We do not want to just react to workplace stress, our aim is to prevent it!

Case Study: Maria Anderson - Global Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing

We recently caught up with Maria Anderson, Cambridge University Press & Assessment’s Global Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing to find out about its commitment to reduce and mitigate the impact of workplace stress.

Maria, you have worked at Cambridge University Press & Assessment (Cambridge) for six years now as Global Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing. Can you tell us a little about the organisation’s operation and your role there?

Cambridge University Press & Assessment (Cambridge) is a non-teaching department of the University of Cambridge. It was formed in August 2021 when the University of Cambridge merged its global academic research and education publisher, Cambridge University Press, with its worldwide assessment arm, University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES, also known as Cambridge Assessment).

Its mission is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.

It is a true global organisation which operates in over 170 countries and has 6,900 employees in 50 different countries. 3,500 of these employees are based at our headquarters in Cambridge.

As Global Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing I am responsible for ensuring the physical and mental wellbeing of colleagues around our global communities, supporting the implementation of our health and safety management system, and fostering a culture of prevention and proactive response to occupational health and safety risk. Health and wellbeing are my key focusses. 

How is employee health and wellbeing managed?

At Cambridge, health, safety and wellbeing sits in the People and Culture team and all our programmes are people centric. Yes, we work with our Property and Services teams to ensure building compliance, but my team’s focus is managing health and safety at all levels. We work closely with people business partners to identify specific business needs where the risk to health and safety may be an issue. By having a people centric approach and talking to others in the organisation, we focus on what it is important, and ensure risk is managed in a more collaborative way. At Cambridge, health and safety is much more than a bunch of documents and policies stored on a system.

Being people centric also means that wellbeing naturally becomes part of the health and safety strategy. Wellbeing is considered in every conversation about manage risk in our organisation. Wellbeing programmes and initiatives support cultural change but that is not the purpose of our job. My role is to ensure health, safety and wellbeing practices integrate seamlessly into everything we do and becomes part of the DNA of the organisation. The goal is to foster a healthy and thriving work environment globally and to achieve this requires effective communication and collaboration.

I understand that you recently arranged for NEBOSH Gold Learning Partner, Safety Rocks, to deliver one of our newest qualifications, the NEBOSH HSE Certificate in Managing Stress at Work. Can you tell us:

  • What motivated this decision?

The last few years at Cambridge have been difficult, and we recognise this. The pandemic and the integration of what were two separate entities has had an impact.

We know that workplace stress can have a detrimental impact on health, employee productivity, and overall organisational performance.

Our people managers play a pivotal role in supporting the wellbeing of our colleagues. We hoped to give them the knowledge, tools, and confidence to identify, manage and mitigate stress factors effectively by rolling out this qualification.

We believe in the management standards that the training is based on. Its delivery is part of our commitment to reduce and mitigate the impact that workplace stress has on our people.

  • Who was invited to attend the course?

We have a manager’s network at Cambridge that has been set up to support our people managers around the globe. It is members of this community who have initially been offered the opportunity to take part in this new training initiative.

We started by delivering three sessions. Two were face to face (one was held at our Cambridge offices and the other was for our managers in our warehouse) and the third was an online session for managers who work from home or were based in other cities and countries. We are planning to deliver more sessions in the future.

  • Did the delegates find the course content helpful and interesting?

We have had some excellent feedback from colleagues who have participated so far such as:

Quite different from other mental health courses I have done in the past. Great for managers to think about their responsibilities.”

I really liked the content - I was not aware of legislation around the subject.”

It was practical. I can see clear ways where we can apply the knowledge. The tutor was very knowledgeable and engaging.

New information and a global stance (we work globally)

  • Has its roll out changed anything yet?

It is early days in our initiative; but the signs are encouraging. We believe the qualification is the right choice and delivers what we hoped it would for our managers. We know that by supporting managers in this way, we have a positive impact not only on them and the teams they support, but also our organisational performance.

There has been a cultural shift amongst our people managers who ensure wellbeing is prioritised in their collaborative conversations around performance and development. At Cambridge, we aim for workplace stress to not only be reacted to but also managed in a preventative way. Our organisation values health, wellbeing, and work-life balance and we are on a journey but know this will take time. So, watch this space as we continue rolling this qualification out.

Maria, the wellbeing aspect of your job is clearly just as important to you as the health and safety elements. Can you explain why you enjoy this aspect so much and share any initiatives you have delivered that you are particularly proud of?

The wellbeing aspect of my role is indeed a passion of mine, as I firmly believe that fostering a culture of holistic wellness is fundamental to creating a thriving and sustainable work environment.

What I particularly enjoy is the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the lives of our employees, empowering them to prioritise their mental and physical health. I am proud of the initiatives we have here at Cambridge, which include regular webinars, the provision of EAP and providing resources for employees at all levels. We hope that our programmes help to destigmatise conversations around mental health, fostering a more open and supportive culture within our organisation. I also take pride in supporting our flexible working policy that promotes work-life balance, ensuring that our colleagues can effectively manage their professional responsibilities alongside personal commitments.

These initiatives have the potential to enhance employee satisfaction and engagement and will contribute significantly to our overall retention rates and the organisation's reputation as an employer that values the wellbeing of its workforce.

For me wellbeing must be part of any organisations strategy not just seen to be a soft benefit. Managing stress and burnout is high on my agenda.

It is clear you strive to deliver wellbeing best practice. Do you have any hints and tips you can share with others who have similar aspirations?

Absolutely, I am very passionate about this and my advice would be:

  • Ensure your programme reflects business need - there is no point building a programme that has very little engagement or low impact. A specific more targeted programme goes a long way.
  • Ensure everyone understands their role in wellbeing - from personal responsibility to the role of the manager and leaders.
  • Cultivate a culture of wellbeing – it is much more than free fruit. We need to encourage healthy working habits. Hybrid approaches can help but it can also lead to a culture of always being connected. We need to support personal growth, personal responsibility, and accountability but this can only happen if the right environment is built around our people.
  • Focus on the role of the manager - not only to promote wellbeing but to act as role models.
  • Be ready to adapt your strategies to accommodate the evolving complex world - The world is changing fast with technology and priorities of new generations. As health, safety, and wellbeing professionals it very important to keep abreast of the latest trends, research, and best practices.