Employee wellbeing to drive a happy and productive workplace

November 9th, 2017 Posted by Events 2 comments on “Employee wellbeing to drive a happy and productive workplace”

I recently had the pleasure of attending the CityWork conference in London which explored the topic of productivity and employee wellbeing. It was great to hear best practice examples, latest statistics and research from businesses such as CBRE, British Council of Offices, Virgin Pulse and Great Place to Work. Hundreds of HR professionals joined to soak up the talks, attend workshops and meet a variety of carefully selected sponsors.

A general theme throughout the day was the importance of having a wellbeing strategy in place that meets employee needs from an environmental, physical and mental standpoint. Gone are the days where a one-off bowl of fruit and a football table are considered enough. Wearable technology means we can now be smarter about our health and wellbeing. Air quality, light, the number of steps we take – we know more about our surroundings and expect a working environment that meets our needs.

Out of 30 million working people in the UK, 11 million work in an office environment – a number that has grown by 3 million in the last 30 years. That’s a huge number of people working in environments that are often not designed or optimised for productivity. Given the UK’s staggeringly high levels of sick leave, stress, burnout and low productivity, it is time to take wellbeing seriously.

Wellbeing has been proved to show a positive impact on the bottom line, especially when incremental changes are made. For example, Great Place to Work research showed that companies who take wellbeing seriously see a 2 to 7 per cent increase in turnover. As a result, financial analysts are beginning to look at a company’s employee engagement levels when making investment decisions.

Virgin Pulse also revealed insights from recent research on HR challenges and priorities. No matter what industry we work in, we all face similar challenges. So it was great to learn that wellbeing is one of HR’s top four priorities this year. In fact, two in five HR leaders say they would like to invest in wellbeing in the next three to nine months.

2017 HR priorities:

  1. Recruitment and retention
  2. Employee engagement
  3. Wellbeing
  4. Culture

Engagement challenges:

  1. Budget
  2. Culture
  3. Adoption
  4. HR resources
  5. Leadership buy-in

Main wellbeing drivers:

  1. Values aligned to leaders
  2. Teamwork and sense of community
  3. Recognition by line manager
  4. Work environment – equipped with the tools to do your best work

It is important to note that wellbeing can’t be ‘done to’ employees. To drive long term success, you must let employees take ownership of wellbeing and give them the right tools to make it happen in the most effective way. The conference also looked at how successful wellbeing is communicated by line managers who are equipped with the right technical and soft skills. If we want to see a real change and success with wellbeing programmes, management training needs to become a part of the strategy early on.

Top statistics from Great Place to Work, Bupa and Forbes:

  • Better workplaces find it easier to attract talent, typically resulting in a 40 per cent increase in applications.
  • Better workplaces can halve the rate of sickness and avoid burnout.
  • 2016-2017 saw a 20 per cent decrease in productivity in the UK.
  • People are 60 per cent more productive when they are happy and well.
  • 54 per cent say the office environment is mentally damaging.
  • 95 per cent of HR leaders experience burnout.
  • 2016-2017 saw 12.5 million days lost due to stress and illness.
  • 78 per cent of millennials see quality of workplace as pivotal when applying for jobs.
  • 69 per cent of millennials choose environment over other benefits.

I had the pleasure of joining a workshop with Lewis Beck, Head of Workplace at CBRE, who shared details of its research into a world-class employee experience in the workplace. It was interesting to learn how architects who take a human-centric approach to building office environments can boost employee performance and wellbeing. Overall results showed that 10 per cent less mental effort was needed in enhanced office spaces.

CBRE’s research was conducted over seven months with 120 people in two control groups to see if wellbeing initiatives had an impact on employee performance. The first control group received no wellbeing improvements at work and showed a higher risk of burnout. The second control group got new lighting, natural spaces, healthy food, mindfulness training and physical activities; the following percentages show accuracy test improvements in this group compared to the first one:

  • Healthy food: 45 per cent
    Reduction of caffeine and sugar intake, plus healthy options made available (smoothies, fruit, nuts and fruit infused water).
  • Mindfulness: 30 per cent
    Included onsite massage and mindfulness video training.
  • Physical activity: 12 per cent
    Included cycling at desks, standing meetings, yoga balls.
  • Lighting: 12 per cent
    Orange-tinted overhead lighting replaced with blue-tinted side and desk lighting.
  • Natural spaces: 10 per cent
    Plant and artwork on the walls around the office – whether fake or real, both had a positive impact.

