• Alex Davies
  • 29 June 2015

Professionalising FM: How an innovative partnership approach can benefit employee wellbeing

The issues

One in five employees across the UK regularly works unpaid overtime, while over half of those working at managerial level admit to working (often remotely) during their annual leave. The introduction of mobile data devices has meant the line between work and leisure time has become blurred, making it all the more difficult for many people to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

There is an increasing awareness that employees can be encouraged to opt for healthier ways of eating and taking more exercise during the working day. There are also undoubted business benefits to employers who take a proactive approach to improving their employees’ health and wellbeing.

The most obvious benefit is in helping to reduce workplace absence. According to the UK’s leading business group, the CBI, the direct costs of employee absence to the UK economy are estimated at over £14bn per year – and its latest absence survey, Getting Better: Workplace health as a business issue found that the average total cost to business for each absent employee is £975 per year.

One of the potent messages of the CBI survey is that employers need to move away from taking a reactive approach to health and wellbeing (i.e. supporting ill or absent staff) to a more proactive one that actively addresses their employees’ level of fitness and health before any problems emerge.

However, reducing sickness absence isn’t the only reason why employers should be encouraged to address health and fitness within their organisation. Another powerful reason is the positive impact a workplace wellbeing programme can have on staff retention and engagement.

According to research carried out by ICM and commissioned by financial protection specialist, UNUM, on the impact of workplace wellbeing on staff loyalty, employees who feel cared for are 27% more likely to stay with their current employer for over five years compared to employees who feel only adequately or poorly looked after.

Most significantly for employers, given the fact that – according to the CIPD – job vacancies look set to rise, almost a third (30%) of employees said they would consider leaving their job if they didn’t feel cared for by their employer. A further 26% of workers said poor workplace wellbeing would make them less likely to stay with an employer long-term and 21% said this would make them feel less motivated and productive.

Strategic approach

Despite the growing body of evidence, wellbeing programmes in the workplace are too often viewed as a ‘nice to have’ or an extra benefit. Yet if seen as a strategic imperative, yielding employee and business benefits, they can result in a happier and more motivated workforce.

The WorkSpace Futures Global Research team at Steelcase undertook a literature review of the existing wellbeing research, surveys, indicators and theories and came up with some insights on the reasons why organisations from the boardroom down should support the adoption of a health and wellbeing strategy.

Psychologist Beatriz Arantes, who led the research, explained that by studying the vast body of work available, her team of experts, which included a psychologist, a designer and an ergonomist, found that the key to physical and mental wellbeing is the emotional experience.

Their second major revelation was that wellbeing was not just a benefit for the individual: it is completely within the interest of organisations, given the fact that often the work that is demanded of people today (creative and collaborative) is only possible when employees are in a positive state of mind.

The report concluded that it is within the best interest of organisations to support the wellbeing of workers, and the way to do so is to create positive emotional experiences at work.

Facilities management can take a pivotal role in driving a wellness programme within an organisation; one that goes way beyond taking a tactical approach by, for example, appointing a caterer that supplies healthy meal options. This case study looks at a client that engaged its FM provider to help it improve the image and importance of employee wellbeing within the company, partnering towards a shared goal.

Case study

BASF and Sodexo BASF, one of the world’s leading chemical companies, employs nearly 2,000 people in the UK and Ireland. Its building at Cheadle in Cheshire, not far from Manchester Airport, is the headquarters of BASF Business Centre Europe North which covers all the Scandinavian countries, all the Baltic states and UK and Ireland, and is the sales centre for BASF plc, a subsidiary of BASF SE, which markets a wide range of BASF products in the UK.

The Cheadle site also provides a service platform for other BASF Group companies operating in the UK. Also based on site is BASF IT Services, which is among the leading IT service providers for the process industry in Europe.

BASF sees its employees as fundamental to achieving the goals of its ‘We create chemistry’ strategy. This means attracting talented people, retaining them in the company, and supporting them in their development.

To do so, it cultivates a working environment that inspires and connects people; one that is founded on inclusive leadership based on mutual trust, respect and a dedication to deliver top performance.

Facilities Manager, Chris Lundie, who joined the organisation from a catering background in 1986, has worked hard to ensure that the facilities management strategy adheres to those values every step of the way.

Brought to the Cheadle site in 1990 after BASF was given the go-ahead to build a new head office on an old Fine Fare warehouse site, Lundie’s main role was to start looking at outsourcing the facilities from a primarily in-house facilities team, with the remit to outsource all the maintenance and soft services, aside from catering which was already outsourced.

The Cheadle Hulme HQ covers approximately 7,000ft2 of office space, and houses around 250 permanent staff and about 150 sales reps using a hot desk system.

Says Lundie:

“When it comes to health and safety, BASF is always a front runner; whether in training, or providing advice and support. The organisation is very keen to help and [the Board] never falls short when it comes to giving you the right resources and the right finances to do anything that will enhance health, safety and wellbeing.

