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Interview

How Aviva uses HR tech to enhance culture and employee wellbeing

Aviva’s focus on wellbeing pre-dates the pandemic.

Allie Nawrat

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Unleash Your PeopleBut it has dialed up its offerings even more with the help of HR tech.

When I think about the insurer Aviva, I think of their amusing car adverts. But the company is much more than its insurance products, it has actually been named among the world’s best employers by Forbes and The Times multiple times over the years.

“Looking after employee wellbeing is really intrinsic to what we do at Aviva”, explains wellbeing lead Debbie Bullock.

She is very clear that focusing on wellbeing ensures that Aviva employees can “perform at their best” and provide the best service to clients.

Therefore, taking the time to prioritize employee’s needs and listen to their concerns, whether they are about work or their personal lives, is ultimately good for business.

Bullock adds: “As a people function, we want to support colleagues to transform their performance, which in turn transforms Aviva’s performance.”

Inside Aviva’s wellbeing programs

To prioritize employee wellbeing, Aviva has developed a broad program of wellbeing initiatives.

Bullock believes what makes these special is that they represent a broad, “holistic approach” to wellbeing that focuses not only on mental wellbeing, but also physical, financial and social wellbeing.

“The breadth of support [is] really important because everyone’s wellbeing needs are individual”, notes Bullock. “They depend on your personality, your life stage and what’s going in your life outside of work.”

This explains why Aviva offers everything from an employee assistance program to paid leave for those with caring responsibilities to domestic abuse awareness and support.

The insurance company also offers on-demand healthcare appointments, flexible working, and equal parental leave. A recent addition to Aviva’s benefits policy is a new initiative to support employees through the menopause.

Enter HR tech

Many of these wellbeing benefits are underpinned by HR tech.

Bullock explains that tech is useful for Aviva employees because it allows them to access support whenever they need it – giving them a “wellbeing support in a pocket feeling” – which is why the apps are not restricted to work laptops or phones and can be downloaded onto personal devices.

One example noted by Bullock was Aviva’s Digital GP app, which is powered by Square Health and gives employees access to an appointment with their doctor within 24 hours. It also gives Aviva’s employees the ability to choose the gender of the doctor they would like to talk to through a virtual consultation on the app.

As well as building its own apps with partners, Aviva also provides its employees with access to external HR tech tools. Examples include Arianna Huffington’s Thrive and the Headspace app to focus on wellbeing and mindfulness, as well as Peppy, a menopause support app, which was introduced in October 2020.

Aviva is particularly proud of its menopause policy and support. This is partly because they have decided to make Peppy available to not only Aviva employees, but also their partners and families in recognition that menopause doesn’t just affect those enduring the symptoms.

While Aviva is very aware that technology is an enabler, Bullock notes “we need to be really careful that we don’t rely on tech entirely”.

Taking time away from screens and devices is ultimately crucial to wellbeing; it helps to avoid that “always on feeling” and allows individual to have space to be mindful, according to Bullock.

She notes: “As long as technology is the servant and we are the master”, it is useful. But “if we become a slave to technology, [it can] negatively impact wellbeing”.

Importance of culture at aviva

While the initiatives themselves – and the HR tech that underpin them – are important, perhaps even more crucial to properly supporting staff and enabling them to be their best selves, according to Bullock, is having “the right culture in place”.

This is a culture that is free from judgement, and inclusive of everyone, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, race, or disability.

Aviva wants its employees to feel “psychologically safe at work”, which means that there is no fear surrounding bringing up issues, whether they are work-related or personal, like menopause symptoms or mental health concerns.

To ensure this is the reality for employees, Aviva focuses hard on training its people leaders on issues, like mental health awareness, neurodiversity, menopause and domestic abuse, to ensure they are equipped to have the right conversations with employees.

Bullock also notes that Aviva encourages people leaders to lead by example and actually use the benefits on offer. This ensures employees know it is okay to use the apps and that the focus on wellbeing at Aviva is truly genuine.

This focus on culture further explains why Aviva’s wellbeing initiatives and policies largely come about in response to feedback from Aviva employees.

Bullock explains that Aviva has some employee resource groups called Aviva Communities that focus on the needs of certain different protected groups.

The HR team also rely on a network of wellbeing champions called Health Heroes who are in every corner of the business and feedback employee concerns so that initiatives can be developed to support them.

She gives the example of the menopause policy, which came about from feedback from two Communities: Aviva Generation and Aviva Balance, as well as what people leaders were hearing from employees.

The HR team at Aviva then used that to research and understand how menopause may affect those working at Aviva, and then determine what level of support to provide.

Little moments of joy

While Aviva has long had a focus on employee wellbeing, like many other employers across the world they dialed up and adjusted initiatives in order to respond to the unique challenges of the pandemic.

A major thing that Aviva has been focused on is “bringing a little bit of joy” to employees’ daily lives; this was particularly important, according to Bullock, during the winter lockdowns in the UK.

This included events, such as quizzes and bake offs, as well as rewards like £100 pre-Christmas vouchers and an additional day off to rest and recharge.

Another thing that Aviva did during the pandemic was to rely more on video technology to move the activities, such as seminars and exercise classes, that the HR team used to put on in the office online.

Bullock explains that moving those activities online “actually enabled us to reach more people”, because they are no longer location dependent, and people were now able access the content whenever is convenient.

They also relied more on communications tools like Yammer to stay connected with employees while working from home.

This helped the HR team to remind people what wellbeing support was on offer. But Yammer has also been useful, Bullock notes, for allowing employees to form their own support groups where they can help one another with shared problems.

One example is the Parents at Aviva group where individuals shared tips and tricks for juggling home schooling with work. The HR team supplemented this by producing wellbeing support guides for employees and people leaders, including one for managing home schooling and work.

Future of work at Aviva

Bullock is very clear that wellbeing will continue to be a priority for Aviva long into the future.

While there are no clear plans to introduce any more wellbeing initiatives at the moment, the HR team is always listening to feedback from the Communities and Health Heroes about what employees need.

Wellbeing is important to Aviva not only because it is the right thing to do for individuals and their productivity, but also because it “is really important for recruitment and retention”, and will be even more crucial in the future of work.

“In post-pandemic times, there is a big sense that people need a work life balance, so they need to know that their employers care about more than just them delivering”, notes Bullock.

Recent employee surveys that found 84% of Aviva employees believe that the company values their health and wellbeing, suggests, that Aviva is on the right track.

In terms of the location in which Aviva employees will work post-pandemic, Bullock notes that the insurer wants employees to work “in the location that creates the best outcomes for the customer, the business and our people”.

Therefore, Bullock anticipates that Aviva offices will become a space for “collaboration, creativity and bringing people together”; she notes that Aviva believes not many people will want to go into the office just to reply to emails.

However, in thinking about the future of work, Aviva is aware that there is a need to ensure no-one is left out from the culture at Aviva.

“We want to make sure that we don’t end up with any unintended consequences of flexible and hybrid working,” Bullock concludes.

“We want to make sure that everyone has the same opportunities, regardless of where or how they work.”

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