Rethinking Wellbeing – Back to the Mothership

Wellbeing…it appears to remain one of the HR buzzwords of the moment. You only have to type it into any search engine to get a wealth of information on the subject. Many organisations have been considering the wellbeing of its employees as a way to motivate, retain and engage them – within risual, we created Mothership Week.

The Emergence of Mothership Week

In an organisation where a large proportion of our employees are remote, working on customer sites around the country with limited contact with our Head Office in Stafford, it is easy for people to feel disconnected. Their travel commitments some weeks can mean they clock up hundreds of miles and may be working away from home. Although we try to support our employees to work remotely when they can (after all, business productivity and cloud based infrastructure is part of our offering to our own customers) our customers love seeing our employees as much as we do and so some travel to customer sites is unavoidable.

We developed the idea of Mothership Week as a way to bring each of our employees back into the business for three (consecutive) days each year so they can reconnect with colleagues, receive key business updates and enjoy a range of activities to support their wellbeing. Clearly this comes at a massive cost to the business: not being bookable as a chargeable resource, providing consultancy services to our customers (and in all cases, having someone away from their normal role for the duration of Mothership Week) comes at a financial cost in relation to billable hours and a loss of production. That said, our Board of Directors are absolutely committed to investing in our staff..

It’s Not Always Been Plain Sailing…

As with many initiatives (and change in general), it took a little time to gain momentum, with people either avoiding attending or reluctantly going along. By Autumn 2016 (approximately six months in), employees were hearing how much other colleagues had enjoyed it and actually started looking forward to attending themselves, rather than being cajoled into going by their manager – the sharp uptake in delegate numbers was evident. Sometimes there are still the pressures of the day job, and we appreciate that this doesn’t magically disappear for a week, however we do what we can to make sure employees can engage in their Mothership Week.

What Happens on Mothership Week?

The programme of events has also evolved over time. From an initial session comprising of a day supporting a local charity and couple of other sessions/classes (including a salsa type class…we quickly learnt people aren’t comfortable holding hands with their colleagues!) we now have a packed programme. During Mothership Week, we have business updates with guest speakers from around the company (particularly handy when we have new solutions coming to market and we want to share the latest news!), compliance training (such as a business writing course, safeguarding training and equality and diversity training), a day devoted to supporting a local charity, and a range of sessions covering all aspects of wellbeing. Employees also have time set aside to work collaboratively with others within the business and go and visit another team to understand what they do; this is chosen and arranged by the individual so they can ensure they receive maximum benefit from this time.

We begin the week with a team building session to help employees get to know each other (as inevitably not everyone knows each other) which we always have incredibly positive feedback for. Our facilitator for this session (our Handyman Geoff, who is also a Scout Leader, and very used to running team building activities) has also facilitated a Handyperson session, covering basic DIY to an open ‘surgery’ to answer other questions. Mothershippers get to enjoy getting creative and in previous months have created artwork from wool wrapped around nails they have knocked into wooden boards.

Other wellbeing related sessions have included a nutrition workshop, Zumba, Pilates, an introductory session at a local gym, and a relaxation session, introducing employees to mindfulness, meditation and yoga. We’ve deliberately engaged suppliers who defy convention – for some people yoga or Pilates might not conjure up views of a very straight talking, slightly sweary instructor who loves cracking jokes; but that breaks down barriers and misconceptions and tends to be received really well by employees.

Exceptionally popular month on month, Mothershippers also support a local good cause for a day –they might be putting parcels together for our local food bank one month to carrying out maintenance work at a local hospice the next. It gives our staff the opportunity to visibly see what they’re contributing to, as well as giving them a warm feeling of having been able to help others.

It’s Not Just a Week of Fun…

We try to challenge perceptions, and open up new ideas to our staff about things they could try (including a movement session, which sees our staff crawling around the floor and using their own body weight to exercise – great when you’re staying in a hotel room for up to a working week, with no equipment and limited space!) You would be amazed at some of the feedback from Mothershippers about what they have learnt, what they have experienced and their take aways from the week. For some, the changes may be small; for others, they have real light bulb moments that significantly change what they do moving forward.

To make sure there are tangible outcomes, we ask our staff to actively engage with each activity, asking them to reflect on their week and how they might implement what they’ve learnt after the week has ended. Our HR Team capture their evaluations and takeaways, entering them into our online appraisal system as objectives so that the individual can continue to consider and work towards them afterwards.

In whichever way you interpret wellbeing as a concept, the benefits of investing in it demonstrate themselves tangibly in increased attendance levels, engagement levels and productivity. For other companies, three days of activities per month would be a huge investment, both in terms of cost and organisation, however hopefully hearing risual’s story might inspire you to consider ideas for what you might do within your own company.

About the author