Louise Bateman, Group Human Resources Director at RMBI Care Co.
It is a well known fact that people who care for others rarely consider their own health and wellbeing – until they start to feel quite unwell. This is particularly true of carers and nurses working in social care.
In 2016, RMBI Care Co. were recording higher rates of absenteeism (1.1% above the sector average) which put additional pressure on our staff teams, who needed to cover for colleagues being absent. The cost of occupational sick pay was also rising, and we were receiving feedback via our staff forum that some employees were often taking days off at short notice. This left colleagues feeling frustrated and overworked.
In response to these issues, we developed a strategy to bring awareness of keeping healthier. After consulting with our staff, we agreed to reduce a generous sick pay benefit and use the savings to fund an Employee Assistance Programme. This EAP would raise awareness of health and wellbeing initiatives, including a 24/7 counselling service. As a result, RMBI Care Co. saved £91,000 after 12 months and, over the course of the past six years, our absence levels are now 2.24% below the sector average.
In addition to our EAP, we have created the role of Wellbeing Champions for each of our 17 Homes and Head Office. The Wellbeing Champions support our staff members and have a budget for a number of initiatives, including creating a wellness area for staff to enjoy during a break. Many Homes have redecorated these areas, and have purchased massage chairs and sound equipment to listen to calming music.
Furthermore, we designed a Wellness Programme that covers a wide range of areas to support wellbeing and reduce stress. Last year, we focussed on financial wellbeing and all staff received a booklet that gave them a series of ideas to help reduce living costs and remind them to access their EAP to obtain discounts from key retailers. We have noticed an increase in staff taking advantage of this: in January 2023, we had a take-up rate of 83% compared to a sector average of 40%.
RMBI Care Co. have over 80% of female staff members, so we are currently working to become a Menopause Friendly Employer. This focus was used for our Learning at Work programme in 2022, which led to a Commended Impact Award. We have also provided training and guidance to our managers on Menopause, and have a Menopause Policy and Menstruation Policy to ensure that all staff know we are committed to supporting them.
Even before the pandemic, we were investing in commissioning training in ‘Recognising and responding to Compassion Fatigue’, which we believe is a unique offering within the sector. The symptoms can include feeling anxious, having trouble sleeping, feeling irritable or over emotional or even feeling detached and unemotional. This training helps our staff identify such symptoms and provide them with tools to strengthen their emotional resilience.
I realise that, whilst we offer many resources to keep our staff healthy, there are times when short and long term sickness absence is inevitable. Our management teams keep in close contact during these times and if someone is in need of counselling due to an impact on their mental wellbeing, we have an established group of professional counsellors who will help them develop strategies to increase their mental wellbeing.
All these strategies have contributed to reducing our sickness absence rate, and we are always keen to develop new initiatives to further support our staff wellbeing.