AOP Awards employee wellbeing

Top UK digital publishers share how they’re investing in employee wellbeing

Published: 20 Feb 2024

Great talent is in short supply – and fostering an environment where your employees are happy, supporting, and thriving is essential to succeeding in the talent wars. As Simon Entwistle, Partner at Lewis Silkin LLP (sponsors of the AOP Employer Excellence Award), shared “We think that [wellbeing] should pervade everything we do, for the benefit of both our people and our clients. We believe that by focussing on wellbeing we give space for a culture of inclusion to flourish.”

Indeed, 69% of respondents to AOP’s annual survey said that supporting and retaining their current employees was their top talent priority for 2024. This was selected as the first priority substantially over ‘eliminating bias in your recruitment process’ (17%), ‘appealing to new talent’ (11%), and ‘appealing to those returning to the industry after a period of absence’ (3%).

This isn’t shocking new information. Aside from the moral imperative of being a decent employer, it’s far easier to retain talent than to replace a constant churn of new hires - not to mention the additional benefit of keeping the investment you’ve made into an individual’s skills development in house. However, creating a positive work environment is easier said than done. With that in mind, what are digital publishers proactively doing to promote employee wellbeing within their own organisations? We reached out to our AOP Digital Publishing Awards jury to learn more.

Understanding the pain points of your employees

The first port of call for creating a positive organisational culture is to understand what your employees enjoy, what they’re struggling with and what they’d choose to change. “We run a regular engagement survey to take the pulse of the team on a number of topics,” shared Rob Biagioni, Managing Director, UK for Time Out Media.

Amber Moore, Group Strategic Partnerships Director at Mail Metro Media, shared a similar sentiment when talking about their increased investment in their culture and support of their people. “Two of the commercial team’s five focus pillars for making significant strides as a business were identified as ‘People’ and ‘Culture & EDI’,” Amber explained. “Our Chief Revenue Officer, Dom Williams, hosts monthly breakfasts with employees of all levels across all departments to share ideas and feedback in an intimate and open environment.”

There are a variety of ways to get feedback from your employees, and having a balance of options will allow more people to share their thoughts with you. An anonymous survey or a suggestion box will be preferred by quieter, more introverted members of your team, while others will prefer face-to-face events which also strengthen interpersonal relationships.

A third – and highly valuable – avenue to giving your employees a voice are networks. “Telegraph Media Group has six employee networks (including the Women’s Network, which I co-chair),” said Michelle Brister, The Telegraph’s Head of Audience Development. “We’ve seen an 82% overall increase in network members over the past 12 months.” Networks are a powerful tool in amplifying marginalised voices in your organisation and getting a common consensus on the support that those individuals need to thrive at work. Lean into your engaged network leaders to understand how you can re-focus your energies and improve your internal working culture.

Creating pathways for learning by breaking down silos

Learning was a core element of the responses that we heard from our AOP Awards judges. Layla Zghari, Head of Advertising Operations at emap Publishing, talked about the programmes they run to promote holistic wellness, including “conducting regular Wellbeing Webinars focused on topics such as Improving Resilience, Brain Food, and Financial Wellbeing, offering employees valuable insights and strategies for personal development.”

A positive work culture also needs to be an equitable one. To do that, you need to ensure that you’re breaking down invisible barriers to learning and ensure that everyone is supported across their professional development. In Telegraph Media Group, that is realised through a mentoring programme. “It’s a chance to meet people outside your work area, which helps to break down silos, encourage collaboration, and improve workplace culture,” shared The Telegraph’s Michelle Brister, citing that 39% of participants are paired with someone in a different department. “There’s also a scheme that matches new joiners in Editorial with existing staff for an informal chat over coffee to help them navigate life at The Telegraph.”

According to our 2024 survey report, nearly half of digital publishers (48%) believe that they have made good process on their approach to DE&I, but that there are still areas for improvement. To help close this gap, there are a number of external organisations that you can partner with to help you ensure you’re creating a space where diversity flourishes. Take Mail Metro Media, for example. “As a founding ‘Changemaker’ partner of Brixton Finishing School, our ongoing commitment to hiring new talent from underrepresented groups – with two new amazing interns recently joining our NXT Gen Nation programme – is driving forward a more inclusive and collaborative work culture,” explained Amber Moore.

