Honest conversations and stronger connections help build wellbeing

Sarah Schmalz of Kimberly-Clark discusses organisation's integrated wellbeing strategy

Honest conversations and stronger connections help build wellbeing

One of the most important recent changes in the wellbeing space at Kimberly-Clark (K-C) has been creating an environment that fosters open and honest conversations, says Sarah Schmalz, HR director.

In recent years, wellbeing has moved from ad hoc moments to being an integrated strategy, she says. As part of that, Kimberly-Clark has moved towards a holistic long-term strategy that’s integrated into all facets of HR.

Highlighting certain experiences that can have an impact on people has played a key role, says Schmalz who spoke recently with HRD Australia as part of the Inspiring Leaders Series.

“We started to host more company-wide events, where we had different people from around the business talking about key issues like ‘menopause and the impact on wellbeing’, or ‘mental health and the impact on wellbeing’ or also around those key moments like, RUOK Day and creating that space where people could be vulnerable and share their personal stories and experiences,” she says.

“And I really think that's helped to de-stigmatise some of the feelings that can be around wellbeing and improve that awareness.”

Root causes of work situations that impact wellbeing

An extension of that, she says, is solving the root causes of work situations that impact wellbeing. She cites part-time work as an example, with many people getting paid to work part-time but feeling like they’re completing a full-time job.

“One of the areas we're looking at is a new job design approach on ‘How do we ensure part-time roles are truly set up for part-time work?’” she says. “I’m super excited to see where that lands.”

Also key to the organisation’s wellbeing strategy, she says, has been building strong connections and a sense of purpose.

“We knew that we had some work to do on ensuring that when people come to K-C, they have a culture that makes them feel included and connected with each other. Our purpose is better care for a better world, so what we wanted to do was make sure that purpose really came to life in our business. So we created a new, what we call Purpose Day, and this is an opportunity for everyone to build that stronger connection to our purpose, but also give back. It's kind of incorporated a lot around community giving, and how we all do that together at the same time.”

One great example was a Twilight Family Tour at the manufacturing plant, says Schmalz. “We invited the families of our workers to be able to come and actually experience where their parents work, and it created that really nice connection. Our office-based teams did a similar thing with a bring your kids to work day during the school holidays. [It’s about] bringing in family to the workplace and showing that we care about the ‘whole you’ and not just the ‘you’ that’s at work.”

Focus on flexibility for wellbeing

Flexibility has also been a focus, with Kimberly-Clark’s latest initiative in this space having created the biggest shift.

“K-C already wholeheartedly worked on this principle that we empower people to build the workweek that makes most sense to the individual circumstances - whether that’s compressed hours, part-time, job-sharing. But the real shift we’ve introduced over the last 12 months is something called K-C Flex Fridays,” she says.

“This was about creating a time that's uniquely flexible for all employees in our business where on a Friday afternoon, we all can use that time to support our own wellbeing in the way that we want.”

For some people, this might involve spending time with their children. For others it might mean catching up on work, and for some it might mean taking part in a physical activity, says Schmalz.

“It works off this idea that if we're all off at the same time, and we don't have meetings, that means we can really prioritise and celebrate flexibility together. And it was an extension of what we also offer as Recharge Day, which is a couple of times per year, which works on that same concept.

“We found that it works because when you take time off, or when you're not at your desk, you had this feeling of coming back to a flurry of emails or priorities waiting for you, but if we're all off at the same time, it reduces some of that pressure.

Leadership buy-in

Schmalz says she’s fortunate in that board-level buy-in for initiatives is especially supported by a group on the executive leadership team who’re passionate about wellbeing, inclusion and diversity in particular.

With any initiative HR presents at that level, it helps to ‘establish the why’ – ie, explain why it's important. More importantly though, listening to what people are saying is crucial, she says.

“For me, having the internal voice means that we're not actually providing an HR recommendation, we're actually providing a recommendation of our people.”

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