In 1861 in central Birmingham, Richard and George, two brothers, were handed the running of the family business from their father John. Over the next 15 years, Britain got a taste for their hot drink, and their business rapidly grew. With increased demand came the need for larger-scale and more efficient manufacturing. This was post-industrial revolution Britain, so ‘modern’ factories were a known evil. The boys, particularly George, wanted to adopt a different approach to industrialization: ‘Why should an industrial area be squalid and depressing?’ he asked.
In January 1879, the first bricks were laid on a plot four miles south of Birmingham next to Bourn brook. The vision was to build a small town or ‘ville’, and thus Bournville was created. George’s aim was to ‘alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped living conditions’. The cottages were built to offer more light than the more common, cheaper buildings of the time, and all of them had large gardens. By 1900, Bournville had 313 cottages and houses, parks, recreation grounds and open space. Employees working at the factory were paid higher than average wages, and were given a pioneering pension scheme, medical cover and encouraged to swim and go for walks. This was corporate wellbeing at its best. Recognising that your most valuable asset is your people and treating them as such. And the Cadbury brothers were doing it over a hundred years ago.
Dig a little further into the Cadbury story and you can see that at the same time as doing all of this for their staff, they were also telling the Cadbury story to a wider audience through their advertising. The line ‘absolutely pure, therefore the best’ first broke in the late 1860s and ran for 30 years in various guises. It came in response to governmental concern surrounding the use of additives in foodstuffs, and hit home one of Cadbury cocoa’s strongest claims: its purity. To push this message further, they used the endorsement of the medical profession. Lines like ‘Cocoa treated thus will, we expect, prove to be one of the most nutritious, digestible and restorative of drinks’ even featured in articles placed within the British Medical Journal. The Cadbury’s cocoa brand was trustworthy, honest and pure. It had morals. In essence the product brand was beginning to mirror the corporate brand: we treat our staff with respect; we do the same with our cocoa.
The wellbeing agenda for employees is hugely fashionable right now and deserves to become embedded in popular culture. Supporting your staff’s physical and mental health says a lot about who you are as an organisation. But I believe how you treat your staff can also have a huge amount of impact on your product brands too. To do this best, you need a clear and coherent story at the heart of everything you do. And then, depending on whether the audience is your staff or your customers, you tell that story in the most appropriate way through the best possible channel.
In a recent article in Marketing Week, Elaine Grell, European Vice President of HR at InterContinental Hotel Group, said that the heart of their story was all about creating ‘room to be yourself’. This is a core commitment to all their employees and covers four pillars of wellness: ‘Room to have a great start, room to be involved, room to grow , room for you.’ IHG have recognised that to stand out in the highly competitive hospitality market their first role is to be the best ‘hosts’ to their employees. Making their staff feel valued and empowered makes them far more likely to mirror those values to their guests and in turn make guest stays more pleasant.
“It is this sense of freedom and empowerment that enables employees to provide a stellar guest experience across properties, but it also creates a great place to work for employees in roles from room attendant to general manager,” Grell says.
What’s great to see is that this approach is clearly working. Earlier this year in the US, IHG made the top 10 of KPMG Nunwood’s US Customer Experience Excellence ranking, climbing 64 spots since 2016. It’s also interesting to note that their share price has climbed steadily over the first half of 2017, suggesting that this approach of investing in staff wellbeing is having a positive effect on the bottom line too.
Another business that values staff wellbeing and echoes the story they’re telling to their external customers with that which is being told internally are the Direct Line Group. Lead by UK Marketing Director, Mark Evans, the business has made sure that mental wellbeing is built into the fabric of the company and its performance management policies. In both the measurement and rewarding of staff performance, 50% is focused on achievements and 50% on how they are achieved.
“We look at all those people who are tremendously intelligent, but don’t have the emotional intelligence, and look at the material ways we can take that through to talent planning,” explains Evans.
“It is quite a statement because it says we don’t tolerate people who do some brilliant things, but not in the right way,”
This pragmatic approach to performance marries perfectly with their no-nonsense ‘fixer’ character of Winston Wolf, played by Harvey Keitel in their TVCs. As an insurance business, Direct Line can’t afford to hide away from the realities of life, but need to offer a hands-on, problem solving response. Rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in. The way Evans describes the need for ‘emotional resilience’ particularly in light of employees’ mental health fits perfectly with this story.
Looking after the wellbeing of your staff may well be trendy right now, but it certainly isn’t a new enterprise. In fact, Facebook’s new Willow Campus is arguably a direct descendent of initiatives like Bournville. However, what I think is most interesting is that the story of how you look after your staff has the ability to reflect the narrative playing out to your external customers. Through the power of storytelling, employee wellbeing can enhance brand wellbeing, creating a virtuous circle around your organisation. Staff wellbeing doesn’t only mean a compelling opportunity for commercial growth, it won’t leave a horrible taste in your mouth – very much like a nice cup of cocoa.
Want more from our Head of Health Nick Dutnall? Read what he has to say about the dark side of health communications.