Make sure that you’re leaning into expertise from outside your own organisation where needed to ensure that you’re challenging unconscious bias and supporting the needs of a diverse workforce.

Prioritising a flexible work-life balance

Flexibility is the name of the game. More than providing free breakfast or a nap room, understanding that your employees have a life outside of the office and allowing them to fit essential life admin into their workday when needed is a sign that you trust your employees.

This might also mean adjusting the way that you work flexibly as your employees enter different life stages. For Time Out Media, who focus so heavily on helping people get the best experience out of the city, that translates to allowing people a flexible work policy with a balance between home-working and office collaboration, allowing people to experience some of the best comedy, theatre, food, and drink in London. Employees are also able to buy and sell leave to support them in achieving a healthy balance between their work and personal lives.

Meanwhile, the importance of flexible working at Mail Metro Media is reflected in the work they’ve done to improve their menopause policy. This includes creating a dedicated online hub to help colleagues who may need appropriate flexibility, support, and reasonable adjustments during perimenopause and menopause. Whatever it looks like, understanding that each employee will have individual requirements and providing the space for everyone to develop the best balance between work and life for them is a cornerstone in allowing your employees to thrive.

Offering resources to support employee wellbeing

Of course, a critical part of employee wellbeing is making sure that your team have access to the resources they need to be their best selves – particularly when it comes to mental health. “With a dedicated team of Mental Health First Aiders present in the workplace, we ensure that our employees have access to immediate support and assistance whenever needed,” explained emap Publishing’s Layla Zghari when asked about how they foster a culture of care and empathy.

Lewis Silkin’s Simon Entwistle also highlighted that they are expanding their network of Mental Health First Aiders to ensure they’re proactively supporting people that may be overwhelmed by issues in their work or personal life. Similarly, The Telegraph’s Michelle Brister shared that in 2023, they launched ‘Wellbeing Conversations’ that provided training to managers to help them support their teams. Ensuring that people have access to the tools and resources they need to recognise those in need and provide support is a vital part to ensuring that everyone is cared for in your organisation.

Digital publishers are providing support for their employees in a number of other areas, as well. “The BMJ employee assistance programme provides 24/7 counselling services, a wellbeing app, webinars, and self-help programs,” explained Tom Moberly, Editor at The BMJ, “and our main office has a private wellbeing room for anyone who needs a confidential space in a peaceful environment.” Alongside this, The BMJ also provides bespoke financial coaching, remote exercises classes, and access to an on-site gym and massages. Other perks referenced by our judges included cycle-to-work schemes, workplace nurseries, and on-stie counsellors.

Allowing interpersonal relationships to flourish

Finally, your culture is your people. You need to create space to allow people to connect in a relaxed environment and to celebrate shared achievements. As Chris Dicker, CEO at CANDR Media Group, told us, “in our pursuit to enhance employee wellbeing and cultivate a vibrant work culture[,] our monthly team get-togethers stand as a corner stone activity, offering employees a chance to unwind, connect, and build stronger interpersonal relationships.”

“Celebrating achievements is ingrained in our culture, and we regularly acknowledge and reward success through employee awards,” shared emap Publishing’s Layla Zghari. “Additionally, our seasonal summer and winter parties serve as cherished opportunities for our teams to unwind and bond in a relaxed setting, promoting camaraderie and a sense of belonging.”

In tandem with a solid wellbeing offering that is tailored to the individual requirements of your employees, allowing this camaraderie to grow will ensure your team have the resiliency and support network they need to overcome challenges and thrive in the workplace.

The AOP Employer Excellence Award – sponsored by Lewis Silkin – celebrates the great work being done in the digital publishing industry to attract and nurture the best talent, provide professional growth, support wellbeing, and foster a strong culture of diversity and inclusion. Enter your latest strategic initiative to be recognised for your commitment to developing a culture of employer excellence and to be celebrated as an example of industry best practice. Find out more about the AOP Digital Publishing Awards here – and don’t forget to submit your entry before the deadline on March 14th.