Eurostar’s workforce is based in the UK, France and Belgium; and speak a number of languages. In such complex circumstances, how can health and wellbeing be promoted? Eurostar’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy is designed specifically to cope with its unique circumstances, but other UK-based rail operations may find their approach useful.
Natasha Scoggins, Safety Assurance & Risk Specialist and Gerard Jacques, Director of People at Eurostar, share how they meet the mental wellbeing needs of an international workforce through Joie De Vivre (Joy of Life), Eurostar’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy. Natasha also spoke to RSSB Mental Wellbeing specialist Michelle O’Sullivan about Eurostar’s work and Natasha’s comments have been quoted below.Time To Change and This is Me have opened up the conversation on mental wellbeing. In France and Belgium there is a firm boundary between work and private life, to the point that it is even written into law. Both ways of being can be conducive to mental wellbeing, but as a rail employer how does Eurostar cater for both.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Sometimes different groups of people need a different approach.
“Anything that Eurostar do to promote awareness of wellbeing is launched equally across all of our sites, but we may trial things in one market first before taking it across all locations. For example, with our mental health awareness training for managers, we started in the UK first in response to our UK managers telling us ‘we want to learn how to start that conversation and learn about the signs and the symptoms’.
"In France when it comes to having a conversation about an individual’s mental wellbeing, the overwhelming feeling is that it’s going too far into the employee’s personal life. And so we opted for a gentler approach and introduced the training in France and Belgium six months later. Through Joie De Vivre, our health and wellbeing program, this culture is slowly changing and is now starting to be embraced. Some of our colleagues who have participated in the mental health awareness training for managers in the UK work across the channel as well, and they talk about it with colleagues there which helps to raise the awareness further.”
Every group manages distress differently, yet similar problems are seen across groups and countries. Eurostar receives an annual anonymised report from their occupational health providers that provides an overview of health problems. All three countries indicate very similar statistics, such as psychological and musculoskeletal conditions being the two main causes behind why people are absent from work.
“In France and Belgium, we do not undertake the same return to work interviews as in the UK, because the employer is not allowed to know why the person has been off sick. The person just starts work, most times without an interview or meeting with their manager and just gets put back into the business. It’s up to them to catch up and we’ve identified that as a bit of a stress point.”
Eurostar are taking the components of the UK return to work interview that may be appropriate and adapting them for their continental employees.
“We’re calling it a ‘Welcome Back Chat’ - it’s about the managers “touching base” with them and we will be launching it very soon. Our values at Eurostar are caring, connected and ambitious and this is part of our caring values. As part of this one to one approach, the manager will be able to identify with that person, their patterns of work in the future without ever looking back at why they were off, allowing us to stay within the legal boundaries.”
Giving People a Choice
To access counselling in France, an individual would first need to be referred to the occupational health doctor by their manager. As such, Eurostar’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) previously only existed for English employees. Recently however, Eurostar decided to buy-in an EAP service for French employees, that can also do psychosocial risk assessments in the workplace, similar to the HSE stress management standards and risk assessment in the UK.
“Just as it is in UK law, you have to risk assess stress as a workplace hazard. As it’s about the workplace, our French employees will be more open about it. It’s when it might be something that’s affecting them in their personal lives, they don’t want the overlap there. So, the EAP was put in place last year and we’ve done a lot of promotion around what they offer, like counselling, or if someone’s been assaulted at work they’ll also help with legal and mental health support. People can pick and choose what they want. If a person in France decides that it’s too invasive, it is their choice, but at least the information is there for them.”
This risk assessment informs control measures that managers can use to support their team and ensure they have the tools to respond to the challenges of working in rail.
“Interestingly, the Head of UK stations found that the findings presented by the EAP risk assessment in Paris were exactly what they had found in their assessments in the UK. Our two biggest stations are finding the same issues.”
What it Takes to Create a Local Wellbeing Community in an International Company
Eurostar attributes progress in mental wellbeing firmly to the passionate employees who have been the driving force. Their health and wellbeing steering group has 15 members and working group has nine, with both running since 2016.
As both the Director of People and the chair of the steering group, Gerard is in a unique position to influence the wellbeing of his employees. Joint working between HR and safety has been integral. Along with safety, Joie de Vivre also collaborates with the new equalities and diversity group on mental wellbeing. Having both groups focussed on mental wellbeing facilitates faster culture change.
“I see a real link with safety. Anyone who is healthy whether it’s physically or mentally is going to be more alert and happier at work, and therefore unlikely to have an accident. The Chief Customer Officer, Mark Noaro, whose background is essentially in caring for people, is also the champion for the steering group and strategy. This senior level buy-in ensures that mental wellbeing is taken seriously as a company priority.”
The working group members are in effect the Joie De Vivre champions, for whom mental wellbeing is a core part of their role, along with wider health and wellbeing. The safety team have also been vital in keeping mental wellbeing a top agenda item via safety committee meetings and the Safety Management Group.
The main resource implication is the time that employees put in, the cost of the EAP, and the cost of the mental health training courses. They are also ensuring health and wellbeing is embedded in wider company systems e.g. all big projects will have input from a Joie de Vivre champion.
The Language of Eurostar
Words and phrases don’t always translate so easily across countries.
“The literal translation of mental health in French is mental handicap. It is quite a negative term, so we’ve tried to put it in a much more positive light, hence we call it ‘bien être psychologique’ meaning ‘wellbeing of your mind’. The translation can be really tricky, getting it at the right pitch and tone, and ensuring it still makes sense. We’re lucky to have a tone of voice team who help with getting the message across in the right way. It’s about making it as available as possible. There are numerous resources available in the UK, but we must pick and choose the best ones, get them translated and sometimes we even make our own videos to help strengthen the message.
“Recently, we took part in the 100-day challenge with Virgin Pulse. As a global challenge, they had materials readily available in the right languages to work across the whole business. The challenge has four modules - physical activity, nutrition, balance (which is about balancing the mind) and sleep. Thirty per cent of Eurostar staff signed up for the first time making it our third most successful campaign in terms of engagement.”
What is striking about how Eurostar approach their comms is that it’s not just about translation, it’s about branding and ensuring the Eurostar ethos and values shine through in how they communicate on mental wellbeing.
Eurostar are demonstrating that a company’s diversity can promote learning and novel solutions in health and wellbeing. Differences can and should be embraced in a health and wellbeing strategy. Of course, the journey does not stop here. Gerard shared that tackling the stigma of mental health remains one of the biggest challenges at Eurostar. On the 10th of December Eurostar joined our many other colleagues in the rail industry who have signed the Time to Change Pledge, adapting it to work across all its countries. Whatever they do next, no doubt it will be done with the quintessential Eurostar Joie De Vivre.