A PIONEERING social enterprise is creating an army of Wellbeing Champions within businesses to support staff through the COVID-19 crisis.

The project launched by RCS was originally piloted before the pandemic hit, but it’s now been adapted and moved online, along with all the organisation’s other support services for firms and their employees.

The aim of the new training initiative is to mobilise small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) to appoint Wellbeing Champions from among their workforces.

They will be given training and support, including interactive video sessions, so they can help maintain the wellbeing of the workforce by championing the physical and mental health of their colleagues.

Thousands of people have been working from home since the country was first put into lockdown in March, with many still furloughed or on reduced hours, fearing for their job security, others are on increased hours or altered shift patterns.

According to RCS Operational Director Ali Thomas, the uncertainty around a second wave of the virus was adding to their worries.

Like many of the people they are supporting, the 30-strong team at RCS – usually based at offices in Rhyl and Bangor – are now working from home.

The not-for-profit company’s flagship In Work Support Service has helped over 6,000 employees and self-employed people to get back to work and health since 2015.

Ms Thomas said: “Every year we provide support and therapies for hundreds of working people to help them manage their wellbeing more effectively.

“We have been providing support to businesses throughout the pandemic, such as online training and regular bulletins with tips and tools for improving staff wellbeing.

“We know that many people tend to put a brave face on things, particularly in front of a manager. But they might talk to a colleague at work and let on that they are struggling. That’s where our Wellbeing Champion programme comes in.”

It comes as RCS Wales was recently awarded the first ever Wellbeing Award by the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales.

Anna Quinn, Enterprise Support Officer at RCS, has helped to design the Wellbeing Champion programme, which has been created with small and medium sized businesses in mind.

She said: “The pandemic and the emergency response to it is inevitably creating one of the most stressful periods in history for our business community, and it is vital that they have support to maintain people’s health and wellbeing.

“Wellbeing Champion programmes are something that have existed in the NHS, the civil service and in large scale enterprises for quite a while.

“We want to replicate the concept within small and medium enterprises, so that no matter what size the business is, there is always someone there who has a focus on wellbeing as part of their role, whether you are a hairdressing salon or a garage or an accountant.

“Usually it’s best if the Champion is someone on the shop floor who knows the staff quite well.

“If you are a small business owner and you run a salon, we realise that at the moment you are having to try to work out how to pay the bills.

“But when so many workers across all sectors are experiencing higher than usual levels of worry and stress, our plan is that each company in Wales, of any size, can have a nominated, trained member of staff who has a focus on wellbeing, so the person leading the business can concentrate on keeping the business going.”

Anna’s colleage, enterprise support officer Gareth Siggee said: “The course has been designed for delivery online. The programme can be run as interactive group sessions, or we can send out online workbooks and short, pre-recorded webinars so that people can work through the course in their own time.

“Being a Wellbeing Champion in your workplace doesn’t mean being a counsellor, or an exercise coach. It’s about having information to-hand that you can share with your colleagues, to let them know what support might be available for them out there if they’re struggling.

“It can also be about working with the business owners or managers to help put things in place to create more of a wellbeing culture. Sometimes it can be as simple as encouraging managers to routinely check-in with staff who are returning to work from sickness absence.”

The Wellbeing Champion training is one of a number of free online courses delivered by RCS to help small and medium businesses improve the health and productivity of their teams. The next Wellbeing Champion courses take place on October 8 and 15.

The organisation’s In Work Support Service, which is part-funded by European Social Funding through the Welsh Government, is available to people who live or work in Conwy, Denbighshire, Gwynedd and Anglesey and provides one-to-one support for employed or self-employed people who are off work sick, or struggling in work because of poor health.

RCS can be contacted by calling 01745 336442 or visiting the website https://rcs-wales.co.uk/