“For example, at the moment we’re looking at ways of reducing the risks of slips and trips because they are the most predominant reportable accidents.”

Workplace services provider Sodexo has provided food services to BASF at its UK Head Office near Manchester for over 15 years. BASF’s catering agreement with Sodexo meant that staff already had access to healthy and nutritious food, and BASF also ensured they were entitled to subsidised membership of a couple of off-site gym facilities.

However, admits Lundie, the location of the Cheadle Hulme site on a very busy road meant there was little opportunity for staff to incorporate exercise into their workday routines, without having to drive off site.

“As a result, the off-site gym membership was very limited,” he explains. “Say you’ve got an hour for your lunch, you’d have ten minutes to get there, get changed, 20 minutes in the gym, shower, get changed and back to work again, so you’d be hard-pushed to get a 20 minute workout.”

Steve Hatton, BASF HR and Legal Director, and a senior site director, approached Lundie and asked him to start looking for a convenient location for an on-site exercise facility. Demand by staff was growing but there was limited space at the existing premises to devote to a dedicated gym. However, there was an unused room, which had previously been used as a library which, with the development of digital data, had effectively become redundant.

It was proposed that this library/learning area, previously known as the BASF Technology Centre, which comprised a covered walkover bridge joined to the main building, would be more than suitable for conversion into an onsite gym, maintaining better use of the facilities and meeting a genuine staff need.

Lundie was aware that Sodexo also had the ability to operate gyms through its health and fitness offer, Healthworks, which combines the provider’s food services with a gym and fitness regime.

The four pillars that underpin the value proposition of Healthworks are:

  1. Care of its members: Comprehensive induction and tailored programmes by fully qualified staff.
  2. Customer expectations: Meeting expectations in a supportive and motivational way, through excellent service standards.
  3. Innovation: Offering innovative solutions to help motivate and achieve goals.
  4. Wellbeing: Offering a fully supported total package which incorporates nutritional guidance, cholesterol testing and therapy services.

With this in mind, Sodexo and BASF met to identify how they could meet employee demand, and create a facility that would be of benefit to all.


So what kind of wellbeing programme is most effective? Again, research has shown that for best results, employers should address both the staff diet – in providing healthy and nutritious food choices – as well as exercise, for instance encouraging employees to take part in physical activity.

One of the three priorities of Sodexo’s sustainability strategy to 2020, known as the Better Tomorrow Plan, is to ‘create and promote health and wellbeing solutions for our clients, customers and employees’ through its Healthwise healthy eating programme.

According to Claire Morris, Marketing Director at Sodexo, the Healthwise programme has been part of the Sodexo business offering for over 25 years, and is a nutrition, wellbeing and lifestyle philosophy that is used as a vehicle to communicate all the available information on healthy eating and healthy lifestyle choices. The key fundamental is that it is targeted not only at Sodexo’s own clients and consumers but also at its own employees.

The main driver of the programme is in helping clients understand the impact that diet and exercise has on the productivity and engagement of employees, with Sodexo research revealing a clear correlation between health, diet and fitness.

In 2012, as a leading provider of workplace food services, Sodexo carried out some research into lunchtime eating habits, which showed that out of the top five ways employees said their employer looked after their health, 43% encouraged them to take a lunch break, 27% promoted a good work-life balance, and 20% provided some kind of gym membership.

However, as BASF’s experiences proved, providing an external gym facility doesn’t necessarily ensure that staff will be able or willing to use it, especially if it proves too difficult and time consuming to access on a regular basis.

Explains Lundie:

“I first spoke to Sodexo and then went back to the Board with a full plan for an almost fully equipped gym. It wasn’t just a matter of saying it would be nice to have a gym. I did the homework and got all the stats to help my argument and then presented my findings to the management team.

“When I put my costs together, which came to £30k for everything including all the equipment, décor and architectural fees, it wasn’t as astronomical as they might have imagined, and they were all 100% behind me, which importantly included the proposal being championed by Steve Hatton, the HR and Site Director.

“The big challenge was going to be to get the budget approved, but I explained what we were getting for our money, and that I had already got the 60m2 room free, so it was wasted anyway. I explained how much that was costing the company per square metre, so we might as well utilise it.”

Industry opinion regarding the size of an in-house gym is as follows:

  • 1-800 staff = 90 square metres
  • 800-1,500 staff = 150 square metres
  • 1,500–3,000 staff = 220 square metres

The key aim was to maximise the space in the limited area to ensure the best possible customer experience in terms of ambiance, environment and equipment, all of which would provide users with a feeling of wellbeing.

However, simply furnishing a gym facility isn’t enough. The greatest challenge is in running it in a safe and healthy manner.

Lundie explains:

“Health and safety, which includes vetting every member of staff who wants to use the equipment and then guarding against anyone sustaining an injury through using the equipment incorrectly was a number one priority for everyone.

