EXCLUSIVE: Microsoft Ireland empowers staff to manage health and wellbeing

Employee Benefits Live 2019: Dublin-based technology organisation Microsoft Ireland empowers its 2,200 staff to manage their own health and wellbeing using an experiences and treatments booking platform as part of its overall wellbeing strategy.

Joanne Morrissey, HR director at Microsoft Ireland, presented a session titled ‘Balancing organisational productivity and modern work practices with employee wellbeing’ as part of the employee wellness conference stream at Employee Benefits Live 2019 on Wednesday 2 October. Here, she explained to delegates how Microsoft Ireland began its focus on wellbeing in 2011, after staff surveys revealed low scores in this area.

The organisation began by developing a four-pronged strategy, which centred around social, spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing. Change champions were introduced to oversee the strategy’s introduction and simple amendments to working practices were put in place, such as shortening standard meeting durations from one hour to 45 minutes, and encouraging walking meetings.

Microsoft Ireland also implemented a new programme, called Fuel Your Everything, designed to provide a foundation for its wellbeing approach. “We wanted to create an infrastructure that would bring it all together and create a programme of activity that would help our employees lead healthier and happier lives,” Morrissey explained.

The Fuel Your Everything platform enables staff to book various wellbeing experiences or treatments. Experiences include seminars, for example around nutrition, mindfulness, sleep and financial wellbeing. Treatments, on the other hand, include gym classes, physiotherapy appointments, reflexology and even hairdressing and nail appointments. Microsoft Ireland offers access to 42 different gym classes per week.

Alongside this, the organisation holds various events, such as one-to-one appointments with a nutritionist, a yoga day and a pediatric first aid course.

The success of Fuel Your Everything in encouraging employees to address their wellbeing is in part measured by the organisation’s employee assistance programme (EAP) usage; this stands at 14% currently, compared to a national average in Ireland of 8%. The aggregated information from this EAP also helps to inform seminar content; last year, relationship issues were a main concern for employees, so the organisation held a session on healthy relationships.

The wellbeing strategy has been further supported by a new state-of-the-art office building, where architects were challenged to place wellbeing at the centre of the building’s design. This means that all employees have a height adjustable desk, to allow for periods of sitting and standing, and that all lifts are hidden, while the stairs are a central, prominent feature, to encourage staff to move more during their working day.

The office also features a variety of working spaces, to accommodate employees who wish to collaborate as well as those who need a quieter and more focused environment. The business facilitates working from home, too.

Microsoft Ireland has also ensured that its food offering is healthy. A traffic light reporting system is used so that employees can make informed decisions about the food that they consume at work.

Microsoft Ireland’s overall wellbeing package is extensive, ranging from occupational health, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and insurance products, all the way through to sports and social clubs, volunteering days and lifestyle coaching.

Morrissey said: “We work hard to try and create a whole suite and a platform of experiences that enable people to choose what’s right for them, so that they lead healthy, happier and productive lives.”

Mental health is very firmly next on the agenda at the technology organisation. Despite hosting mental health talks over the past two years, from October 2019, dedicated training will take place across the business for both managers and employees, and the business will be sourcing advocates. From May 2019, Microsoft Ireland launched a series of phone-based seminars on various mental health topics.

Morrissey concluded: “We’ve built wellbeing into the fabric of everything we do. It’s really been about trying to create an integrated and joined up platform where [we] can see the gaps that [we] have. Then, from data, from listening to employees, [we] can brief suppliers [and] service providers on the offerings that [we] need and pull it together, monitor it.

“Having employee wellbeing at the centre of everything that we do has been key to our success so far.”