Rail operators like Arriva Train Wales (ATW) are experiencing unprecedented workforce pressures. Obesity and diabetes are at epidemic levels and one in four people are suffering a mental health illness in any one year. Unsurprisingly, these health challenges, coupled with an ageing workforce are causing rates of short and long-term absenteeism to rise.
Human Resources Director, Gareth Thomas, arrived at Arriva Train Wales in 2014. He recognised these pressures and agreed with Board colleagues to make employee health a key priority. The HR team wanted to invest in a system that replaced manual processes, supported managers and delivered the health data needed by the Board and managers. Gareth sponsored the sourcing of a low-cost solution and the Empactis workforce health platform was selected and installed.
Today ATW are benefiting from the positive contribution that their focus on employee health makes to the delivery of higher quality and lower cost services. From the experiences gained, ATW highlight three key enablers that deliver improved employee health.
1. Leadership and change coming from the top.
The Board communicated its aims and objectives to the organisation, explained why employee health was a strategic priority, how changes would be supported and the benefits available for individuals and the wider organisation. They became the role model for the cultural and behaviour changes that they want to see across the organisation and committed necessary resources to the project.
2. Line management being the fundamental link between employee and employer.
Line managers were supported to actively and consistently engage with staff about their health. Improved manager behaviour was underpinned by HR policies and a new workforce health platform. Leadership now hold line managers to account by regularly monitoring how well they apply workforce policies and the quality of conversations that managers have with their people.
3. Digital solutions to deliver real-time data and support management best practice.
A digital workforce health platform was installed. This provides employees with an automated 24/7/365 service where they open, amend and close an unplanned absence. It instantly notifies managers about an absence and offers them user-friendly tools to engage with absent employees. Previously, the ATW Board struggled to obtain workforce data, they can now monitor manager performance in real-time, review workforce health trends and evidence the health interventions that deliver the most benefit.
Within the first six months of starting, ATW saw a marked improvement in their working days lost to unplanned absence. Where before, an employee rarely got to speak to their manager until they returned to work, today managers are consistently having meaningful conversations with staff at the beginning and end of an absence and where necessary directing them to the health or support services they need.
When asked to comment about the project, Gareth J Thomas, HR Director at Arriva Trains Wales said the following: