Working at Wellness


People’s wellness is not the fluffy stuff, it’s the really difficult stuff; hard to get a grip on, hard to quantify, sometimes hard to even discuss.  At Bruichladdich we’re investing in several programmes that aim to raise awareness and improve how well the members of our team feel. Hannah Thaxter investigates what it’s all about, and how we as a company can aim to make a difference.

Wellbeing is not new. In 3,000 BC Ayurveda was widely practiced in the world and is defined as “an holistic system that strives to create harmony between body, mind and spirit”.

From East to West, across continents and centuries Ayurvedic practices – like yoga or meditation – are now used to combat some very modern-day stresses. The idea that each of us should consider our nutritional, exercise, social interaction and hygiene needs, in order to secure and safeguard our wellbeing, has stood the test of time.

The word wellness first appeared in the Oxford English dictionary in the 1650s – meaning the opposite of illness. Today’s more holistic meaning started in the 1950s. Since the 1980s, when sedentary jobs became more common, workplace wellness has been evolving into an established discipline. [This infographic is interesting on that front!] By 2012 it became of global significance when the first World Happiness Report was released by the United Nations, using Gallup survey data from 155 countries across the world.

In 2021, Bruichladdich are distilling knowledge and resources to come up with ways to look after the wellbeing of our employees now and for the future. The stated aim is “to support and nourish each member of the Laddie Crew through learning, development and wellbeing initiatives.”

Practical schemes like private health care and subsidised gym membership have been in place since 2015. We’ve encouraged cycling through cycle-to-work bike purchase schemes and our community cycling club. But we recognise, especially with what the last year has taught us about resilience, it is time to look in more breadth and depth at what we can do for our team.

As a B Corp company, we are charged with measuring how well our workers are looked after. In practice that means asking people how they are, providing training, organising events, helping care for people’s physical and emotional health and empowering them to care for themselves. How?

We love our pets!

[All photos are from our team sports day 2019]

During lockdown, we asked the Laddie crew how they were feeling in writing – a temperature check on how everyone was doing and to see what we could do to provide support.

That’s when we found out almost half of our staff (46%) were feeling the strain of social isolation and 28% said communication with colleagues was a challenge.

We couldn’t get everyone together physically. Bruichladdich has always done that for its staff and community through events like the sports day in September, or beach cleans, or other days of mobilising our large team as volunteers in the community. We had to do what we could digitally.

The Bruichladdich club was set up on Strava. The first physical challenge was to walk or run 100 miles in January – sharing pictures, ideas and walking routes on the app.

That was followed by the call to cover up to 250 miles in 8 weeks leading up to our Feìs Ìle day – with the extra incentive that Bruichladdich would give £1 to charity for every mile covered between 50 and 250. 32 staff members took part, raising over £5,000 for Islay and Jura Sick Children’s Fund and Scottish Air Ambulance.

More than the miles and money accumulated, it was the news-sharing and positivity between individuals that was so valuable.

Julie Chalmers, HR assistant, is supporting the wellness programme at the distillery.
“It’s a work-in-progress; involving the staff in that process is vital,” she says. “It’s hard to do it blindly, to guess what people want… People’s priorities have completely changed in the pandemic,” Julie says.

Mental health, stress and anxiety are key factors affecting wellbeing. Bruichladdich employees have access to an online app to give advice and ideas for improving wellbeing and free 24-hour counselling services. The company has recently appointed six Wellness Ambassadors – all volunteers, who will help shape what happens in the future led by what the staff want and need.

They are undertaking training in mental health first aid, something Julie says was really eye-opening. “We had two days of Mental health First Aid training, and since doing that it has definitely helped how I would deal with a situation, or maybe a difficult conversation.”

The Covid staff survey also brought forth a suggestion for relieving stress with some “space to get true down-time as a team or, as individuals, to make the most of trying to balance health/wellbeing with work.”

So Bruichladdich’s dedicated “Wellness Days” were born. This was an optional extra paid day off for every team member – more than just a holiday – it was a chance to do something to improve your physical or mental wellness. The wellness day is something Julie says Bruichladdich definitely wants to develop.

Happy Smiley People – Gordon Assistant Distillery Manager, Allan Head of IT, Fiona Housekeeping, Iain from the Warehouses, Stillman PG McCuaig, and Ashley from the Laddie Shop in the barrel

So, how did people spend their wellness day?

Julie Chalmers, HR assistant, had her hair and nails done on the day – and she says she loved it, Connor Stewart spent his with his little girl, celebrating her 10th birthday, while his bottling hall colleague Ruairidh McCormick took time off to watch Scotland in the Euros with friends (at least he started out with the feelgood factor…) Bottling Hall Manager Jonathan Carmichael had a day on the golf course and Kevin Wiggins meanwhile, who looks after bulk supplies in distillery, spent his Wellbeing Day on a family picnic at Claggan Bay. “It was nice to get away,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea and it was nice to do something with the day.” Kevin said his dream day would be showing his beautiful Scottish Black Face Sheep at a show.

What makes the Laddie Crew content?– I asked a few people what was their “happy place” and what a perfect day would look like to them.

