What should an employer actually do when stress and sick leave become part of everyday work life? Oh My came to the realization that it was no longer an option to stand on the side lines. Emelie Andersson is the woman behind the idea, and she herself had to go on sick leave due to stress-related fatigue syndrome. Once back, she decided not to keep her problems to herself and instead initiate something that could help others in similar situations. Or rather: prevent them from ending up in it, from the very beginning. This was the starting point for the anti-stress concept Oh My Lagom.
— It all started when I came back from my sick leave. I went to our CEO of that time, Nicke Wikström, and said that “This doesn’t work anymore, people feel like crap”. He too, had reflected on the stress issues and his spontaneous response was: “Let’s do this together”. The fact that he took my thoughts to heart and invited me to actively work with these important questions, showed that he really cared.
— There were thoughts of course, but we hadn’t done anything concrete. We also didn’t know where to start. So we started out by merging our thoughts and perspectives; Nicke from a corporate management perspective and I as an employee, with my experience of stress-related symptoms. Our conclusion was that we needed both the aid of profes- sionals, and also to look inwards and listen to our employees to understand what they needed. We quickly realized that there was no universal solution that we could just copy-paste. We had to tailor make something for our organisation. It might not be an executive’s dream to hear: “We need to pour resources into an internal project”.
— Very well. It was a joint initiative and a decision that was made at a sort of crossroads. It was do or die. Had there been any doubts about this venture, if there for example hadn’t been a will to put resources towards the employees’ health, we would have had a big and fundamental problem. But we were in agreement that all employees should feel good at Oh My, and that the issue at hand required resources. I think companies who chase only profit with only result-based motives are out on muddy waters. The turnover will come, if your basic goal is that everyone should feel good and have fun. That’s a system that cannot be fooled.
— The direct translation is “Air Pay”. In practice it means that you as an employee, will receive SEK 50 extra on your salary if you take a walk during working hours. Because there is a financial incitament, it signals how important we think it is to take a break — and that our focus on health isn’t just empty words. I think such signals are super important.
— One conclusion was that people felt that there were too many, too long and ineffective meetings that nibbled away on precious project time. We therefore presented a kind of recommendation that we call Bra Möte (Good Meeting). Now it’s mandatory that we ask ourselves: Is this meeting necessary? Do we have time for it? And if so — what is the purpose and the goal? This has resulted in skipping a lot of unnecessary meetings and those we do need to have, have been much more relevant to the participants.
— It was hard to find the balance and to distinguish between “fun” and “purposeful”. The whole initiative is designed in a way, not for the employees to see it as regulatory, but rather as a friendly reminder to take care of themselves. Putting together a complete package that felt both comprehensive and easy to grasp at the same time, proved to be difficult, but was facilitated by continuous employee-input.
— We thought a lot about it and decided on an early stage that we had to recognise our limitations. We actually didn’t know anything about stress and psychology beyond our own experiences. The end result was a 50/50 mix of initiatives that would indirectly encourage de-stressing activities, and in order to bring actual weight to the project, we hired professionals to help us with the other parts. For example, we have a go-to psychologist for each office and all employees have had the opportunity to attend a voluntary anti-stress workshop during working hours.
— Costs for sick-leave have decreased by 10 percent in the first half of 2017, in comparison with the same period the year before — despite the fact that the workforce increased by 20 percent. In addition, the financial result in the aforementioned period has increased by 85 percent while our overtime hours have decreased significantly.
— I feel that we have a more open climate when it comes to talking about stress and mental health issues. I myself, made a point of being open and honest regarding my own experiences when I came back. More people have jumped on that train, which shows to everyone that it is perfectly okay to feel stressed or to feel blue. If you can create a culture where it feels natural to talk about such things, I think you have won a lot. The result has been that we, as a company, have shown that we are aware of the problem and aren’t afraid to take action. It’s a security for everyone that the management does not shove their heads in the sand and wait for the problem to go away on its own, when uncomfortable conversations approach. We have succeeded to sweep away the taboos that still haunt many workplaces.