Overall the conference provided fascinating research and statistics, as well as the opportunity to meet new people working in HR with similar challenges and great experiences. It is clear that having a wellbeing strategy in place can drive a more productive workplace in the long run. A great way to get leadership buy-in is to use the right statistics to show the impact of doing things wrong. At theblueballroom we love implementing this sort of strategy and have lots of experience in getting leadership buy-in. If you would like to chat about your current challenges, do get in touch. To learn more about future CityWork conferences, visit its website or twitter page.

When digital meets employee engagement

October 16th, 2017 Posted by Communications, Digital, Events 0 comments on “When digital meets employee engagement”

Achieving an engaged remote workforce – can it be done?

Whether your remote workforce has the flexibility to work from home or they are working remotely in the warehouse or store front, as internal communicators we need to keep up with the latest digital technology to keep this vital workforce engaged.

We’re excited to launch a series of webinars in partnership with the Sonin agency over the next few months which will tackle some key challenges in the internal communications space. From the best technology tools to use to engaging remote workers, from reward and recognition to knowledge sharing – to name just a few of the topics.

Our first webinar will go live on 25th October @ 11:30am and will focus on engaging a remote workforce. Our MD Kate Shanks and MD of the Sonin agency Paul Jarrett will be discussing this topic in depth, giving advice from their experience. Register to attend here.

During the webinar, we’ll cover questions like:

  • What challenges do companies face with remote workforces?
  • What are the most successful tools and technologies for communication?
  • How can you maintain a company culture when the majority of your employees work remotely?
  • How do you deal with security issues with remote apps?
  • What would be your top tip when engaging remote workforces?

A bit about the speakers

Kate Shanks

Kate is our Managing Director at theblueballroom, a specialist internal communications agency based in Farnham, Manchester and Hong Kong. Kate is passionate about employee engagement and has worked for over 15 years with a range of household brands on talent attraction, retention and development. Her key strength lies in really listening to key stakeholders and understanding what a business needs to maximise.

Paul Jarrett

Paul leads a team of expert mobile strategists and developers, creating bespoke apps for the Sonin agency. Paul combines his technical and business expertise to guide leaders – from initial consultation through to development, integration, security and retention – on the most successful routes to futureproofing their businesses using the latest technology.

Register to attend here.

Our next ‘Ask the Guru’ is in Manchester!

October 6th, 2017 Posted by Events 0 comments on “Our next ‘Ask the Guru’ is in Manchester!”

Ask the Guru events give you an opportunity to learn from the experience of internal communications experts and discuss your challenges with peers from across different business areas.

We are so delighted to launch our second Ask the Guru event in Manchester in collaboration with CIPR Inside. Our Managing Director and Guru to all things internal communications, Kate Shanks, will be leading the discussion around engaging remote workers.

We will cover:

  • The categories remote workers can be placed in, the latest trends and statistics in this area, and a number of case studies.
  • The challenges attendees are experiencing with their remote colleagues, and how these challenges can be overcome.

The event will be held on Wednesday 18th October from 4pm at the Steamhaus in Manchester. Visit the Eventbrite page to register for your ticket.

We hope you can join us, see you there!

Reaching a remote workforce

September 20th, 2017 Posted by Events 0 comments on “Reaching a remote workforce”

We were delighted to work in partnership with Communicate magazine to host a breakfast round-table on Friday 15th September at the vibrant venue, Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell. We were joined bright and early by a passionate group of internal communicators from a variety of industries such as Construction, Charity, Retail, IT, Security and the Public Sector to name a few. The topic on our agenda was how to reach a remote workforce – a challenge for everyone in the room.

