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When global technology giant ABB wanted help to benchmark wellbeing in the UK and Ireland it brought in Make UK to conduct a Workplace Wellbeing Survey to identify and prioritise improvements.

The background

Anne Rawnsley, HR Manager for ABB’s 300-strong Motion and Robotics & Automation businesses in the UK explains the concerns that led her to undertake the survey. “Looking into absence reporting, I discovered some interesting statistics. We had people with anxiety, depression and mental health issues, but they often presented with presenteeism rather than absenteeism, which meant that the absence reporting figures did not reflect the true picture. It also meant that the usual opportunities to trigger relevant conversations such as the Return to Work process could not be used to identify the best course of action. 

The plan

Having worked closely with Make UK in the past, Anne approached HR Consultant Clare Riches for advice. Together they discussed the options and decided that Make UK would roll out a Wellbeing Survey to staff in the Motion and Robotics & Automation businesses. As an external provider, Make UK could offer a level of confidentiality and impartiality for employees who might otherwise be anxious about the answering openly to a survey carried out ‘in-house’. In addition, they decided that the survey would be face-to-face rather than online, to gain a more in-depth understanding of the issues staff experienced.

Extending the scope

Meanwhile, HSE Manager for ABB in the United Kingdom, Graeme Waller, was approaching the same issue from a country-wide perspective. The country management team had identified that the number of days lost through stress, depression and mental health issues was significantly higher than the days lost through safety incidents. Graeme commented, “We began to see that tackling underlying health and wellbeing issues could improve productivity and performance significantly.”

The country management team opted to roll out an online version of Make UK’s wellbeing survey to employees in the remainder of UK and Ireland businesses – Electrification, Industrial Automation and Power Grids. The online survey would target a larger group of people in a time- and cost-efficient manner and provide an overall picture of wellbeing across the company. It also provided an opportunity to compare the outcomes of the two different survey methods. 

The results

Make UK analysed the data from both surveys and encapsulated the findings in two comprehensive report sets that broke the findings down by business and site. 

In each report set, the data was presented in two complementary ways: 
1. The results. For every question, the percentage of people selecting each of the five options (where 5=never and 1=always) where only one answer could be selected.
2. Prioritising the issues to be addressed. This advice was delivered through an easy to understand traffic light system with five clear indicators. (These ranged from Achieving the Best Practice Standard which was a good indicator of performance for that stressor, through to Needing Urgent Review which indicated this was a top priority for attention) 

The analysis

“I was really impressed with the amount of data that we received from Make UK,” Anne said, “We had a lot of encouraging results. For example, peer support and line manager support were good, and people felt they received the respect they deserved at work. We also recognised from the results that Line Managers needed to become more flexible in their management style and improve their communication.
Working hours were flagged as a significant issue at some sites. Others felt they had little power to influence change, and in a lot of situations that there could be unrealistic time pressures.”

At a national level the results were more complex, with reports for the UK and Ireland, and additional reports for each of the businesses. There were some surprises, as Graeme Waller explained: “It was great see positive comments regarding the lack of bullying and harassment and comments supporting our working practices in the areas of safety and integrity, but there were definite opportunities highlighted for us.  The big stressors for people at the national level were the demands placed on them, the level of line-manager support and working relationships.”

Moving into action

Once the results were in, the first step taken for both surveys was to share the results with all the participating staff, including the detailed the high-level results, and the areas of opportunity.

The results triggered discussions at a country level around the criteria used for selecting line managers – which had tended to be on technical ability, the speed of the recruitment process and the need to initiate a network of mental health wellbeing champions. 

Volunteer Mental health first aiders are now being introduced across businesses, who complete a two-part training course, Start The Conversation and Manage the Conversation from the charity Mates In Mind to prepare them for their important work in this area.


Although the wellbeing campaigns are still in their infancy and the outcomes cannot yet be quantified, Anne is really pleased with the survey results, and believes it has been very worthwhile in raising awareness of the importance of wellbeing in the workplace. “I’m now finding more and more people coming forward and talking, and others are offering to help.”

As Graeme comments “the key implementers for change need to be the business line leaders; with their support and direction we will see a positive step towards not only breaking this taboo, but regarding wellbeing in the workplace with the importance it deserves.” 

Interestingly, Graeme found little difference in the quality of results between the face-to-face and online surveys. And he plans to repeat the survey in two or three years to assess the effect of the improvements and indicate the next stressors to concentrate on.

The personal touch
For both Anne and Graeme, engaging with Make UK was hugely beneficial in how they approached this process whilst also ensuring confidentiality for survey participants.

For Anne, working with Clare and going down the face-to-face route had been very successful. “Clare made people feel at ease, and they were able to open-up in a safe and confidential environment. That made a huge difference. Our employees can also see that we are investing a lot of time and money into this and taking the issues seriously with a real desire to improve the culture and productivity within the business.

For Graeme, the online survey was the correct approach.  “Being able to give everyone the opportunity to be involved was essential to ensuring that we focused on the correct challenges.  Without the fullest engagement possible, people could feel that things are happening to them and not with them; that can never be the intent.”

“But I would say,” Anne cautions, “that these changes don’t happen overnight. Mental health and wellbeing should be on everyone’s radar, but it can be a step into the unknown for your managers. Make UK can guide you through the process and help you approach it in a professional way.”

If you would like to know more about our Workplace Wellbeing Survey or any of our other health and wellbeing services, please fill out your details below and one of our team will be in touch.

ABB Workplace Wellbeing Survey