Over the last 18 months, covid restrictions have had an impact on the wellbeing of staff in workplaces up and down the country and it’s been no different for our Fit 4 Life initiative which began at Call Derbyshire – Derbyshire County Council’s customer contact centre – in January this year.
The call centre deals with a huge variety of enquiries, with advisors switching between lower-level matters such as potholes, to more serious social care issues. The mentally challenging nature of the work can impact on sickness amongst the team.
Figures gathered before the pandemic show mental health is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence in UK workplaces. Stress related absence in particular has increased, according to a CIPD and Simply Health Health and Well-being survey. This all leads to increased staff turnover, reduced engagement and reduced productivity.
With the lifting of restrictions on the horizon people are due to start returning to the workplace, throwing up more anxieties – whether those are related to the transmission of Covid or the changes the transition back into the workplace will bring.
Fit 4 Life advisor Ashley, along with team leader Julie and Service Delivery Manager Dave reflect on a year which has thrown up challenges, but also moments to celebrate as team members rallied together in good spirited competition to up their activity levels and improve their mental wellbeing.
A sedentary workplace
The nature of the work at Call Derbyshire means employees spend large parts of the day sat at a computer, dealing with a whole range of calls, some of which can be emotionally challenging. When approached to take part in Fit 4 Life they were keen to improve overall workplace wellbeing.
Julie Hannan is a team leader and the health and wellbeing champion at Call Derbyshire. She explains the difficulties involved in the role:
“I was on the phone for eight and a half years before I came a team leader,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to get – it could be a call about a pothole or a call regarding child safeguarding. In this job most people take either children or adult social care referrals and some of it can really stay with you.”
When the first lockdown hit, the only way to manage social distancing was for the Customer Care Assistants to have a week on and a week off. Julie explains how this had an impact on wellbeing.
She said: “When they were going a week on and a week off the sickness levels went right down. The kind of work we do, alongside outside issues, can impact on people’s health. Prior to lockdown we had a few cases of long term sickness and some of it is down to mental health.”
Dave Armshaw is a Service Delivery Manager at Call Derbyshire. He said: “My job is very much office based so literally I’m sat at my desk all day. You get comfort breaks but everything you need is round your computer. Before you know it you can have done about 30 steps by the time you get home and that’s it.”
Coaching people remotely
The Fit 4 Life initiative – which has previously seen advisor Ashley working with Derbyshire Constabulary and Chesterfield Royal Hospital – involves a 12 week period of one-to-one coaching sessions where participants discuss their short and long term aims. Using their own activity trackers or a FitBit provided by Shift, they look at feedback on measurements including; active time, sedentary time, steps and sleep.
Normally, the coaching sessions would take place in person but due to the current restrictions these have been via phone or video call.
Ashley explains: “People have adapted to having the conversations remotely but it’s challenging to build trust and talk about potentially sensitive subjects with someone you’ve never met in person.
“It’s also been harder because for a large part of the time people couldn’t go and do the activities they’d usually do like going to the gym or doing exercise classes. And on top of that there’s been such a period of uncertainty which has affected people’s outlook and made it harder to maintain positivity.
“Maintaining that relationship with people is important so I’ve adapted and managed my own expectations. I’ve been more sympathetic if people can’t make appointments or haven’t met goals. I don’t know how anyone should feel or react and I tell people to cut themselves more slack.”
Despite the challenging environment, some changes and the introduction of Fit 4 Life have had a positive impact on the team with a bit of healthy competition and camaraderie, leading to improved workplace wellbeing.
Julie smiles, “We’d joke at work – have you been in touch with Ashley this week, have you been good? There is that incentive. Ashley’s very encouraging and says don’t be down on yourself. People do look forward to talking to him.
“I think having the Fitbit has been good because some people have got quite competitive with that.”
Dave added: “Tracey at my work, she’s more recently got into running and when you hear she’s been for a run and you haven’t you feel guilty, but in a good way. It’s nice because it motivates you to go. It’s healthy competition which I do need I think.”
Keen to provide more opportunities for people to be active together, Julie has to work around the challenges of the workplace to achieve this.
She said: “It’s hard to do things as a group because people work certain times and certain lunchbreaks but they do things like walk round the carpark in the breaks or go for a walk at lunchtime.
“We’ve got Whitworth Park near us and with the better weather we will send an email out saying does anyone want to come to the park after work – you can either walk round, run round, do what you like really. Me and Tracey who’s also on Fit 4 Life used to meet on a Tuesday night and do 5k straight after work. That might be too much for some people but I think if we start just going to the park and say you can have a walk or whatever, they might.”
Increasing physical activity
Fourteen staff are currently enrolled on Fit 4 Life at Call Derbyshire and data collected from the Fitbits shows steps have increased 70% on average while active time has increased by 63%.
Dave explains how being active makes a difference to his wellbeing in the workplace.
He said: “I’ve been running for three years now. In the first lockdown I didn’t do much at all. I’ve done a couple of marathons and when I had something to look forward to and motivate myself I could make myself go for a run. When everything got cancelled I lost motivation a bit because I had nothing booked.
“In November I went the other way and went running every day and felt so much better in myself. You don’t really notice how low you feel when you’re not running and not keeping yourself active. It all gets on top of you. I didn’t really relate it to not doing my exercise. Running is my daily medicine or tablet.
“If I’m not running I make sure I at least go out for a walk at dinner so I get some steps in. Quite often I’d just sit in my car and not do anything. There’s so much work to do it’s easy to sit at your desk and keep trying to fight it but you work better when you have a break. Even if it’s just a 15 minute walk it clears your head then you come back and you go again. It’s like you’ve recharged your batteries. I know how feel when I don’t go out so I know it’s worthwhile.
“The Fitbit motivated me a lot to go out on my dinner. If I didn’t go for a run I could do 1,000 steps in a day, sit at the computer all day then go home and sit on the sofa. It helps me get up to 7 or 8k at least if I’m not running. I keep checking it and thinking I’ve not done enough today I’ll go out for a walk later on.
“It was good to have Ashley checking in. It feels like an achievement when you tell him how many steps you’ve done, going on runs, playing football or whatever. It’s a good little target to break it up for you. It’s so easy to get into a routine of not doing anything.”
Plans for a future boost to workplace wellbeing
Julie explains her plans for building on the momentum of Fit 4 Life to continue improving workplace wellbeing.
She said: “As the health and wellbeing champion at work, things have slipped a lot. There’s a pandemic on, it’s very difficult and we’ve all been a bit distracted. But I am going to make some suggestions about meeting up. I don’t want people to feel under any pressure, just say come along if you like.
“People appreciated us doing things we’d never done. I feel really proud how we dealt with it all. It’s changed the way we work really. I think moving forwards things are going to be better for us.”
If you’d like to speak to us about how we could implement Fit 4 Life and improve your workplace wellbeing, get in touch with us here.