There is no better way to future proof a business than by building a thriving culture that supports its people, as the FT demonstrates.
At the FT, employee wellbeing has been high on the agenda for many years. Long before 2020 had companies scrambling to accommodate flexible working arrangements and offer mental health support, the newspaper was championing both - and more. Which meant that as the pandemic unfolded, it was already in a strong position to be able to support and guide its workforce through the turbulence.
“The culture here has always been very employee-focussed. The leadership team is very onboard when it comes to wellbeing and there’s a real family culture”, says Hayley Valente, the FT’s Head of HR Services.
Going above and beyond
The FT has long-recognised that the best way to nurture, and attract talent, is to offer a supportive working environment that allows people to grow and develop – not just professionally but personally too. It has also long-prided itself on its inclusive culture, with a global workforce representing a rich blend of backgrounds and ethnicities. One glance at its ‘Life at the FT’ Twitter page offers a glimpse at an employer that doesn’t shy away from important issues such as gender equality and diversity.
Everyone has access to some of the more standard benefits you’d expect to see from an employer invested in wellbeing – from traditional healthcare support to gym memberships. But its commitment to employee care runs far deeper than simply offering ‘off the shelf’ solutions to promote good health. It has, for example, always acknowledged that life exists outside of the nine to five and this is evident in its wellbeing approach. A lovely example could be found at the height of the pandemic – to ease the burden on those trying to juggle work with home schooling it provided laptops for children and set up a mentoring scheme, led by some of its editors and commentators. Flexible working – something the FT has long-championed anyway – was actively encouraged and everyone was given five ‘wellness days’ on top of their annual leave entitlement to focus on themselves and their commitments outside of work.
Strong supporters of mental health
For a lot of companies, 2020 thrust issues around how to support employees with their mental health into the spotlight for the first time. But the FT was well ahead of the curve. Pre-Covid, it already had a robust mental health offering in place, with webinars and livestreams dedicated to delivering support in all areas of mental wellbeing, counselling sessions available to both employees and their family members and trained mental health champions visible across the business. Where it really shone during the lockdowns was in the way it was able to adapt to meet the specific needs of employees, as the nature of the workplace evolved around them.
“One of the things we noticed quickly was line managers asking how they could support their teams with their mental health and keep open conversations going,” says Emily Hall, HR Advisor at the FT. To address this, it started offering one-to-one people manager drop-in sessions, to guide managers in effective leadership style while managing remote teams. It is a great example of how the FT is futureproofing the resilience of its workforce – with more hybrid ways of working set to stay (“moving forward we’ll be inclusive of everyone’s needs, whether they want to work at home or in the office,” says Emily) it makes sense to invest now in helping managers adapt to support their teams in new ways.
Evolving all the time
What’s apparent about the FTs wellbeing strategy is that it constantly evolves to meet the needs of its employees – and that it strives to understand these needs by listening. At the beginning of 2021 it set up its Next Generation Board, a diverse team of people from all regions which generates new ideas to improve the culture. “It’s like reverse mentoring for the FT board,” Hayley explains. Already the Board has set up a Staff Development and Wellbeing taskforce to support staff careers and focus ongoing on wellbeing.
It’s also using technology to listen and to drive culture change – which again stands it in good stead for the future. Its employee-run online networks play an active role in connecting individuals and encouraging them to talk openly about the issues affecting them. Emily says mental health and the future of flexible working continue to be two of the main topics of conversation, and that it is listening to these conversations and responding.
“People’s priorities are shifting, and we understand that. Some people are moving out of London to be closer to family, for example.
“There’s a big focus now on new ways of working. We’re supportive of people working more flexibly long-term – we know it works - and we will be making sure we can still offer inclusive and accessible wellbeing support as part of that,” she says.
Looking to the future
What really stands out about the FTs employee wellbeing strategy is not only how responsive it is to employees’ needs, but how adaptive it is to the world we live in. It’s continually seeking to innovate and try new things.
“We’ve learnt a lot this past year,” says Hayley. “That line managers want to feel more empowered, that flexible working works, that because we’re now living in a more virtual world we have an opportunity to be even more inclusive and that actually, the uptake on a lot of our communications is even better online. We’re also learning that there are lots of different ways to share messages so people can continue to understand what’s available to them, and this is something we’ll continue to focus on as we adapt to new ways of working.
“We’re also really focussed on providing wellbeing initiatives that have long-term benefit for our workforce. Ultimately everything we do – and will do in the future - is driven by our desire to be a good, responsible employer that cares about its people. That’s at the heart of it.”
With the long-term health and happiness of its workforce firmly in its sights, the FT can only bolster its own future too.