The Gatehouse Blog

Make a difference by being different

Our business has changed considerably in the 15 years since I first joined Co-op as Head of Pensions. We’ve acquired, merged and sold companies, grown and shifted industries. Fifteen years is a long a time. People and businesses change — even society changes. Whilst everything has evolved, as a co-operative we’ve always been a member-owned organisation. One big change that I’m happy to see take place is one around wellbeing at organisations.

Until recently, wellbeing was not part of the value proposition of working somewhere. It was about pay and other more tangible benefits. At Co-op, we know we can’t pay as much as some businesses but we can attract and help our colleagues with a promise of wellbeing. We’ve learned that just because you can’t be the highest payer doesn’t mean you can’t be the best employer. Colleague wellbeing must be ingrained in all that we do.

Our wellbeing vision

Wellbeing is more than an offering for employees — or worse, a perk of some sort. It is a part of our everyday behaviour. We encourage colleagues to take a proactive approach to their own wellbeing. We want to play a role in the communities we serve and their wellbeing, but you can only do that if you look after your own colleagues in the right way. Not only is it the right thing to do, but as the type of employer we are, we realised it could be a differentiator for us. We put our money where our mouth is.

To help guide our action, we’ve established wellbeing principles: 

  • Wellbeing is a core benefit, not peripheral or discretionary.
  • Our approach is proactive, not reactive.
  • We need to use data to understand what our people want and avoid making assumptions, and we also ask our colleagues what is important to them.
  • Our benefits need to be available and accessible to everyone.


These principles form the foundation for how we lead and establish our wellbeing proposition with our colleagues, who have responded really well to it. They tell us that it really matters to them, which lets us know we are on the right path for the right reasons. Part of this success comes from people’s increasing willingness to talk about important issues that were kept mostly private just a few years ago.

Wellbeing by numbers

Collecting and analysing data has been instrumental in the success of our wellbeing programme. For example, we weren’t paying enough attention to our reasons for employee absence. Managers were recording absences, but without specifying the reasons. It became apparent that we needed to understand this — as absences cost the company money. We now know that over 30% of all recorded absences relate to mental health. Finding out why people were calling in sick helped inform our wellbeing strategy by addressing those main points.

We now know that over 30% of all recorded absences relate to mental health

Taking wellbeing public

In the last few years, we’ve seen a huge shift in people’s willingness to talk about mental health and financial wellbeing. As those things are starting to become more commonplace and public, it has become a lot easier for an employer to talk about them — it resonates with people. Five years ago, I’m not sure people were quite ready to hear it.

In fact, when we first went out a couple of years ago, to test if we were looking at wellbeing in the right way, I was concerned that colleagues would say to us, “This isn’t anything to do with being an employer. This is personal and it’s about me.” Instead, we got the opposite reaction. What we heard was, “A great employer would do these things. And we want you to help us.” That was encouraging. You start with an idea, test it, and then people connect with it. That gives you that impetus and the momentum to take it on.

I talk a lot about the word presenteeism — as in, being present at work, but not performing as well as you could because, for any reason, you’re not at your best. You can’t measure in dollars exactly how much negative wellbeing affects employees and how much of themselves they are really bringing to work, but you know it when you see it. You know it has an impact on performance and overall company success. With a wellbeing strategy, there is such a great opportunity to improve the business while you improve people’s lives.

We’ve found we connect better with colleagues if we talk about specific things. For example, financial wellbeing is an important component of our strategy — as around half of our people are likely to rent their homes and up to 10% could be renting a home that doesn’t meet the government’s decent homes standard. However, the term ‘financial wellbeing’ may not resonate with people because it’s fairly vague. So instead, we try to be more specific and talk about gambling addiction or debt management, for example. You then start to get to the heart of why someone might have financial concerns.

If wellbeing is still a private matter wherever you work, I would encourage you to bring your organisation up to speed — for the sake of your people and your business.

Biography: Gary Dewin

Gary joined Co-op in 2004 as Head of Pensions and his role has since grown to include responsibility for reward, wellbeing, benefits & employee relations. Over the past 15 years, unprecedented levels of business restructuring and transformation have presented Gary with a hugely varied range of challenges and experiences. Prior to joining Co-op, Gary held a number of financial services and pension orientated roles with Aegon, HBOS and Aon.