August 4, 2022 All Articles

Meet the Speaker: Michelle Cawley, Group Chief People Officer, Ticketer

Michelle Cawley is Group Chief People Officer at Ticketer and will be joining our leadership panel on returning to the workplace differently in Manchester on day three of the Wellbeing at Work UK Summit on 20-22 September and we wanted to get her thoughts before she takes to the stage.

We are thrilled that you will be speaking at our Wellbeing at Work UK Summit in September. Our first and most important question is, how are you doing today?

I’m doing great, thank you. Feeling very pleased to join in the discussion on this important topic.

As a leader based in the region, what are the main challenges you are facing when it comes to employee wellbeing?

Supporting employee’s mental health remains the single biggest challenge when it comes to employee wellbeing. Whilst the pandemic is thankfully starting to feel like a distant memory, some people are still dealing with the mental health challenges it brought – stress, anxiety, isolation. And now with the cost-of-living crisis upon us, many employees are experiencing a different stress and anxiety over the worry of making their personal finances work – which of course affects wellbeing.

Another challenge we are facing, is our employees finding where the boundary is between work and life now we are pretty much 100% working remotely. Whilst home working has reaped huge benefits to our team in some ways – it has undoubtedly blurred the lines between work time and home time. Research is showing that people are working longer hours than usual and taking fewer or shorter breaks that they should, which again will be impacting their health and wellbeing. People are finding it harder to switch off from work and spend less time outside or getting in exercise etc. – there is sometimes that feeling that there is no escape from the ‘office’.

What strategies have you seen developing in the UK over the past 6-12 months post pandemic to address health and wellbeing in the workplace?

Many companies are finding and creating ways to help their employees work from home. Whether that is providing training on how they can work better from home; or making sure that they have the right equipment and furniture; or even helping them with time management – there is a lot developing in this space which is helping people make that adjustment.

And then something that I am so happy to see evolving over the last few years is how companies are adjusting their approaches, policies, and practices to support employees through the different stages of life – this could be developing better parental leave policies, menopause policies, pregnancy loss, adoption, and all those other life events outside of work. More and more companies are becoming a lot more aware that they have a responsibility to support employees dealing with life challenges, and I think this is a key strategy and priority which will help support mental health, and health and wellbeing generally.

More recently, and something which is top of mind at the moment, is providing employees with financial wellbeing support. We tried our best this year to award annual pay increases in line with inflation, and we are doing what we can to remind employees about our benefits which provide financial support like the insurances we offer, so they don’t have to provide this for themselves. More recently I have seen companies take this a step further by giving their employees access to resources which educate them on how to better manage their finances – even holding workshops in house with financial advisors or rolling out schemes where salaries are paid partially through-out the month to help people manage their money. Whilst I am certain every company in the world would love to be able to afford to give all employees 10 – 15% increases, this is just not practicable. In lieu of that, what companies can do to try and support is perhaps offer advice on how to manage money better. There is a lot of information being shared around about this currently, and it’s great to see some creative solutions. I think even just having the conversation about this can demonstrate care for employee which helps wellbeing.

Why is employee wellbeing so important to you personally?

You don’t have to work too long in HR to realize that happy employees are productive employees and productive employees obviously make businesses become better. It really is a no-brainer. If you operate a business that genuinely supports their staff, your employees feel fulfilled, empowered and trusted as a result. You are setting up an environment in which people will thrive and wake up every morning and want to come to work and do great things – they will feel mentally and physically able to perform in their roles which will only reap benefits to the business. Of course, as the People leader, employee wellbeing is important to me personally as it is a large part of my job to make sure we have happy and productive employees so we can perform as a business.

I personally believe that anyone who wants to work in HR should be taking the profession on because they genuinely want to see positive change in how companies operate and how work in general can become better for people, so that we are creating better lifestyles for ourselves and future generations. Employee wellbeing for me goes beyond just providing benefits like healthcare schemes and gym memberships – it’s about creating work environments where employees feel respected, trusted, empowered, can be themselves and they have careers which allows them to have full and well-rounded lives outside of work – all things that contribute to excellent wellbeing.

What are you most looking forward to about the Summit in September?

I’m really looking forward to sharing ideas with others who are passionate about this topic and learning how other companies are supporting their employee’s wellbeing. I’m a big fan of sharing strategies within HR and people networks and then adopting new practices if they fit. The best way we learn is from each other. There is no point in reinventing the wheel – the more we share and learn from each other, the more our minds are expanded and eyes opened as to what else we could be doing better!

Tell us, what is your vision for the workplace of the future, in terms of employee engagement, health and wellbeing?

