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Why Novo Nordisk was named Britain's Healthiest Workplace

Published: 16/03/2023

We sat down with the mid-sized organisation to hear how it got the ‘sanity check’ it needed through taking part in the UK’s largest employee wellbeing survey.

Global healthcare giant Novo Nordisk has had plenty to celebrate during recent years. Acknowledged as a world leader in the understanding of diabetes and other serious chronic conditions, including obesity, it already supplies nearly half the world’s insulin and can boast 35 million users for its diabetes care products.

Its UK division’s win in the 2022 Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (BHW) survey’s ‘medium business category’ is yet another accolade to add to the list. And something the company has not taken lightly.

“Winning this award feels very special,” reflects Antonio Marin-Blazquez, Senior Director, People and Organisation at Novo Nordisk (UK). “When you’ve been working for a company for so long sometimes you lose sight of how you compare with other companies, so we wanted to benchmark ourselves.”

“It has been a good sanity check to show we’re on the right track, and I’m extremely grateful, pleased and proud – it has been a team effort”

– Antonio Marin-Blazquez, Novo Nordisk

“It’s not only about HR and the many things we’ve put in place, but about every one of us that has decided to look after ourselves and each other. It’s about the managers that have listened and supported their teams through two years of fears and unknowns, and about the people who have kept us safe and fed at the office. The list is endless.”

Ingrained wellness culture

The 450 UK employees, who account for under 1% of the company’s global workforce, have enjoyed the same head-start on wellness as their overseas colleagues.

The parent company is Danish, and the wellbeing of employees is especially important in Danish organisations. The fields of diabetes and obesity are also all about healthy habits, so those working in them are more likely to focus on their own health.  

Around two thirds work from home or in the field, while the remainder spend around two/three days a week in the office on average. Employees are welcome to take time out during working hours to have walks and pursue other activities beneficial to health. For example, during the darkest months of this past winter, a companywide steps challenge was launched, to actively encourage getting out of the house in daylight.

The company’s 59 different wellness interventions – many of which are available via its Vitality private medical insurance scheme and highlighted as playing a crucial role – span everything from workplace massages, a running club, a gym, an employee assistance programme (EAP), online exclusive YouTube channel with yoga and meditation sessions, free healthy meals, a discount platform and menopause support.  

But coordinating and managing such a broad range of benefits in a way that feels cohesive and has maximum impact has been challenging.

“It’s certainly not an easy task,” Antonio Marin-Blazquez continues. “But we work as closely as we can with our internal comms team and our managers’ population to make sure people are always aware of our offerings at all times. We use every channel and opportunity that we have to promote them”.

“Participating in BHW will definitely help us from this year onwards as from now it’s not only about promoting what we have but about also being able to tailor offerings based on people’s preferences and needs.” 

Management buy-in

Novo Nordisk’s ~60 line-managers play a “pivotal role” in signposting their teams to the different resources available and encouraging people to take those healthy breaks during the day if needed. The support they receive has increased markedly during recent months through the implementation of monthly Line Managers’ briefings and the creation of a ‘Positive Wellbeing Pathway’. This directs managers to all the different resources available for different stages of employee wellbeing.

Another recent addition to the wellbeing resources are Wellness Action Plans. All employees and their managers are encouraged to use these to agree on a range of criteria to ensure they both stay healthy and know each other’s stress trigger points. These are helping to build on some of the already highly impressive BHW findings.

According to the survey, only 9% of Novo Nordisk employees are not satisfied with their jobs, compared to an overall benchmark figure of 30%, and only 5% report signs of poor mental health (vs 10% overall benchmark).

A network of mental health champions, who are retrained annually and consulted two or three times a year for feedback on major issues, enables employees to unload their feelings in the right setting.

The biggest issue for stress management is highlighted as being that everyone is so engaged that it’s easy to work too hard. This explains why the 13% of Novo Nordisk employees shown by the BHW data to be experiencing a level of work-related burnout is only just below the 14% sector benchmark.

How has BHW data helped?

The BHW data has helped Novo Nordisk to refine many of its offerings, and it singles out in particular the value it attaches to information both about benchmarking and about employees’ intentions to improve their habits.

As many as 84% of those not getting enough sleep are motivated to sleep more, and 70% of those not eating the correct diet are motivated to change, the data shows. On the flipside, only 50% of those consuming more than 14 units of alcohol a week are motivated to drink less, and only 48% of those at higher risk are motivated to increase their weekly physical activity levels.

“The survey has given us so many insights into things we were only able to assume or guess before,” explains Antonio Marin-Blazquez. “The results are very enlightening and concrete, so we now know what areas to tackle and the interventions to use. The biggest insight is that awareness of some of our offerings is not so high, and it’s good to know what people are and aren’t willing to change.

“We are always looking at ways to improve what we offer, and over the past 12 months we’ve been paying a lot of attention to making everything as inclusive as possible. This has meant that activities like bootcamp and ‘legs bums and tums’ that have historically only been offered on site are now also available virtually. And we are determined to raise the profile of our discount platform because people are not yet massively aware of its wide range of offerings.”

Another important recent development has been the decision to move annual salary uplift timelines forwards to this January instead of April. This effectively gives people an extra three months of reviewed salary to help them combat the cost-of-living crisis – along with existing tools like financial workshops.

And there could be plenty of further new developments to come because the BHW report, which had previously only been shared with HR employees, has now been shared with all employees in early March 2023. As having an engaged and healthy workforce is one of Novo Nordisk’s 10 essential values, these findings will definitely be taken seriously.

Britain's Healthiest Workplace gives us a deep insight into the health and wellbeing of employees across the UK.
Learn more and find out how to take part in the link below.

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