We started off by defining what a remote workforce meant to our company. And it was understood that this disconnection felt by remote workers tends to be caused by cultural differences, connectivity issues or language barriers in global organisations.

It was agreed that there are four main ways to define a remote worker:

1.  Those that choose to be remote workers and have flexi-working. This type tends to work from home and have access to digital.

2.  Those that have not got a choice, the nature of their job, i.e. based in a warehouse, means they are remote and tend to not have access to digital.

3.  A hard to reach remote worker – those senior level workers who travel to many locations to get their job done.

4.  Those “zombie” workers who are based in the head office, accessible to all channels, but are, however, sadly disengaged from them.

Outside of work, we voraciously consume content 24/7; the speed, the channel, the design.As technology advances, so have our expectations. It’s an important time for internal communicators to deliver relevant content, at the right time, on a channel that is easy to use and reflects the brand. Sounds simple? In some cases, it can be with careful planning and a strong strategy in place. However, technology for internal channels has some catching up to do. So in the meantime, if we a get a single sign-on for our intranets, professional look and feel and mobile friendly emails, it is a step in the right direction.

It was interesting to hear how the channel strategy needs to be carefully considered for each type of remote worker. If there is a clear understanding of what your employees need and how they best consume content, this knowledge will create a strategy to drive adoption and engagement. For example, you would not invest in an employee app, if the majority of the workforce did not have a mobile device or the willingness to use their personal device. You may find the simple solution is often the best – a printed newsletter in their break out area. Listening to what employees want and delivering relevant content to help make their jobs better is key to engagement. Regarding apps, we discussed how valuable it can be to organically increase adoption by  utilising key ambassadors to show how it adds value. Other peers may then adopt it further down the line and it will become the ‘must have’ tool. This could be a great way to start when you have a proportion of your employees’ eager for this type of channel.

We talked about crisis comms, particularly relevant as whilst we were in discussion, the Parson’s Green bomb had gone off. There was discussion around how, if your crisis communications plan lives on the intranet, a  separate strategy for your remote workers is essential if they do not have access this. Thinking strategically, putting yourself in your remote workers shoes and listening, will allow you to have an appropriate plan in place. In addition, with cyber security breaches becoming more and more common, an offline crisis comms pack is essential, and not only for remote workers.

There was a lot of discussion around digital tools such as Yammer, Facebook Workplace and WhatsApp. It’s great to hear how these channels have enabled two-way communications, collaborative working and lots of fun. Popular posts and ways to enable adoption included leaders and CEOs doing everyday things like getting his/her morning coffee, competitions and we even discussed how pet pictures can go a long way. Breaking down siloes, and letting people know they can use their voice will then lead to business talk as well. The higher the adoption on these tools, the more topic groups and collaboration will occur. Ensuring your ESN works seamlessly with your intranet can make for a great experience culturally and improve productivity.

The role of traditional channels is definitely still alive and will complement the wider strategy to ensure all employees are touched with the key messages.

Kate Shanks at theblueballroom says; “I really love the work I do – being able to work on a strategy to surprise and delight is so exciting. Making employees, wherever they work, think differently and see the unexpected. Whether that’s a digital platform, roadshow event or even vinyls on the bathroom mirrors, letting employees know how they can play their part is key.”

There is still a big reliance on the cascade of information and the way the messages are communicated. If you have an inspiring management team, fully trained in the art of storytelling and geared with a toolkit to make their job easier, then that’s when the magic can really happen.

It is impossible to have “one culture” in a global organisation. With acquisitions, multiple languages and locations this would be incredibly challenging. However, all employees believing in the company purpose, values and mission is very achievable and what we all strive for as internal communicators. Two-way communications can be the ultimate goal for many organisations and may take a cultural change piece to achieve it. This is great to hear because top down messages will not engage in the long run. We need to spark innovation and encourage collaborative working to truly measure engagement.

We were so pleased to be involved with such a vibrant discussion and look forward to doing more events in this style. If you would like to discuss your remote worker challenges, or have a topic in mind for future events please get in touch to let us know.


