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Leading through the crisis as an HSE Director

Oct 11 2021

We’re thrilled to have John Boyle on our panel for our upcoming networking event (learn more).

As HSE Director at Greencore, the UK’s largest producer of convenience foods, John has his hands full, but never more so than in the last eighteen months.

With that said, we recently interviewed John about his role and the changing status of health and safety to get his take ahead of the event.

Read on for exclusive insight and key lessons from John that may help your business 

grow out of the pandemic to protect your people, assets and reputation. 

How has your role changed as a result of the pandemic?

“The COVID-19 crisis escalated my position at Greencore and grew relationships with others – through the crisis, I worked closely with our Executive Team and Group Leadership Team, influencing change within the organisation. 

“This is largely because the pandemic strengthened everyone’s understanding of how important health and safety is. It impacts every aspect of the business, and this has never been more evident. 

“I also have a bigger impact on the industry as a whole. At the start of the crisis, I was involved in establishing a trade association of approximately 40 food manufacturers to collaborate on all things health and safety. We were all able to share our experiences, maintain a level of consistency and learn from best practice. We’ve also been able to work with our customers and other businesses directly. It’s been a great way to use Greencore’s scale and independence to help other businesses and their employees.”

What major health and safety challenges have you encountered? 

“There have been obvious challenges, such as making sure we have a good supply of PPE and that people are following the rules around mask-wearing, social distancing and sanitisation at different sites. 

“The consequences of driver shortages have also been exacerbated by the pandemic. We’ve had to push hard on recruitment, which has resulted in an influx of new drivers. We usually buddy up new drivers for their induction. But this hasn’t always been possible due to health and safety risks associated with COVID-19. 

“So we’ve had to react quickly and change our induction process to make it easier and safer, which has been difficult because of all the other changes occurring within the business.

“The more insidious effects have been to do with ill mental health. Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, there was so much uncertainty and change occurring. People were worried about their jobs, their health and their family’s health. It was a really stressful time for everyone – myself included.”

How have you managed and improved people’s wellbeing? 

“It helped that we already had a strong employee-led culture in place (the Greencore Way), which is about creating a safe and enjoyable working environment for our colleagues to thrive in. Our People are at the Core of the way we work and embedding a safety culture is a primary part of that.

“Recently, we’ve focused on reinforcing this culture to make it easier for our colleagues to open up. This has involved getting better at listening and increasing our lines of communication. 

“For example, we’ve created a confidential colleague service called Talk2Us which is accessible to everyone, including colleagues working in our factories and those on furlough. They can use the service whenever they need someone to talk to.

“We’ve also started offering free counselling to people struggling with their mental health. Plus, we have worked closely with GroceryAid, a charity that provides emotional, practical and financial support for grocery workers.

“For our managers, we’ve made sure they have the right support network around them. It’s important they know that an exec always has their back. We’ve also led by example, being more open about our personal struggles as a sign of encouragement.”

What are the benefits of a people-led culture? 

“Listening to your colleagues, acting on their input and showing that you genuinely care about their wellbeing goes a long way. It breaks down barriers, strengthens relationships and makes your colleagues much happier at work.

“Eventually a people-led culture becomes your point of difference, helping you attract and retain talent. Because people can see that you’re putting your colleagues first which creates a really desirable working environment. 

“This is especially true now. People’s attitudes towards work were already changing before the pandemic. The crisis accelerated this change: being happy at work is a number one priority for a lot of people today. Going that extra mile to protect your colleagues’ wellbeing has more weight than ever before.”

What are the risks associated with a people-led culture? 

“For a people-led culture to succeed, you have to allow your colleagues to make their own fact-based decisions rather than have them follow a strict set of rules.

“This can lead to inconsistencies across health and safety, especially regarding the messages you send. For example, we had confusion around our mask policies at one stage because the rules differed from one site to another. 

“You’ve got to respond to those inconsistencies, create understanding and awareness to understand why decisions have been made. Clarity and understanding are more important now than ever with more external influences from social media. You’ve got to quickly explain the reasoning behind changes and deliver some clarity.” 

“Another issue we’ve experienced – some people feel insecure when they don’t have specific instructions around health and safety. Whereas others want their freedom. It’s hard to accommodate everyone, which can cause some friction. You have to find that balance so everybody’s needs are met.”

What’s your best advice for businesses moving forward?

“Businesses have to fundamentally evolve. We’ve experienced a generational change in the last eighteen months. The virtual agenda has been accelerated and people have different expectations from their employers. 

“You have to have the right technology to enable more flexible ways of working. You need robust colleague engagement strategies to keep your people bought into the company and your vision. And your managers need training around leadership and mental health so they can support their teams properly. 

“It’s really important businesses invest in these changes. The companies that don’t will lose their people. But the good news is that when you do adapt, you’ll benefit from better access to talent, higher staff retention rates plus better productivity and profitability.”

There’s more like this!

We have plenty more health and safety insight from industry thought leaders coming your way. Follow us on Linkedin or Twitter to stay updated. 

Are you a member of the Vita Safety family? If you haven’t heard about our upcoming event – Growing healthy businesses: Reconnecting and learning from a time of change read our announcement blog for more info