Key milestones

Putting a pilot employee wellbeing strategy together

Lynda Oliver, head of wellbeing and external relationships at OutsideClinic, on the importance of whole company engagement when prioritising staff mental health

Lynda Oliver

1. I came back into the business after a period of furlough keen that we invest even more time and effort in supporting our staff’s wellbeing and mental health.

The Mindful Employer Network hold a number of meetings throughout the year with a range of speakers, and the social enterprise Tasting Colours were speaking at the October conference. What they said resonated with me, both personally and for the business. I'm a great believer that if you can use a local resource, you should. We're now the first private company to be working with Tasting Colours on this particular type of personalised individual wellbeing project.

2. Our first challenge was to meet to discover whether or not this was a potential relationship.

We had a Zoom meeting, and they were interested in the fact that we have a head office local to them in Swindon and field staff and clinicians all around the country, into Scotland and Wales, so there were various elements to consider when devising this tailored programme.

Tasting Colours advised that there was an initial piece of work that would need to be done around our motivation and how our directorate and our senior board felt about it. They made the decision that, if there was no buy-in from senior management, they would advise not to bother.

I likened it to rising damp in a house: by the time you see it, there's already a problem


It takes a lot for a business to really decide to roll up its sleeves and approach this in a pragmatic and meaningful way, and be prepared to hear and learn. First of all, you've got to understand what wellbeing means to people. It can be anything from free tea, coffee, and biscuits, to a 24/7, 365-day wraparound personal mental and healthcare offering, and anything in between. I had to find out what it meant to OutsideClinic staff, not as a homogenous group of optometrists or audiologists or back-office staff, but as individuals.

3. Our first step as a company was to make a decision not to come up with a policy or try to pre-empt a solution, or go through a tick box exercise to try and find an off-the-shelf offering.

Starting with the premise that wellbeing is a strategic issue helped us think in a more innovative way, and think about a different approach. I likened it to rising damp in a house: by the time you see it, there's already a problem. I wanted to make sure I was doing a lot of maintenance work to make sure the problem didn't arrive.

The actual policy will come at the end, when we've done all the learning and when all the trials and the pilots have taken place, and we've had feedback and an evaluation.

4. The first thing we did was our annual employee survey, in January 2021.

The survey was broken down into ‘my work’, ‘my job’, ‘being me’, and ‘being me at work.’ We were very careful about how we grouped the questions, to get ourselves not only a good evaluation of how our people felt about the company and their place in it, but also about their wellbeing. The employee survey included some suggested wellbeing questions by Tasting Colours.

It was important for us as a to be able to action suggestions from colleagues as quickly as possible, wherever feasible. And we did: we had a dress code change; we became a living wage employer. We became more family friendly and flexible in the packages we were able to offer. We had quite a lot of wins to begin with, and I felt that helped staff understand that they were on a journey with us; that we were just making a start. We'd done some things as quickly as we could that were feasible and reasonable, and we were bringing them along with us. That's why I think, later on, the wellbeing survey had such a high response.

The strategy is not down on paper at the moment. I have folders of notes, and it'll be a case of pulling back together and pinning down what we need it to be


When we’d evaluated those results, we went to Tasting Colours with the information we had, and set about putting together a further wellbeing survey, which gave everybody who took part a score on the Warwick-Edinburgh mental wellbeing chart. We had a 70% response rate to that survey, which we were delighted with.

5. Of course, it’s vitally important to get buy-in from directors and the board, and there is investment involved.

It helped that Deloitte had written, in January 2020, a report called Mental Health and Employers: Refreshing the Case for Investment. I got some time with our finance director, who has now become one of our wellbeing champions in the taskforce. 

If we wanted to be a great place to work, this just made sense. I want great people, who are happy at work. It's very simple, really, and that's how I got the buy-in. It did help that Tasting Colours are innovative, very cost conscious, and really understand what it takes for a business to get a wellbeing solution that's not just a tick box exercise.

6. We wanted to make sure we could involve everybody.

Inclusivity is multifaceted: there's unconscious bias, and different cultural awareness levels of wellbeing and mental health. I'm interested in being informed about what we can do to open it up to everybody. Talking about it makes a big difference, because if it's a commonplace conversation it then becomes a comfortable place for people who have differing opinions.

It's as little and as large as you need it to be. Environment, will and momentum are key


Our wellbeing pilot includes one-to-one sessions. These serve as a rich source of feedback that myself and the team can review to ensure we're not missing anything, and we're not blindsided. We're all working on that inclusivity aspect together.

7. This isn't something sat on the shelf that I look at every month or every year.

Until we're in a position where I really feel that everything in our business, including our environment, our working processes, the way that we operate and the way that our people feel, are pinned down, this is a daily workout. In every management meeting, wellbeing is on the agenda. The board of directors have it as a line of interest, and we have a HR director who’s recently joined to ensure that it stays a priority and that we don't lose this focus. It takes hard work and determination to be a great place to work, and we've still got a way to go.

8. We're trying to weave a lot of what we're hearing and learning, including process, system, and operational changes, to bring forward the views of our staff.

It's really important that we have senior management buy-in to support positive change. There's nowhere in the business that wellbeing won't touch, even down to the type of signage in the building - we've had conversations about what's appropriate, what's the right type of messaging. Wellbeing as a subject is as little or as large as you need it to be, and environment will play a role, but of course maintaining momentum is key.

9. At the end of the pilot, there will be an evaluation meeting to decide whether it has been successful, and whether we go forward and roll it out to all the other departments, including the field and head office staff.

It's about ensuring as good a working environment as possible, so we can encourage, build, manage, and sustain all the positives that we're able to bring into the lives and the work of our people. The strategy is not committed to policy at the moment. I have a number of reports and evaluations and reviewing them will inform what our wellbeing strategy needs to be.

In every management meeting, wellbeing is on the agenda


The hope I have for my staff is that they have more self-awareness, increased self-esteem, confidence and resilience, and know what their purpose is, along with the ability to recognise when they might need to be supported in their working or personal life. If I have happy employees, that means that I have a great place to work.