“Once you’ve covered your health and safety element, you’re probably 60% of the way there.”

For that reason it was clear that having Sodexo run the gym would take the burden of management and maintenance away from BASF. The onsite gym offer includes:

  • health screening;
  • goal setting;
  • fitness inductions;
  • exercise programme;
  • member challenges;
  • promotions; and
  • classes e.g. yoga, spinning, pilates.

All of the above meet statutory requirements through the application of ISO 9001.

Sodexo’s onsite team of experts would take care of safety and health aspects, and its trained staff could arrange aerobics classes, and run clubs and other fitness schemes to complement the gym facilities.

“I got everything together as a package and put that to the Board,” says Lundie, “but what I think was probably the thing that helped more than anything was the fact that we were covering all the health and safety issues by bringing in a professional trainer.”

While BASF went ahead and invested in some equipment, Sodexo’s recommendation that the gym only opened during core hours and a part-time gym instructor employed provided BASF with both the peace of mind that health and safety management was covered, as well as providing a cost effective service delivery.

Having completed the conversion of the training room and implemented the Healthworks branding and service offer principles, the gym at BASF officially opened in February 2011.

Before anyone is allowed access to the equipment, they are required to fill in a physical activity readiness questionnaire, which questions all staff as to their medical history, physical state, or any current conditions that might make using a gym inadvisable, adding the proviso that they should seek the advice of their GP if unsure of the risks.

Lundie also had the legal department at BASF draw up a list of written rules in the gym. This outlines who can use the gym and when, including the correct use of equipment, employer liability and what to do in the event of an accident.

“When we first started the gym facility there was quite a mad rush, so we had the trainer on site for a full week,” says Lundie. “We were doing all these tests and actually identified three members of staff who had problems with their blood pressure which they didn’t know about.

“They were then referred back to our Occupational Health practitioner who referred them to their own doctors. One of them is now a fully-fledged member of the gym and uses it every morning; it’s completely turned his life around.

“All new members of staff can have access to our fitness training, which is all booked in via our gym membership booking system.”

When the Healthworks gym was launched at BASF, the initial target was to get some 50 employees signed up and exercising.

Thanks to the quality of the offer, an amazing 150 employees signed up in the first few weeks – Sodexo had tripled expectations in the early induction phase.

The employee response was extremely positive, so positive in fact that the service offer has grown and BASF now sees the facility as a real asset in boosting employee engagement.

On behalf of HR Director, Steve Hatton, Lundie says:

“Steve is a keen gym user himself and would quite openly admit what a great success it has been. As a benefit to staff and a morale booster it’s a roaring success. Employees were very excited about the new gym when it first opened, and that interest and excitement has been maintained. It’s certainly helped retention rates go up.”

He adds:

“The Healthworks gym has had a really positive effect on work-life balance and staff motivation, as well as supporting the company’s commitment to health and wellbeing. We knew this addition would be a success but never expected the impact it has had on our employees.”

In fact, it’s been so successful that BASF has asked Sodexo to purchase more equipment, including cardiovascular equipment, free weights and resistance machines to further meet employees’ expectations.

In addition, the Healthworks gym now hosts circuit training classes and even a running club in the grounds of BASF’s site at Cheadle Hulme.

Lessons learnt

So what advice would BASF and Sodexo give to any facilities manager contemplating setting up an in-house fitness facility?

Chris Lundie advises getting all your information together before approaching the Board and ensuring you’ve got buy-in from other key stakeholders, including Occupational Health, Estates and HR.

Claire Morris agrees with this advice.

“What we’re finding at Sodexo is that more and more facilities managers are leading the way in introducing an integrated services model. This encompasses not only facilities but also HR, occupational health and the senior level teams in those organisations – all of which appreciate the strategic role that FM plays in their organisations.”

The BASF scheme also demonstrates how taking a strategic approach to wellbeing and health within an organisation requires commitment from a multidisciplinary team, which in this case was led by the facilities management department.

Says Lundie:

“Kathryn Begg, who is our Occupational Nurse, will, more often than not, come and talk to me about what we can do with the gym trainer and how best to integrate them with the food in the restaurant, the training, and the health and exercise. This works very well, with all of us working together for the same end; to keep everybody’s health up.”

The success of the gym has also seen BASF become more confident in investing further in the offer, to better support the company’s global health and wellbeing plan, and the business is now looking to expand the gym service to other BASF sites.

“We’re now looking to extend the scheme to some of the other sites that I manage,” says Lundie.

“Whenever we have visitors from within our own company, people within the organisation will say, ‘Aren’t you lucky, you’ve got a gym’; it is a big talking point. In fact, it’s a big talking point anyway, whether you work for BASF or you don’t!”

He adds:

“I love to show it off and so do a lot of our people. It’s certainly on the tour when we do an induction as well, often being the first place people like to take somebody.”


This case study was part of the second series of RICS Strategic FM Case Studies, authored by International Workplace.