Zurich and Catalent on employee mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic

Kye Parkin
Communications Executive | Business West
15th September 2021

Two of Swindon’s largest and best-known employers – Zurich and Catalent – took centre stage at our most recent Swindon Mindful Employer Network (SMEN) meeting to give their insight on protecting employee mental health and wellbeing throughout the pandemic.

Carmen Coombs is People Experience Team Leader at Zurich - a role which sees her lead on the insurer’s wellbeing strategy nationally.

Attending her first SMEN meeting, Carmen characterised the pandemic as a period when the subject of mental health and wellbeing had been “front and centre” for many organisations. She added that the last 18 months had “forced the hand” of many businesses to develop a wellbeing strategy or at least think about a wellbeing agenda.

To set the scene for her presentation, Carmen began by defining what is meant when we refer to employee wellbeing. Wellbeing, she said, is: “the way we think and feel about ourselves, our confidence and our ability control things in our life, both at home and at work.”

Organisations must make wellbeing a priority because “a healthy and happy workforce drives a more positive and productive experience for our people and our customers,” she continued.

Carmen described business interest in wellbeing pre-pandemic as ‘patchy'. The COVID-19 outbreak made many organisations realise the importance of wellbeing said employees at every level are now “proactive” in putting mental health and wellbeing first.

Zurich’s wellbeing strategy is simple: “We aim for all our employees to be happy, healthy and feel supported at work.”

As the pandemic hit, the business was required to work at speed to ensure this held true in a remote working environment.

Flex work was introduced to ease the burden of employees with caring responsibilities such as parents. Other pandemic related wellbeing resources were created in addition to offering employees antibody testing and a fund was established to support those directly impacted by COVID-19.

The range of measures was developed as a result of employee listening said Carmen, which was enhanced during the pandemic to take account of employee experiences and meet their expectations in changing circumstances. Moreover, the business focussed on leadership learning and helped senior managers to develop the skillsets to adapt to flexible and remote working.

This year Zurich will host their expanded national wellbeing week with a focus on the following key themes: building comfort with discomfort, empowered time, building mental resilience through food and the art of being brilliant.

Looking into the future the business is putting burnout, stress and resilience at the core of its wellbeing agenda, in addition to promoting self-care and training leadership to engage, advocate and support mental health and wellbeing across the organisation.

Following Carmen, Catalent’s HR Director James Hamilton gave his presentation.

Catalent is a leading pharma and biotech company, with a large global footprint and extensive IP. Its Swindon site is home to around 700 employees, working 4 on 4 off shift patterns as part of a 24-hours a day, 7 days a week manufacturing operation.

Echoing the experience of Zurich and many other organisations in Swindon, James said that the “last 18 months have been challenging”.

At the start of the pandemic a top priority for Catalent was to ensure the wellbeing of staff in the manufacturing and development functions that were required to be on site at all times. They implemented social distancing measures and immediately doubled the number of mental health first aiders on-site. The 100 or so employees working in support functions were instructed to comply with government guidance and work from home.

Transparency of communication has been key throughout the pandemic said James. Biweekly senior leadership calls were opened up to all staff to keep everyone abreast of the latest developments and senior managers worked closely with the employee forum to identify and target mental health and wellbeing initiatives.

Among many other initiatives Catalent created employee resource groups to bring employees with common interests closer together, built a wellbeing room onsite, paid 3 rounds of bonuses and launched a new ERP system.

Furthermore, leaders from across the business were encouraged to talk about their mental health to make them more relatable to employees, an online event celebrating diversity featuring Frank Bruno was held as well as a 40th anniversary celebration. Each of these helped to foster team spirit in a remote environment said James.

In addition to Business West members Zurich and Catalent Tim Thurston of TeamDoctor spoke about ‘psychological PPE’. Award winning TeamDoctor has an extensive background in producing successful behavior change through existing films and courses used widely across the NHS.

The next event will be on 17th November.

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