Barbara Stam, HR manager at InShared on the growing need for metrics for wellbeing interventions
Barbara, you are HR Director at InShared, an online insurance company, could you briefly introduce InShared and your role?
InShared is an online self-service insurer and a subsidiary of Achmea, founded from the desire to make insurance cheaper, smarter and fairer. Innovation and entrepreneurship are important values within the company. We work hard and we work smart, and that way we have some time to relax. A good balance between work and private life is of paramount importance to InShared. In my role as manager HR, I am responsible for the full employee lifecycle and as a part of that, I am also responsible for overseeing employee vitality. This includes defining the strategy, owning related policies and processes, and making decisions related to occupational health and well-being.
I have read in your other interview that COVID has hit the company hard. In a nutshell, what happened at InShared?
We are obviously no exception. Just like other companies we saw our employees struggling with many things; with working from home, with working online, with how to manage the combination of their different home and work roles. And in a later stage with finding a good balance for hybrid working. After this period, it was difficult to get our people back in the office and it still is. Many people have good experiences with working from home, avoiding traffic jams and having more flexibility.
We have a young employee base, the average age is around 35 years old, and we realized that even in this homogenous age group there are a variety of groups with specific problems, the young families, the single people, the carers, the achievers.
And what complicated us in measuring the ‘mental temperature’ was that it was very difficult to assess the situation when you were working online, it was very hard to get a real read on how everyone was doing. Social cohesion is an important pillar in the culture of our organisation, so it was a massive challenge. The good thing is that we gained insights on how to define an approach for optimising employee wellbeing.
What are these insights that you incorporated into your vitality strategy?
InShared is a very intuitive organisation, we can make swift decisions and move fast.
At that time we defined a strategy based on three insights; first we acknowledged that different groups have different needs for support, second, we needed to find a way to get the “finger on the pulse” with our employees, to find out how they are really doing now that we cannot see them, and third, we need to explore ways to facilitate effective online collaboration. We got into action immediately, and that is when our CEO introduced Inuka to us.
What has changed in the perception of mental issues in the workplace?
Issues with respect to mental health have always been there, we experienced people being overwhelmed, burnt out or suffering from mental ill-health regularly. But there was no dedicated focus, and it was more curative, meaning that we became aware only in a very late stage. That has changed, our primary focus has shifted to prevention, with mental health clearly on the radar.
First and foremost, we aim to create an open culture where it is normal to talk about the challenges you are facing. I think that is most important, a culture where you feel safe to speak up if you are not feeling well, where you feel seen and respected and are offered support. Management is heavily involved in this, they play a pivotal role, setting the example for others to follow. In order to raise awareness, we organised a training for 17 managers starting by themselves, facing their individual physical and mental challenges. They identify their challenges with respect to, for example, time management and demands, and shared these in order to build a collective starting point for the organisation.
“We aim to create an open culture where it is normal to talk about the challenges you are facing.”
How much priority and focus do you believe employee mental health requires?
I think it’s super important. It is one of the critical elements for a company to be successful, next to culture, working conditions and psychological safety. Vitality is key, especially in our market where it’s very difficult to find and retain people. We want our employees to feel safe and resilient and prevent them from getting ill. In our view this encompasses both physical and mental health and is ongoing.
Vitality is key, especially in our market where it’s very difficult to find and retain people.
What initiatives are in place now?
We have many, I think most important is that we try to consider well-being from a holistic point of view. Well-being is not only how you feel physically or mentally, but also about whether the things that are important in your life are taken care of and going well. For example, if an employee has financial troubles, they are worrying about this and cannot concentrate, that impacts their work and thus the company. So, from a holistic employee well-being perspective we are offering support in a broad perspective. We talk to people about the struggles they have, the things they cope with, and we also try to help them, for example if they have physical problems with the home working set-up. If necessary, we have specialists that come to their home to see if their working place is correctly set up.
For ongoing support, we offer online coaching, this can also be planned during work hours so it is very easy to integrate in your day without having to go to a coaching practice that is physically located elsewhere.
Another thing we value is time off. We offer 31 vacation days, which is above the standard. Employees are even allowed to buy a further eleven, which is not average in the Netherlands. Another example is the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ to limit working in the evening and weekends. Time off is highly respected. We believe that the work-life balance is very important for our employees to feel well.
Time off is highly respected. We believe that the work-life balance is very important for our employees to feel well.
Fun is an important aspect in the culture of InShared, can you elaborate a bit on that?
Yes, as I mentioned, it is a “work smart play hard” mentality at InShared. What we put in place for instance is our Pink events, pink is our company colour, these are events where you can bond, have fun and relax with our colleagues. For example, we organise walks where we hike with colleagues through the woods near the office to have the opportunity to meet informally. Besides that, we organise monthly drinks for employees, a summer party, we organize ‘SharedTalks’where employees can share personal things like hobbies, or something someone is passionate about. We do this because we believe that celebrating success, having fun and relaxing together are important components in our vitality strategy.
We believe that celebrating success, having fun and relaxing together are important components in our vitality strategy.
How does decision making on employee well-being work at InShared?
InShared is an intuitive organisation. This means that if there is a problem or an initiative, it is identified, and we quickly come up with potential solutions. Whilst we in HR are accountable to define initiatives on well-being, other roles can also be active, for example the Workers Council, managers our prevention employee and the CEO/CFO. If the proposed idea is a good one, and the key stakeholder agree, then we invest. This is very efficient and effective for small, short-term projects and interventions, but since COVID we realise that we would benefit from more structural governance in employee well-being.
During COVID you increased resources that support employees to improve their well-being. Did you make a business case for this?
At that point of time, we didn’t, since it was an acute situation that required instant attention. Once we consider scaling up interventions in the well-being domain it will require greater funding and we will have to address criteria like; How much time and funding does it require? Can it be integrated in the daily life of InShared? And what does it do for employee satisfaction? What does it do for sickness percentage? We do consider these elements in our decision-making process now but not yet in a formalised manner such as an ROI case. But I can clearly see this as the next level in governing employee well-being, where we will define KPI’s, start tracking metrics and to define effectiveness.
“If you start investing money on vitality, ROI becomes more important.”
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