— Time consuming might not be the right word, but what required the most discipline was to actually give the project the time it needed. It is easy to talk about great ideas for internal projects, but taking the time and money to really implement it, is a challenge. But that everyone involved spent time and energy on the project showed a genuine drive to do something good. That aspiration was the most important key to making it happen – and with such a good outcome.
— The employees’ cheering us on and their constant feedback. It went beyond all expectations! Such a good response at an early stage gave a real boost, and once we had outed the venture we could hardly tread on the breaks. By then there was a pressure (the good kind) to bring the project all the way home.
— From my own situation and the fact that I myself have been there. It was when the dark period began to brighten, the idea started to form. I wanted to do something good from what I had gone through, so that it had not been all in vain. I’d learned so much, and came to many insights when I got better, and I wanted to turn that into something good.
— Feeling good is about having time and opportunity to repose and to feel secure and safe, whether it’s at home or at work. The communication industry is very much about tight deadlines and creativity on demand, stationed in front of a screen. It’s an environment that easily can become anything but restful. In a more physical line of work, it’s evident when the body is unable to do more, it is much more difficult to measure when our brain has had enough. That, paired with the old tired taboo that mental health problems are not something we should talk about outloud, have hit the industry hard, I think. A very good effect is that we at Oh My have a newfound security in the fact that it’s perfectly okay to feel what we feel, think what we think and to talk openly about it.
— Yes and no. I think we have many parts, for example Luftlön that wouldn’t fly well at all companies. Then, all entrepreneurs must always rely on themselves and their employees. You, as business executives, must believe in this, really want to do something good for your employees and not aim for the financial benefits from the start. Adapt to your own staff and listen to them. Employee-influence and the feeling that one’s voice is heard and means something, is a big part of the security I mentioned. There is no “one size fits all”, but there is an overall one that you then have to adapt to those who will use it in the end.
— A leader personifies the company’s values through his or her way of being and acting, hence the management has an incredibly important role. I feel proud to work at a company that dedicates resources to these issues. A leader as an initiator, or at least needs to be “all in”, for a project like this to succeed.
— Good! Partly on the basic level that people really liked that we grabbed these problems, whether it was tried or not. Then people started to go to Luftlön, contact our psychologists and have started talking to each other. You quickly become home-blind and take this for granted. I have met several from other workplaces who have said that they think it is incredible that my employer cares so much about me. A sad thing to hear in a way, while making me feel an extra proud of Oh My.
— First and foremost, you have to figure out what your problems are. Is it about too much overtime? Are the sick leave stats through the roof? Don’t you ever take a break? And an important key – you cannot, as a singular manager, decide all on your own. The entire management team and all employees must have the chance to get in on the idea. Starting from only on person’s perspective is doomed to fail. Before you start, you also have to choose who is going to work on this and then set aside time for those people to really dedicate themselves to the project. Otherwise, the internal projects will easily be shoved into the shadows when paid jobs demands attention. I had to work with Oh My Lagom on working hours and it was never questioned – it was an absolute basic requirement. Once you’ve made your decision and appointed a team, hire a professional to help guide you regarding the most important pieces.
— I think there must be a fundamental desire to be a company who recognises that wellbeing may cost extra. That will open up your eyes to the challenges that exist and lets you step out of the number oriented mindset. If that desire really exists, then profit and efficiency will follow. You can have different goals and measurable results in the back of your mind, but a health care initiative should never be a pronounced chase of numbers to balance the books.
— This is not a waterproof solution that protects us from every little thing, but the fact is that we are healthier and we have a more open climate now. We have taken anti-stress courses that have given new perspectives on things. I also think that many have taken the new knowledge and ways of thinking to heart. If we are to talk money, I think it is now that we’re starting to see the capitalization of this in real time. We have got good PR and many want to replicate the concept, with the bonus that we get more spontaneous applications than ever. There are many gains aside from the financial factor. If you have healthy employees who are happy and healthy, the rest will come — free of charge. Investing in your colleagues’ wellbeing simply cannot become bad business.
Text: Daniel Cederlund
Photo: Christian Gustavsson
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