Jane Carswell, content manager, would head to London for some bustling city life. “I’d go to the ballet at Covent Garden. Drink martinis and look at all the faces…” whilst others would prefer to be away from people. “I’d go out in the boat for a bit of sea fishing,” said Stillman Neil Gillies, whilst for Senior Guide and Distillery Ambassador Ashley McGregor it would be: “Walking in the middle of nowhere; time alone on a long walk.”

It looks like our animals make us happy – Retail Administrator Karen Cook and Tina MacLeod in the Bottling Hall both said walking the dogs made them feel happy. It’s not just dogs who are a man’s best friend, though. There’s Kevin and his flock of 50 sheep and Arlene MacFadyen from the bottling line said: “I would go to my donkeys,” – they’re just down the road from the distillery on the Rhinns.  Fiona Gilbert, Senior Supply Chain Co-ordinator, would be horseriding on Kilchoman beach, followed by a picnic.

Of course food and drink is definitely on the wellbeing list – as is the company of our family, friends and our colleagues. “We’d have a get-together, good craic and a beach barbecue,” said Stewart Young. His warehouse colleagues John Evans, Tony Morrison and Seamus Brown all agreed they’d spend it together doing exactly that.

At the distillery in Islay, 44% of us have family living at home. Warehouse operator Dominic Krauze would be happy spending the day on the beach with his family. Gabriel Toma, Head Bottling Hall Supervisor, said: “I’d do as little as possible, have a long lie-in and then chill in the sun with a nice pint.”

While Gaby was taking it slow, Craig Woodrow, Bottling Hall Assistant Manager, would be in a fast car screaming round a race circuit as his happy place.

Ruaraidh MacKinnon, in the bottling hall, would spend his day playing games – like Dungeons and Dragons – with friends. Andy Ross said he was happy “Anywhere away from here!” but his colleague Colin Morris was a little more specific: “I’d like to be on holiday, somewhere safe.”

From watching the rugby to locking yourself in a hotel room with no phones or laptops, we all find our happiness in different things. So how can wellness be defined?

Budgie, Katie and Lesley at chess

Wellbeing, or positive mental health, is defined as a sense of self-esteem, optimism and a feeling of control over one’s life. It is characterised by a belief in our own worth and having a sense of purpose in life; an ability to develop and maintain family and social networks; an ability to contribute to community life; and an ability to cope with adversity (resilience). (Source: Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project 2008).

There’s a Global Wellness Institute – a nonprofit organisation with a mission to empower wellness worldwide by educating public and private sectors about preventative health and wellness. The Insitute say the foundation for wellness has to be a culture of care, like the one Bruichladdich is trying to formalise. They identify practical pillars – financial wellbeing, stress management, sleep and mindfulness, healthy food, physical activity and engaging with the built environment, and having personal goals, which is why training and learning is strong in the Bruichladdich portfolio. 58% of the team made use of the LinkedIn learning accounts that the company provided for them in the first quarter.

In economic terms, wellness is also big business. The Global Wellness Institute calculates the wellness market to be worth $4.5 trillion (£3.2 trillion) worldwide.

Pre-pandemic poor mental health cost UK employers up to £45 billion annually, according to financial experts and data analysts Deloitte. A report from them in January last year said this figure had risen 16% since 2016 (an extra £6bn a year for UK employers).  They also worked out that for every £1 spent by employers on mental health interventions they would get back £5 in reduced absences, presenteeism and staff turnover.

Happier people means healthier people, means fewer sick days – a basic measure of how wellness in the workplace saves companies money – but there’s more to it than that. The Global Wellness Institute put the figures at 37% less absenteeism and a 25-65% lower employee turnover but there are some remarkable, less-expected benefits of good wellbeing in the workplace – 22% higher profitability; 21% higher productivity; 41% fewer quality incidents or defects; 48% fewer safety incidents and 10% higher customer satisfaction.

Wellbeing is something on the agendas of world leaders and global powers. Good health and wellbeing is the third of the UN’s 17 goals for sustainable development.  The World Health Organisation has an action plan for Healthy Lives and Wellbeing for All.

Fellow B Corp companies share a wealth of wellness ideas and projects through their international online forum “the B Hive.”

The Scottish Government has a plan too. It drew up a National Islands Plan in 2019 to give a framework to improve outcomes for island communities – health and wellbeing was one of 13 key objectives for improvement, as well as environmental wellbeing and community empowerment.

The framework document states: “Wellbeing is at the heart of the plan and we want people on our islands to be able to make daily choices that keep them fit and well, both physically and mentally.” It also said “the high quality natural environment on our islands is acknowledged” but goes on to admit the need to improve the space around us – creating safe children’s play areas; developing open space strategies, ensuring there are community sports hubs and so on.

Locally, Argyll and Bute council produces an annual report on health and wellbeing and supports community projects which improve the wellbeing of island communities like ours.

Ashley MacGregor on target

In somewhere as small as Islay – less than 3,500 people live here – the health and happiness of one family affects us all. Being intertwined in each others’ lives means work is more than just work. We have always taken our responsibilities towards our whole team seriously, and our B corp status makes it more official.

Like with our whisky, we’re in this for the longhaul. Looking after the wellbeing of our team is an essential ingredient and will take the same time, patience, expertise, subtlety. We believe the rewards of investing in wellbeing are very real. And vital for the sustainability of our business.

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