One example of a country where wellbeing is already integrated as an accepted practice is Sweden. To create a happier and healthier workforce, employees are provided with a number of incentives from grants to put towards sporting activities, educational training on the importance of a balanced lifestyle, health assessments for all employees over the age of 50, flexible working hours and subsidised healthy meals.

Although some of these strategies have been adopted by organisations within the UK, cost neutral incentives such as flexible working arrangements in particular have fallen out of favour for more monetary-based incentives. Having said that, there is significant energy and desire from many businesses to improve workplace health as well as build on the UK’s successful safety record. In support of this notion, this year the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched its ‘Help Great Britain Work Well’ initiative, headed up by former Chairman, Judith Hackitt.

Hackitt made it clear that she firmly believes that too much complexity and bureaucracy has built up around health and safety. Instead organisations would benefit from taking a more intelligent approach by keeping things simple and straightforward to ensure that businesses are enabled to reach their potential. As a result, the HSE introduced six guiding strategic points which encompass: acting together, tackling ill health, managing risk well, supporting small employers, keeping pace with change and sharing success.

CityWell Eat

As the majority of workers spend a significant proportion of their lives at work, the workplace is the ideal environment to positively influence these lifestyle choices and promote healthier working-practices.

From a broader perspective, once the nation’s health is set into the context of our unsustainable ageing population and the demanding financial and cultural challenges that this brings, it is clear that workplace wellbeing provision will need to adapt, readjust priorities and focus on prevention, resilience and early intervention. For many organisations this will require a complete review of provision and strategy, shifting from being reactive, focusing on treatment and tackling illness.

Of course this is not to undermine the importance of providing reactive support where it is necessary and in those cases, time is often sensitive and therefore being responsive and providing effective treatment is critical. However, the predominant emphasis is to empower employees to help themselves and intervene before mental and physical conditions become unmanageable.

Public health evidence, including the extensive work of Senior Policy Advisor Dame Carol Black, all demonstrates that the most significant factors which lead to poor health are lifestyle factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise and excessive consumption of alcohol. Therefore, as the majority of workers spend a significant proportion of their lives at work, the workplace is the ideal environment to positively influence these lifestyle choices and promote healthier working-practices.

CityWell Heart

At the City Corporation, as part of CityWell, our new employee health and wellbeing programme, we have embraced a preventative and proactive approach. To guide our strategy, we have taken inspiration from the New Economics Foundation’s ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’, a simple set of principles that can be applied to enhance our everyday lives. These are: take notice, learn, connect, give and be active.

CityWell was launched in April 2016 with the aim to establish a resilient health and wellbeing programme which will continue to adapt to the changing needs of our employees in years to come. In addition to tracking sickness absence rates, our measurable objectives are to see in return higher levels of engagement and productivity, whilst also continuing to attract and retain the highest calibre of talent.

The CityWell employee programme will be implemented in three stages over the course of the next year. Each phase will focus on a key determinant of health: mental health, physical activity and social wellbeing.

Since receiving the ‘achievement’ award for the Greater London Authority’s Healthy Workplace Charter in 2014, we have created a comprehensive employee strategy and programme. Throughout this process we have established some meaningful partnerships with a number of organisations, including: Public Health England on their ‘One You’ campaign, Barclays and the Lord Mayor’s Appeal on the ‘This is Me’ campaign, the City Mental Health Alliance on their dataset project, MIND, Time to Change, Living Street, StepJockey and the British Heart Foundation.

Although the programme is now launched, we are still very much at the beginning of this journey to integrate wellbeing into the cultural fabric of the organisation. At the City Corporation we pride ourselves on not just defining what we do, but how we do it. Our ambition continues to be to provide employees with an inclusive environment which ensures equality of opportunity for all.

CityWell Programme Highlights:

General Health

The results from an employee wellbeing survey indicated that our people felt they could benefit from a comprehensive health assessment. As a result, we devised our ‘Know Your Numbers’ campaign to encourage employees to be aware of their vital health statistics and through an education programme to make informed decisions about their lifestyle habits. As part of this initiative we introduced –

Health Assessment Kiosks – measure: BMI, Body Fat Percentage, Heart Rate, Hydration Levels and Lifestyle Questions (alcohol consumption, diet, exercise). These kiosks have been made available to City Corporation employees at 16 sites and locations, with over 1300 members of staff engaging to date.

Mental Health

Signing of ‘Time to Change’ pledge – Town Clerk and Chief Executive signed the pledge to commit the City Corporation to reducing stigma and discrimination around mental health in the workplace.

Mental Health First Aid training – Mandatory training for all line managers across the City Corporation to identify the signs and symptoms of mental ill health in their colleagues and know which support services to signpost them to. We are the first organisation in the country to make this training mandatory for managers.

‘This is Me’ in the City campaign – Raising the profile of mental health and opening up the space to talk about our own mental health. Through blogs and videos the campaign focuses on lived experience and reducing the stigma around mental health by showing that people living with mental ill health have to cope with both the illness and other people’s perception of the illness.

Physical Activity

StepJockey – Rating staircases for calorie burn through smartsign technology.  We will be introducing StepJockey smartsigns on four key staircases in Guildhall to encourage employees to make more use of the stairs throughout the working day.

‘One You’ campaign – Working in partnership with Public Health England on this national campaign to encourage people to move more and adopt healthier lifestyle behaviours.

Open and Green Spaces – Encouraging our employees across all sites to make use of the green spaces managed by the City Corporation, from those 150 parks and gardens in the Square Mile, to larger open spaces; Epping Forest, Hampstead Heath and Burnham Beeches.

Social Wellbeing

Balanced diet – Introducing an educational campaign around the importance of a balanced diet and encouraging informed decisions through subsidised healthy food provision at Guildhall.

‘Two Days to Give’ volunteering scheme – Promoting our established volunteering scheme to encourage employees to spend two of their working days helping out at a City accredited project or charity.

Sports and Social Club fitness classes – Working in partnership with our Sports and Social Club to deliver good quality and affordable exercise classes for employees at regular intervals throughout the working day.

RAbrahams Headshot


Working within the Health & Safety team at the City of London Corporation, Rebecca Abrahams is the project lead for CityWell, the employee health and wellbeing strategy. Since the CityWell launch in April 2016 the programme has introduced a broad range of initiatives to proactively protect and improve the physical health and mental wellbeing of employees.



CityWell - Logo


What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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