What are words worth?

September 18th, 2017 Posted by We Love 0 comments on “What are words worth?”

Word-based creatives are great fun. They can be a challenge for people who aren’t native English speakers, but simple wordplay still has a place when communicating to a global audience.

One of my favourite iterations is this branding for a UK band. It’s a really simple idea, but beautifully done here with a clever twist on the band’s name.

A simple contrast can also make a big impact, as with this poster that I created for the purposes of this blog.

There must be a lot of really simple, really clever word-based creatives out there. If you’ve seen one recently, please do share…

ballroom Blitz No. 003

September 7th, 2017 Posted by Communications 0 comments on “ballroom Blitz No. 003”

After this short but sweet piece by our MD Kate, I’m winding down* before taking two weeks out to drive the length and breadth of Croatia. It’s become an unintentional habit to book 5-day or 10-day holidays, and looking back, I don’t think it’s quite long enough to truly switch off. So here goes. But before I disappear in a cloud of tyre smoke, here’s what’s grabbed our attention over the last two weeks.

*frantically ploughing through my inbox


The Metropolitan Police have launched this bold and simple internal campaign, which aims to make officers aware of the early signs of child abuse. The campaign will run for a whole year, and hopes to reach all 44,000 of the Met’s employees. I really like this. No puns, no images, no wordplay – just simple and clear creative with a strong message.


44,000 is a tremendous amount of staff, and within that workforce or any business there will be many young employees who are tech-savvy. So the traditional IC channels won’t always be enough to cut through the noise. How do you make internal comms interesting for them? Tamanna Mishra at yourstory.com has put together this great piece on making engagement entertaining.

“It is 2017, and your social media-savvy workforce is your biggest brand ambassador for potential customers, partners, and employees. Why wouldn’t you cater to their distinct taste when you engage them?”


And finally, Cosmopolitan magazine have caused in stir in the comms industry with a ‘character assassination piece‘ on what an IC Strategist is. Of course, this is satire and is surely meant to be taken with a ginormous pinch of salt. But it’s certainly rubbed a few professionals up the wrong way. Are people taking it too seriously? I think so.

You can stereotype just about every job from any industry in some way or another. Being a “creative” I’ve lost count of the amount of misconceptions and assumptions about my character traits. I honestly don’t spend all day stroking my beard, drinking coffee, and browsing Instagram.

Whilst I appreciate the efforts by many to professionalise the perception of their roles, you absolutely have to laugh at yourself from time-to-time, right? Now where’s that coffee?

Take your time

September 5th, 2017 Posted by Our team 0 comments on “Take your time”

Two weeks. Two whole weeks. Away. In the mountains, fresh air, sunshine, beauty. With my lovely family. Nothing beats it.

I want to shout from the rooftops the value of taking a two-week break. I had an amazing trip with my husband and two daughters of seven and nine, ‘playing’ in the Dolomites in Italy. It’s a beautiful part of the world (also good for the soul) and the adventures you find in the mountains (biking, via ferrata, wild swimming, climbing, as well as the odd adventure with a Negroni or Aperol Spritz) help a busy mind keep busy with stuff other than work.

I have come back refreshed and energised, far more focused in my thinking than I was before I went away. I have a huge list of to-dos (as we all do), but rather than sweeping the things I don’t want to do to the bottom of the list, a break from the everyday has enabled me to come back wanting to tackle the challenging stuff and get things done.

Two weeks of adventure gives you time to think, to look at the bigger picture and, as a leader, look at the priorities to drive your business forward. Here at theblueballroom, we’re lucky enough to get a hugely generous holiday allowance allowing us all to take time off, to travel, decorate, to see friends and family. To my lovely team, a message sent with love, try and take two weeks off at one time every year. It will do you so much good.

The next big thing…

August 31st, 2017 Posted by Our opinion 0 comments on “The next big thing…”

Now here’s an interesting idea – microchipping your workforce.

According to the New York Times, a US company has asked for volunteers to have RFID chips injected between thumb and forefinger.

