Championing Wellbeing: The Soil Association

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Every month we share an interview from companies that work hard to help their staff. This month we interviewed Sophie and Lauren from The Soil Association:

How large is your organisation?

The Soil Association has 250 staff in total – 150 office based in Bristol, 10 in Scotland plus our field based inspectors. We are essentially two business – our certification business and charity, both are owned by charity.

What are your thoughts on engagement and staff wellbeing?

Lauren: I think it’s super important. I’ve worked in offices that don’t cater for their staff, in a negative feeling space that’s isolating with no-one to talk to. A negative mentality gets created – if people leave on time or take a lunch hour it’s frowned on.

Moving here it was a shock to see how different Soil Association is. People leave on time easily and there is a great atmosphere.

You are at work for a lot of your day and a negative environment affects your overall life.

Sophie: My personal values and morals – kindness and consideration of others goes further than materialistic, target based goals and milestones. When we look at the bigger picture the people around us are inspiring and motivating and we can learn so much from each other, which leads to productivity.

There can be a tendency to try to shield your life and pretend you don’t have one – here everyone is considerate.

What challenges do you face in employee engagement? Are there any barriers, locational, cultural or language?

Our current office is an uninspiring environment. It started as a temporary space so it doesn’t feel like home.

Next year we are moving to our own space and our staff have helped design it. We are encouraging flexible working and standing desks and home working too – so it’s very exciting. We’ll be by Temple Meads too.

Trying to get everyone together and in one space can be a challenge, plus we have the two sides of the business. We do have regular events to get everyone to socialise.

We are two businesses, with two boards, two digital teams and two strategies but we need to look the same to the outside world so that can be a challenge.

What challenges have you faced in creating a wellbeing programme?

Workplace Wellbeing started from a forum – Soil Matters, set up in the organisation. We identified what people wanted.

Lauren and I work on the Beauty and Wellbeing customer facing side of the business, so we brought that into the business as well. We have 150 people who are now engaged in what we do.

We invite our Licensees (people who hold our certification) into the office to share their knowledge through activities. This can be across beauty, food, forestry, textiles, manufacturing and retail.

This is a great way for licensees to meet our office staff and to see the benefits of Beauty and Wellbeing. We treat the inside and out – self care does wonders!

We also have:

Office yoga

A running club which is successful and engaging, caters to all levels of fitness and is open to everyone.

During Organic September we have had lots of activities, including:

A free breakfast bar from Rebel Kitchen

A jam sale

Learning days. These are new and refresher days to learn all about organic and what we stand for. We get lunch and a tour too.

Volunteer days – 3 per year paid.

In addition we have:

Shumei visit us weekly with their fresh and seasonal produce

Bear Pit cater for our events all organic of course and vegan options

Suma – people can bulk order dishwasher tablets/cleaning products etc and share it all out.

In effect we have our own economy. There is lots of diversity and expertise in our teams and we celebrate that.

What has worked and why did it work?

Everything we have done has worked in different ways, we have a vast team with such wide interest and roles. Some events suit some but not others. Ultimately we all share the same values so we have common ground – every day someone brings in allotment produce! This week there are huge marrows. We are a community and it’s nice.

What would you like to be able to offer in a perfect world?

It would be great to have a Mental Health Therapist or Coach that you could go to for confidential advice. Also open spaces – places where people feel comfortable to chill/journal. Having a space you could just get up from your desk and go to.

In our new office we will have more creative spaces – bringing in colour and changing our location will be amazing.

Do you have advice for a HR team starting to look at wellbeing in their workplace and any final thoughts?

Identifying what is the heart of your business. What values does the business have and its people too? How do you adapt that to the people you are employing? Is there common ground?

What shared activities could you do in line with your business activities?

Look at what would inspire you personally? Other people will see your passion and join in.

Give people the opportunity and ask – they will tell you! Collaboration is the way forward.

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