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Success Story

How the Co-op has supported its people’s emotional wellbeing in the pandemic

June 23, 2022

Paul Caudwell, Health Wellbeing Manager at Co-op shares Co-op’s journey with wellbeing, including how tailoring support to varied business needs has helped them, and how focusing on the value of services for people ultimately drives success.
Ευεξία|Health and Benefits
Risque de pandémie

The Co-op is a business with multiple strands, from funeral care to retail and logistics. The pandemic has created new emotional challenges for its workforce. Clearly, it has been a very difficult time for anyone working in funeral care. People working in retail and logistics have also been extremely busy. Not only have their day jobs been busy and mentally taxing, but they have also had to manage the day-to-day stresses of living through a pandemic.

It’s been really important to make sure that employees have someone there that knows them and understands the business and is able to offer that listening ear”

Paul Caudwell | Health Wellbeing Manager, Co-op

“All of that has created a perfect storm for our organisation,” says Paul Caudwell, Co-op’s Health Wellbeing Manager. “It’s fair to say we have addressed it really strongly, but there is always more we can do.”

Help is at hand

Different parts of the organisation need different support, explains Paul. Funeral care workers tend to lean on their peers, rather than their friends or families. Accordingly, the Co-op has created a network of psychological first aiders. “It’s been really important to make sure that employees have someone there that knows them and understands the business and is able to offer that listening ear, but then also signpost them to the professional services we offer where appropriate,” says Paul.

Those services include an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP), eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for people who need it.

People who work for the Co-op’s supermarket business can also access services from other organisations like Grocery Aid, which is a helpline which provides emotional, practical and financial support to anyone who works in the grocery industry.

Anyone who works for the Co-op can access its EAP. One big challenge is bringing it to life and helping people to realise its potential support mechanisms. Paul worries that directing people there in so many situations can sound like a catch-all solution – “but genuinely, it can help for so many things. So, being able to explain why the EAP might be the right place to go at a point in time is really important.”

At present, the Co-op is working to better support people with more complex mental health needs. With the NHS overstretched in many parts of the country, the Co-op is keen for people to be able to get the help they need, without the waiting list. After all, when people’s needs aren’t addressed, they can spiral quickly, impacting their ability to work, which in turn will heap more stress on their day to day lives.

One question the Co-op is considering is: if people with more complex needs cannot access the right assistance via the EAP, where can they go next and how can additional help be signposted most effectively?

Paul and his colleagues are currently thinking through any existing gaps in the Co-op’s provision, and how best to plug them. “Some of this challenge is about changing the way we talk and communicate and bringing the services we do offer to the fore. We will also be reshaping and trying to improve aspects of the experience,” says Paul.

Supporting people’s financial wellbeing

We are living in uncertain times and the cost of living is rising sharply. The Co-op is acutely aware of the very difficult situation this can put people in, and the anxiety it can cause. The company has put some tools in place to help.

One is Wagestream, a financial wellbeing platform which helps people to budget and offers coaching, as well as allowing employees to draw down money between paydays. “Our colleagues wanted freedom around how they manage their money. Many want to be able to manage their cash flow more fluidly,” explains Paul.

Paul is a big fan of Wagestream. “The product is helping colleagues to put food on the table and pay the bills. It helps them to manage their money in a better way. We are seeing a shift towards saving but also people starting to think more broadly about money. That is starting to improve stress levels.”

The last 12 months – and the year ahead

When it comes to supporting emotional wellbeing, the biggest success of the last year was maximising what the Co-op already has, says Paul. “We understand what our partners do and don’t do and how they are prepared to support an enhanced version of the journey. That will help us to talk with more clarity about the services which are coming over the next 12 months.”

Now, that the Co-op has a really clear idea of what it wants to offer, the next step is to review suppliers, with a view to buying services which offer a greater depth of emotional support. Paul explains: “We are really clear about what we want to buy for the right user journey. We don’t want to pay for something where you can’t demonstrate the benefit it has on colleagues.”

Paul concludes by explaining what shapes his priorities: “Everything we do is focused on the value that it gives our frontline colleagues.”

Thank you for reading this article. If you would like to discuss the themes we’ve covered in more detail, please contact us by using the details below, or your WTW consultant.


Lucie McGrath
Director, Health & Benefits
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