Wellbeing in the Workplace: Interview with Marie-Claire Barker

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Last Updated on May 17, 2016 by

I met Marie-Claire Barker, Chief Global Talent Officer at MEC at Advertising Week New York last year, where she spoke about the development of wellbeing initiatives in the workplace; such as fitness classes, yoga and mindfulness sessions which are becoming integral to employee engagement and thriving organisational cultures.

Health, it is commonly said, is something you tend not fully to value until the day comes when you realise you have lost it. Sadly you could say the same of employers and their attitude to managing health in the workplace. As employers we tend to wait until someone is sick before we realise how inconvenient and costly it is. Marie-Claire, why do you think that as a society until now we have not valued workforce health and wellbeing?

I am not sure that it is not that it hasn’t been valued, I just think that the responsibility sat more with the employee than the employer previously. The employer/employee relationship has become much more connected over the last few years as we have seen a blending of the lines between work and personal life. With this, came the realization that wellness in general is something people are taking more seriously, and have therefore forced the conversation in the workplace.

What has caused this change in value and awareness of the importance of wellbeing in the workplace and why is it important?

There is much more focus on wellbeing in every aspect of our lives, from sleep apps, to wearable technology logging our activity, so new methods of exercise classes popping up every week to the amount of information people now have on nutrition. Knowledge is a key contributor. We now understand so much more, the impact on our health of the lifestyle we lead, and that has to continue through to the workplace.

What are the domains of wellbeing within the workplace?

For me, it is all the things that can trigger stress or other physical reactions. So, it would be:

  • A comfortable physical environment with natural light and the proper furniture to avoid physical injury.
  • Financial security.
  • Respect in the workplace.
  • A sense of community and support.
  • Liking what you do, and being happy in your role.

What are among the main causes of employee absence?

  • Sickness.
  • Childcare issues.
  • Lack of engagement.
  • Poor leadership.

What are some of the essential factors leading to organisational and personal wellbeing?

  • Nutrition.
  • Exercise.
  • Sleep.
  • Environment.
  • Learning and development to give comfort in role.
  • Stability.
  • Balance.
  • Flexibility.
  • Focus.
  • Support.
  • Sense of community/belonging.

How are businesses introducing wellbeing in the workplace to their employees – and are there any particular programs that have been designed to help with this?

A lot are jumping on the “Yoga at work” approach. I think this is a good start, but it is important for organisations to understand the triggers in their environment that may cause employee stress and deal with this.

We are introducing very regular pulse point questionnaires where we can take a quick look at th eorganisation and how people are feeling.

We have introduced agile working in the UK, which allows employees to work where they want to get the best result – it could be at home, in the office or in a park.

In the US, we offer employees the opportunity to use the services of GoldBean, a financial planning organization.

We are introducing a mindfulness app call WHil to help with workplace stress as well as other aspects of peoples lives.

Financial contribution to exercise classes and gym memberships are offered too.

We are also introducing a culture of feedback and coupling that with an app to give real time feedback in the moment. This gives people the opportunity to know how they are doing, and seek development and coaching.

Some companies are looking at e mail policy, and encouraging people not to e mail after a certain time.

How has the introduction of these programs and strategies started to impact businesses and improve their health, wellness and performance in the workplace? Can you share some examples or case studies?

I think it is still early for us to tell right now, but we will measure it by our retention rates, medical costs, creative thinking and employee questionnaires.

How does it improve relationships between employers and their employees and between their team members?

When people feel supported and less stressed, they are able to focus better, be more creative, and take time to form stronger relationships. When an employee feels that their employer values them – both in work and out – they will tend to be more engaged an committed, and this in turn will have an effect on the work that is produced, and the retention of employees. They are also more likely to recommend it as a great place to work.

Which companies are out there leading the way in actively promoting wellbeing in the workplace?

The obvious ones are Google and Facebook, and some of the tech start ups. We at MEC were recognized by the Sunday Times best paces to work, and also received an additional award for our wellbeing practices. Microsoft and Adidas are good too, offering on-site coaches and therapists.

Marie-Claire you are the Chief Global Talent officer for MEC, what are your strategies for wellbeing in the workplace at MEC? With a global talent manifesto of “Don’t just live, Thrive” what’s the difference in thriving rather than living?

We strive to create an environment where each person can Thrive in their own unique way. It is the Essence of MEC. We do it through deliderate programs such as the agile working, happiness programmes, yoga at work, flexibility, coaching, employee insight mechanisms, leadership training and general awareness of well being, to name a few.

In the UK, we give employees an amount of money each year that they can spend on themselves as long as they are growing – it could be painting, going to the theatre, what ever they want, as long as they Thrive.

But it is also in how we express ourselves. We don’t want people to just turn up and do a job, we want them to come and do the best they can, grow as much as they can, allow them to be creative, and ultimately, have them look back at their tie at MEC as the best on their resume.


Thanks for the interview Marie-Claire! I’d be interested to hear from companies who are really leading the way in promoting health and wellbeing in the workplace. Get in touch with me at cheryl@soulseedmedia.com.