AXA story

Keeping happy and healthy while working from home

Stu Harman blog

Like most of us, Stu Harman, AXA’s Culture and Wellbeing Manager, wondered how he would do his job when the COVID-19 outbreak forced us all to work from home, especially as now more than ever it is essential we stay connected and look after our peoples’ wellbeing. So what he put together was an inspiring programme of events for the whole family to get involved with. 

I work within the AXA Cares team, and we work predominantly on three things – how we can do good things for our people, how we can do good things in the community – things like charity work and volunteering – and how we can do good things in relation to the environment. Within that my focus as Culture and Wellbeing Manager is on how best we can support people in the workplace, making them feel good so they’re in the best place to achieve what they want to achieve. It can involve all sorts, from arranging free flu jabs to yoga classes in the workplace, workshops on nutrition or the menopause and making people aware of mental health issues. 

A new way to connect

About two weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown I remember thinking, wow, things are going to change – we can’t invite external people into the office now and we can’t do our face-to-face sessions in other offices. I wasn’t sure what my team and I could do when it came to our own work. Then, on that first Monday when we were all locked down, Joe Wicks did his first PE with Joe session and I was watching it with my family. It was great and when I talked about it with my team, what struck us was that not only could we encourage people to get up and moving, but that there was a social angle to all this as well, and it became really important to us that whatever we were going to do, we wanted to connect to people. 

We’d usually have personal trainers visiting our offices and doing Pilates sessions for example, so we thought we could use a video application like Zoom instead. Colleagues would also know the trainer, and we felt that relationship was really important. At this point, we thought we should just go for it, not worry about the things that could go wrong and see what happened. So we asked two or three of our most popular yoga teachers to start up and they were as up for it as we were, despite none of us being able to use Zoom at this point, so it was a learning process for us all. We asked for feedback and everything we heard was brilliant, which really inspired us to carry on. 

We started thinking about what else we could do. We knew people were at home and we knew from personal experience, some people would have family or housemates so we wanted to invite them to be part of this too and maybe give parents some time out or encourage families to do things together. So we did family yoga and dance classes, mindfulness, cookery for kids and nutrition classes, brain health sessions, art classes for adults and kids and music for babies, too. The past two weeks have seen over a 1,000 sign ups, which is way past what I thought we could achieve. 

A roller coaster of emotion

This whole situation has been challenging and intense in so many ways. Early on, I realised we had to rip up everything we wanted to do this year, and that was hard. Coupled with home teaching two lively boys at home with different needs and my wife who’s working from home as a lawyer, plus all the news, I just didn’t know what to do at the beginning, which was probably how a lot of people felt across the country. We tried doing a bit of tag team working, cross referencing diaries and so on, and really it’s been a lot of trial and error making the situation work for us. But I think we ended up realising that keeping our kids happy and healthy was the most important thing to us and part of that was getting out on bikes and walks as much as possible. 

What's been really helpful is how AXA has been so flexible. My managers have let me work when I can and my team have been able to do the same. We have five emergency days leave to use every year in case the children get sick or there’s a family emergency that needs your attention and that’s been increased to 20 days during this time, which has really helped us manage this situation as a family. My advice to working parents out there is to focus on the basics – don’t think you need to do it all. It’s a roller coaster, keep your family happy and everything else is extra.