My vision, or my hope, for the future workplace is that they become even kinder, more flexible, and more empathetic. I think COVID broke down many barriers here as we were brought into each other’s homes during pandemic – we saw our colleagues’ homes, pets, spouses, even children in the background and I believe this humanized us a lot more and it has actually made us a little bit compassionate towards each other. My vision for the future workplace is that companies recognise and realise that great business can still continue and employees can deliver on business objectives, but we can do it in a more flexible and compassionate way where we can all still live fulfilled lives outside of work. I truly believe that those softer skills of kindness, compassion and empathy are going to be the differentiator between the working ways of the old and the working practices of the future and will only benefit employee wellbeing.

What areas do you think employers should be focused on over the next 12-18 months?

I believe employers should be focused on making sure that employees continue to be heard and tailoring work environments and practices based upon feedback. It’s one of our priorities here at Ticketer Group and a key strategy for retention, engagement and improving the work life of our employees. We run regular pulse surveys and we are currently doing individual ‘stay interviews’ with all staff as well. We’re focusing on really trying to listen and understand what their needs are and making changes accordingly. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to HR and employee wellbeing as every company is completely different based on their team members. I think the greatest opportunity HR teams have in front of them is to listen to your team members, and tailor your approaches and practices to fit your team and culture – making it as personalized as possible. That is what is going to help employees feel engaged, empowered, looked after, and heard, which again will ultimately improve wellbeing.  

How has your organisation been leading the way?

We have been trying to lead the way by introducing initiatives which hopefully make work life better for our team members and they are not things which have had a huge cost impact to us.

Last year, we introduced no-meeting Fridays which gives our employees one day a week where they don’t have any internal meetings scheduled. This gives them a day a week where they can clear their inboxes, maybe do some online training, catch-up with some admin and hopefully go into the weekend feeling a little bit lighter and ready for the following week. Perhaps it evens allows them the chance to fit in a run or go to an exercise class.

We also trained a few of our Senior Managers as Mental Health first Aiders so that they can support our team members when they might be struggling and making sure those people know who to talk to when they may feel they need some support.

We offer an annual Mind, Body and Soul allowance which gives the employees some funds to put towards anything which may enhance their wellbeing. This is a new initiative which we hope to improve over the years, but for now employees can use it towards any kind of sporting equipment; gym membership; exercise classes; a mindfulness app; singing lessons (yes, we have allowed that as it brings joy !) – really anything that supports wellbeing.

As mentioned previously, we have come a long way in being able to provide flexible and remote working for our team members which has significantly impacted wellbeing – for the better. Pre-Covid we had three offices and we have since closed two, keeping one as a base. We’re are currently doing trials with companies which offer co-working spaces all across the country so that when team members feel like they need to get out of the house and into the world they have this option too – giving our employees even more flexibility and choice. We hope this may address any isolation challenges and encourages employees to meet each other and find that social interaction again too – which is really important for wellbeing also.

We encourage Managers and Employees to have regular check-ins to discuss not only performance, but also wellbeing. Effective performance management plays an important role in employee wellbeing. People like to know what is expected of them, and then also whether or not they are doing a good job. Recognition for a job well done has a huge impact in regards to wellbeing – it gives reassurance and endorses that sense of belonging and fulfilment – people like to know they are making a difference and having an impact. And then on the other side of the coin, getting constructive feedback and a steer on where performance could be improved also helps to reduce stress and anxiety.

Then of course, we like to do social events – in person and virtual. We try to do organised events, but every now and again we may run an ad-hoc social call – simply just to connect everyone together – making sure people are not feeling isolated.

We have an Employee Assistance Program and remind people about this every now and again – making sure they know that they have access to resources who can offer financial, legal or personal advice and support.

We offer a holiday buyback scheme, whereby if employees don’t, or can’t use their full holiday entitlement they can sell a couple of days – which obviously may offer some financial help with rising costs this year.

We have given all employees access to LinkedIn Learning which can be for courses that relate to people’s job, or not! There is a whole range of resources that employees have access to on which we encourage them to use which can enhance their health and mental health and wellbeing.

Next year, we will be focusing on updating our family policies. When we started the company 13 years ago, the policies that were put in place were suitable for a small start-up, but as the company has grown the policies haven’t quite grown along so this is top of our to do list. We’ll be looking to put in place enhanced practices and policies to assist our employees through the more challenging life events and making sure they feel assured and supported.

Join us at the Wellbeing at Work UK Summit between 20-22 September 2022 in London, Manchester and virtually and hear from Michelle and over 60 expert speakers from across the world. Further details here.

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