What Wellbeing at Work looks like in practice - featuring Assael Architecture

As part of this month’s Wellbeing in the Workplace theme, we talked to Assael Architecture on their approach to advocating and implementing good wellbeing policy in the workplace. Their strategy, and the positive impact it’s had on the practice, has been recognised by winning the AJ100 Employer of the Year in 2017, Building’s Good Employer Guide several times, and being on The Sunday Times’ 100 Best Small Companies to Work For every year since 2014.

Assael Architecture believes that wellbeing comes through feeling valued, through trust, understanding, engagement and nurturing.

So, how has Assael Architecture created such a positive and successful workplace?

Staff’s wellbeing – emotional, mental or physical – is our main priority.

For emotional wellbeing, we have a strong culture of appreciation; personal, team and company achievements are announced to the entire office every Friday so everyone feels valued. We ensure a healthy work/life balance; we review overtime weekly, have a ‘no lunch at desks’ policy, and finish early every Friday to ensure staff spend down-time away from the office. Parents can do the school run or go to their children’s sports days, staff can play pool or go to the gym during work hours, and anyone can work from home if needed; this is only possible through trust in our staff – and we believe trust truly fosters emotional wellbeing.

For mental wellbeing, our ethos is ‘it’s ok to not be ok’. We have Ben, our Mental Wellbeing Ambassador and qualified Mental Health First Aider, who holds weekly ‘mindfulness’ sessions, writes a monthly bulletin and leads our mental health awareness group who meet regularly to discuss new ideas for enhancing wellbeing. This year we, led by Ben, also founded the Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum which aims to improve mental wellbeing across the entire industry and reduce the stigma around it.

We also look after staff’s physical health, with private healthcare for everyone that includes discounts on gym memberships, physio sessions and new bikes and trainers, and we encourage and subsidise sports and exercise of all kinds, including weekly yoga classes, cycling and running clubs, weekly netball, rugby and softball matches.

What this looks like in practice

To ensure positive mental health for staff, we keep a close eye on signs of stress and act fast to stop it spiraling. Senior members review resources and workload every Monday to ensure no one is overworked or working late consistently. If staff do need to work late then we’ll provide them with dinner and taxis home, but we encourage them to leave on time and talk to us if they have too much work. We’ll act on reducing stress, workload and hours worked by getting them extra resources from other teams, or we’ll recruit an assistant to help them out permanently. We have a strong teamwork culture; we’re all there to pitch in to ensure no one’s left struggling on their own. And we all work alongside each other in an open place office as transparency is paramount and intrinsic to our values.

We encourage all staff to have full lunch breaks, step away from their desks throughout the day to have a chat over coffee, play some pool, solve the crossword together or read the newspaper, and this again comes down to trust; we don’t question if they pop out of the office for half an hour’s walk or make a long phone call to family – we trust them to make up the time when it’s convenient for them.

We also encourage staff to get involved with our weekly mindfulness sessions and yoga classes – proven ways to ease stress.

Assael Architecture has kindly also shared with us their submission for the Wellbeing category of Building’s Good Employer Guide 2018, which they won the award for, and you can view here. It highlights their key ethos, their office design and what they do for their staff’s mental and physical health.

The guide shows a range of ideas from having a pool table in the office to providing free fruit for staff.

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