With a wave of the hand, a microchipped employee can open security doors, pay for food in the canteen etc. Like pet microchips, these chips are too small to have GPS capability – so the company couldn’t check up on the chip chap’s whereabouts.

Less hassle than carrying a passcard, less problematic than a fingerprint. Mmmm.

A quick straw poll of my colleagues at theblueballroom elicited a resounding ‘Nooooo’ to the idea. But I wonder whether future generations will prove so resistant, especially if there’s a more attractive incentive.

Of course, more advanced microchips in the future could open up all sorts of possibilities from an internal communications and employee engagement perspective.

For all those clients wanting to get ahead of the curve, this could be the next big thing after bespoke bots. But not yet…

It’s not my age, it’s a matter of pride

August 24th, 2017 Posted by work life 0 comments on “It’s not my age, it’s a matter of pride”

If I’d had something better to do this morning, I would probably have let the headline go, but it is the middle of the summer holidays and most of my clients have gone AWOL. One sighting of a headline from Bloomberg (seriously?!) telling me ‘People start hating their jobs at age 35’ and a load of ‘It’s official’ and ‘#HatingWork’ baloney on Twitter and LinkedIn, and I was hooked. I mean, it got me on two of my soapboxes simultaneously: ageist media hype and how it’s just so cool to hate your job. Not.

Since when has happiness at work descended into a battle of the ages?

Perhaps because I am over 35, or just that I take something that has ‘research’ in the copy seriously, before reaching for my white charger and joining the fray I actually paused to read the report published by recruitment company, Robert Half. And I have to say it took me a while to find any commentary at all about the great age divide.

Featuring more prominently here was the difference in happiness ratings between employees in smaller and larger companies, in different roles and in different sectors. And the more insightful commentary from researchers and academics in the field on the conditions that make for happiness at work.

So instead of talking about the ticking clock, which nobody (not me, not you, and certainly not your employer) can do anything about, let’s look at what’s more helpful in the report, and is in our control.

Happiness at work – whether you are 16 or 60, an accountant or an administrator, lawyer or creative director – is derived from three major factors: being treated with fairness and respect; feeling appreciated; and having pride in your organisation. The ranking may shift from role to role and from place to place but these principles are universal. “Feeling good about the organisation that employs you is a big deal for employees,” the report says. “People who have pride in their work are three times as likely to be happy.”

I’ve spent the last few years identifying the factors that make people feel pride at work and am convinced that the positive impact is not only on happiness but personal and organisational performance as well. Whether we are employers or employees, the factors of pride are entirely achievable and we are all jointly responsible for creating workplace cultures where they are put into practice.

• For more information about creating pride in your work, visit www.takepride.co or contact me at sparry@theblueballroom.com.

Bringing to life the extraordinary ordinary

August 23rd, 2017 Posted by Photography 0 comments on “Bringing to life the extraordinary ordinary”

Back in the day, cameras mostly came out for happy holiday snaps. Today we photograph every aspect of our daily lives – from selfies to the food on our plate.

But how many of us look beyond ourselves and our immediate network? Judging from the many millions of self-obsessed photos shared every day, the answer is remarkably few.

So it was a rare joy to happen across an exhibition of Shirley Baker’s photography during a recent visit to the Manchester International Festival.

In the 1960s, Baker photographed inner-city working-class communities during Manchester’s ‘slum’ clearances. Her unposed, spontaneous photographs evoke the spirit of the time. Her unsentimental empathy brings to life the extraordinary ordinary.

Among so many wonderful photos, this was my favourite and I was delighted later to discover that it was also Baker’s. She said: “I can remember seeing this graffiti and thinking it was rather artistic, but I wanted a human face. A little boy was about to walk past, so I waited and took one shot.”

Baker’s work reminds us how empathy and the authentic combine to genuinely engage audiences, whether you stumble across it in an art gallery… or an employee communication.

If you can, visit the exhibition – Shirley Baker: Women and Children; and Loitering Men – before it closes on 28 August. Alternatively, visit this website dedicated to her work.