Linda Mountford and team, John West

Culture Pioneers, John West
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Though the crisis, John West went above and beyond to bolster its wellbeing culture in a virtual setting. The result was an energised and productive crew who worked hard to keep food on supermarket shelves, even through a panic buying lockdown.

While many other organisations faced the challenge of pivoting their offering in response to the pandemic, for the well-established food importer John West it was imperative to maintain ‘business as usual’. The company had to manage the balancing act of sustaining the grocery supply chain with retailers to ensure food was kept on the shelves, while also supporting  employees (its ‘crew’) through an immeasurably tough period.

For HR director Linda Mountford and her team – including HR Business Partner Lisa Yensen, HR Officer Jennie Detheridge and HR Assistant June Taylor – a laser sharp focus was placed on employee wellbeing to support their people in a holistic way.

“Following the Covid-19 outbreak, our employees had to quickly adapt to remote working like everyone else, while also dealing with additional pressures on the grocery supply chain. From the beginning we were conscious of the impact this could have on our crew’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and we made sure to respond quickly,” Linda said.

Caring for the crew

Even before the pandemic arrived, the John West HR team was promoting a positive culture and environment by offering various activities and initiatives to support physical and mental wellbeing.

“Our goal was to ensure that John West was a supportive, motivational place to work, with clear mental health and wellbeing strategies embedded across the business,” commented Linda.

Following the Covid-19 outbreak, this goal became an even bigger priority, and the HR team quickly reprioritised and refocused their efforts to support mental health during the lockdown period.

The organisation already had a team of wellbeing champions in place (trained by the charity Mind), mental health first aiders and a dedicated health and safety team that stepped in quickly to support employees. 

John West crew can also access a Health Advantage app which offers online support for wellbeing and mental health, as well as videos from well-known personalities talking about their struggles.

Wellbeing board

The team knew that a lack of connection across teams due to home working could have a detrimental impact on wellbeing, and so new virtual communication channels were quickly set up to keep the crew engaged, informed and motivated while remote working. These included:

  • Weekly calls to all crew across UK, Netherlands and Ireland with the business leadership team.

  • Daily virtual ‘coffee mornings’ to replicate office-based informal connections.

  • Remote training sessions to support resilience and a growth mindset.

  • Fun activities to deliver a form of respite including virtual quizzes, lunchtime Bingo and a Macmillan coffee morning.

  • A virtual ‘Voice your Thoughts’ board, enabling the crew to submit their questions over the course of the week, to be responded to in the crew calls.

  • Regular one-to-one ‘check-ins’ undertaken by the HR team to offer support and early wellbeing intervention when needed.

Maintaining work/life balance

Tackling the blurring of lines between work and home life that was a consequence of the pandemic, the HR team implemented new guidelines to ensure the crew could take regular breaks and tend to their personal and family commitments during the day. They discouraged phone calls between 12pm and 1.30pm and after 5.15pm, and also introduced regular breaks on calls exceeding one hour.

They also introduced additional days off during lockdown, closing the office entirely on two separate Friday afternoons so that all employees had a proper break.

“Feedback on this has been extremely positive and really enables our crew to continue to feel energised and productive during these times,” said Linda.

Linda and her team also recognise the importance of keeping the office open for those who have technical/personal issues at home, or simply prefer to be in the office. While they are constantly revising their approach to working in the office in accordance with government guidelines, the crew can work from the office, providing they can avoid commuting in on public transport. To support office workers, car parking slots are reserved for those who can drive in and John West products are available for lunch so crew can avoid entering public spaces.

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Celebrating World Mental Health Day

In what had been a markedly tough year, Linda and the HR team felt it extremely important to recognise World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2020 and remind employees of the importance of mental wellbeing.

Alongside sending out a targeted e-newsletter reminding everyone of the wellbeing offerings available to them, they also held two educational sessions on wellbeing issues rarely talked about: financial wellbeing and menopause awareness.

The financial wellbeing webinar (run by Emma Waller from Cheddr Financial Wellbeing) explored an array of personal finance topics to help equip employees with the tools to make more informed financial decisions, and consequently reduce anxiety and stress related to money issues.

The menopause awareness training (run by Lynda Bailey from Talking Menopause) focused on how women are affected by menopause in the workplace and how they can be supported. Following the session, the team are now looking into implementing menopause champions in the workplace.

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Introducing a new virtual learning academy

Alongside its continued commitment to employee wellbeing during the pandemic, the organisation also launched the John West Management Academy to support learning and growth in a virtual setting. Originally planned to be run in person, the HR team pivoted the offering to ensure the crew could continue developing themselves while working from home.

“The programme has been designed to further empower, strengthen capability and deliver consistency of management practice in John West in the UK, Holland and Ireland,” commented Linda.

The first of the seven modules, delivered in partnership with GBS training, focused on managing yourself and others, and received positive feedback from attendees:

The delivery of team exercises was interesting, and the learning was kept upbeat and fun.

Quite possibly the most useful course I have been on in a long time. Looking forward to the next session.

Today was an excellent training session – Sean made the content relevant to John West, was very engaging and I can see how this will work into my day-to-day life and work life. Look forward to the next session!

In addition to the academy management training, the HR team also arranged training for first line management teams to equip them with the skills and knowledge required to manage their team’s return to the office in the future.

“We know it is crucial to engage and train your first line management teams - their role in the organisation is even more critical today and they need to feel and be fully supported and equipped to manage the return to office process (supported by HR),” said Linda.

Feedback is king

The health and happiness of the crew through the pandemic and beyond will continue to be the driving force behind the HR team’s holistic approach to wellbeing support in the future.

To keep momentum going and ensure their initiatives remain helpful and relevant, Linda and the team will continue to seek employee feedback and translate this into positive action.

“Without employee feedback, we could not enjoy the strong workplace culture that makes John West such a unique place to work, and drives business success in the long term. By prioritising the health and happiness of each crew member, we are better able to adhere to the John West value of championing a pioneering spirit,” concluded Linda.

What did our Culture Pioneers ambassadors think?

Culture Pioneers Ambassadors

The ambassadors recognised the all-encompassing approach that the John West HR team took in supporting their people through the pandemic, and were particularly impressed by their wellbeing efforts.

“Their focus on mental health appears to be much more than just rhetoric,” says Emma Parry, Professor of Human Resource Management and Head of Changing World of Work Group at Cranfield School of Management. “I particularly like that they have chosen to address issues such as financial wellbeing and menopause awareness that are often forgotten”.

Perry Timms, Chief Energy Officer of PTHR agreed, adding that “focusing on specific episodes and events (like the menopause) also proved they were attuned to a diverse spectrum of life incidents”.

What stood out for Shakil Butt, Founder of HR Hero For Hire, was the clear acknowledgement that employees deserved and needed time off to re-energise. “Closing the office and additional days off sends a powerful message of appreciation and recognition of the stresses and challenges faced by staff during the lockdown”.

Enjoyed reading this story? Discover how our other Culture Pioneers reshaped their culture during the pandemic.