International healthcare provider and multi-insurance group Bupa sees its mission as helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives. Funding healthcare around the world, the firm runs clinics, dental centres, hospitals, care homes and retirement villages in a number of countries. Its distinctive status as a company limited by guarantee with no shareholders also enables it to make its customers its focus, reinvesting profits to provide better healthcare for current and future customers, it claims.
Employing over 83,000 people, principally in the UK, but also Australia, Spain, Poland, Hong Kong, Chile, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, India, New Zealand, and the US, around 70% of the firm's £12.3bn (2019 figures) revenue is from providing health insurance to 17.5 million customers, with the rest of its income coming from health and care provision.
For Nigel Sullivan, the corporation's Chief People Officer, using technology to find out just how those 86,000 people have been coping with Lockdown and #WFH has proven highly useful in maintaining mission delivery these past few disruptive months.
He puts the use of that technology in context:
It has been a very busy time, of course, as those 83,000 people are all in healthcare of some sort, whether it be providing care directly or via funding, supporting people. Pretty much everywhere we have hospitals, we were participating fully in the public response to COVID-19 by providing extra bed space, extra ICU; we have a private hospital in West London called The Cromwell, which was basically commandeered by the NHS but staffed by our people and our consultants. We also provide a large amount of emergency cancer care and cardiac services for London, but in Chile or Spain or Poland, where we support those public health systems, we were just as busy.
Along with most organisations worldwide, though, Bupa also had a large cohort of staff who were not immediately needed for frontline use who had to pivot to supporting patients and customers from home. Sullivan, in post for just over three years, but in HR for over 30 (he held an equivalent role at mobile provider TalkTalk), said that in response he and his team "did some re-prioritisation", as HR had to " really stand up to support our colleagues" in the first stage of the crisis.
What needs do our employees have?
This is where employee outreach technology from a firm called Glint (part of LinkedIn) started to become useful, he says. It started with a complete global engagement survey that specifically included COVID-19 crisis questions.
We ran nine surveys across the world, surveying 15,000 people in different places. We surveyed in Saudi Arabia, we did several surveys in the UK, we surveyed in Spain, we surveyed in Australia and Chile. The surveys had two purposes really: one was to find out how people were and if they felt supported, two, if they were engaged. Some surveys were more targeted at returning to the office as people came out of the Lockdown and out of crisis, so how did they feel about going back? What need did they have as well?
Not surprisingly, these regular exercises started to gather a large amount of employee sentiment data; Sullivan told us at least 23,000 free form comments were gathered as well.
Because the tool we are using is cloud-based, it's pretty easy to set up the hierarchies and the user interface. The overall user experience is so user-friendly we were able to deploy things as we needed to. We did them quite quickly, most on a five-day turnaround-boom, real pulse, proper pulse surveys.
But what did all this work and polling give him? Sullivan notes that the response rate was very high-in some cases, in the high-80s. But most importantly, he says, wherever employee engagement was measured, it went up everywhere. And that was very important to the company's leadership as a whole:
It's particularly important, as a health and care company and in terms of the things we hold true in terms of our values and our purpose, to find out if people felt supported by Bupa and supported by their manager. We specifically asked those questions, and we're so happy we got scores in the high-80s, and some in the 90s for that.
We were very relieved and pleased because people were obviously feeling vulnerable at this time, and we wanted to make sure that people were safe. That was one of the principles that we set out at the beginning of COVID, and, thankfully, we did manage to stay true to that.
HR: finally embracing data and digital?
For Sullivan, the fact that in the depths of the crisis he had access to specific data like this marks the culmination of what he sees as a welcome evolution in his profession: an embrace of digital.
When I got into HR after originally training as a scientist, I was very used to working with data but the systems we were asked to use were rubbish for many, many years. You were making a lot of data-free judgements, and a lot of my early career was judgment-based, using opinions and wisdom, whatever, and making mistakes along the way as well. Then HR had a real step-change with things like Success Factors, Workday, and Oracle, and all of a sudden this ‘people' stuff became really, really great via all these new human capital systems.
We've been on a journey for a few years now to be digital ‘on the inside' here, which means learning management systems or human capital management systems, and employee engagement is another one. Often, with engagement surveys there's a so-what question around, ‘You've got this score, what do you do with it?', but this technology gives managers tools, ideas, engagement drivers, right down to team level, about what to do about it. I found that really, really great.
So HR has become quite digital in general-but for us, that's been one of the big learnings through COVID; we've accelerated, from a customer point of view, our digital experiences, whether that be online consultations or just interacting as a business, as a result.
A final benefit, he adds, is the ability to track employee engagement on a truly global basis using his chosen software, which allows Bupa's central HR team to be able ask the same questions all over the world in seven different languages, and get results back instantly.
Next steps for employee engagement tech and pulse surveying at Bupa include extending questioning and information-gathering to touch on topics such as diversity and inclusion, health and wellbeing and Environmental, Social and Governance questions. Sullivan also anticipates exploring the fact that LinkedIn training is accessible via the tool, enabling its extension into the Learning and Development (L&D) side of Bupa's HR work.