The secret to effective wellbeing? Technology, social media and fun, says award-winning Sheffield University

4 minute read

Through taking a creative and fun approach to technology, the University of Sheffield has put the health and wellbeing of its 8,200 employees at the heart of its employee experience, driving staff engagement through innovation, collaboration and communication while saving costs and resource

Sian Harrington

Andy Dodman University of Sheffield employee wellbeing colouring

There has never been a more critical time to put employee health and wellbeing at the centre of organisation life and a key concern for all business leaders, according to the University of Sheffield’s chief operating officer Andy Dodman.

"To maintain their position in the competitive marketplace, organisations need to be innovative, adaptable and create remarkable places to work, which attract, grow and engage talented people. These talented people need to be healthy, well and happy," he says.

With 50 departments grouped into five academic faculties and more than 27,000 students plus 8,200 employees including 1,700 academics, the university (which has an annual income of £650 million) has placed the health, wellbeing and happiness of its talented staff at the heart of its employment offer and experience.

It has been recognised for this strategy in The Sunday Times Top 100 Not for Profit Organisations to Work For 2017, ranking 25 and being the only university on the list. It also won the Health and Wellbeing Special Award in this same list in 2016.

Not only does the university view health and wellbeing as a business-critical issue but it has now developed its wellbeing offer into a subsidiary company that works with other employers on their health and wellbeing offer called Everyday Juice Limited, led by executive director Gary Butterfield.

However, while the University of Sheffield has long offered a range of health and wellbeing services, these were not delivering the desired benefits. Back in 2011 the team realised a number of barriers were preventing staff from engaging.

The problems

  • There was no coherent identity for the health and wellbeing offer
  • Services were disparate and disjointed, making for a poor service user journey
  • The health and wellbeing services focussed on addressing ill-health with little to no interest in employee engagement and the promotion of positive and healthy lifestyle choices
  • Heavy staffing resource to run the various legacy and manual systems, processes and procedures  
  • Unclear and indifferent managerial ownership of staff health and wellbeing

The solution

To address these problems in November 2012, following two pilot programmes, the university launched Juice, a values-driven programme, with the mission to create a remarkable place to work with healthy and happy people.

"The idea was to take a fresh approach to inspire and motivate staff to find their own path to better happiness, health and wellbeing by making it easy to discover and access a wide variety of healthy activities and information," says Dodman.

The university quickly recognised that embracing technology and social media would be critical to its success. It developed a platform designed to be vibrant, fresh and fun and to promote staff engagement. It created a dashboard – a purpose-built content management system that ensures better use of internal resource to manage the offer.

The platform

The platform (below) is a one-stop-shop for health and wellbeing at the university. 

Juice platform University of Sheffield

It has the following core features:

  • An integrated activity booking system linked to a member of staff’s existing email account. The platform provides activity participants with all the key information including location, group leader, accessibility, parking and bicycle provision, consolidating the university’s existing provision
  • Cloud-based, so it can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, on any device. Breaking down the location barrier allows users to engage in Juice whenever they wish
  • Automatically scales to the size of the device it is used on, so members of staff have full functionality regardless whether it’s used on a computer, tablet, or smartphone
  • Showcases the ‘Health Hub’, an online depository for articles covering health and wellbeing aligned to the New Economics Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing (connect, give, keep learning, be active, take notice)
  • Runs quarterly online Juice campaigns covering the aforementioned genres of health and wellbeing to tie article provision together
  • Employees have their own personal profile, where they can manage bookings, leave feedback, and store body health check scores. Members of staff having this information at their fingertips allows for better time management and informed lifestyle decisions. These scores are also aggregated at a corporate level for the university to measure its organisational health, assisting it in steering its provision. For example, it can see whether staff have a blood pressure or cholesterol issue, therefore enabling it to tailor its provision accordingly
  • Has its own news feed relating to campaigns, activities, articles and other events happening locally, nationally, and internationally
  • Is integrated with all major social media platforms to promote staff engagement, most notably Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
  • Has an ‘About’ section, where the university can share key internal contacts for colleague enquiries and populate information relevant to structure, strategy, and related policies and practices

The dashboard

The dashboard is a management system accessed by delegated HR employees. It has been designed to provide ease of use, simple navigation and efficient management of the health and wellbeing offer.

Juice dashboard University of Sheffield

It provides the following features:

  • Allows articles, news stories and activities to be published at any time. The university has the ability to schedule all its content and activities, specifying publication date and time so it can forward plan, saving internal resource
  • Displays attendance lists for past and future events and activities so the university can better manage its activity provision
  • Automatically contacts staff to confirm bookings, provide pre-activity reminders, and to collate post-activity feedback. The Juice platform asks staff for a star rating, with optional text feedback, which is presented on the activity. Juice prides itself on being a transparent and user-led offer, and gives staff an informed decision before they attend. This information is then presented on the dashboard, and flags feedback less than 4* to users so any issues can be addressed promptly
  • Gathers analytics for web usage, attendance and feedback. This information can be accessed at any time by the team. The platform is linked to Google Analytics, providing up-to-date information regarding past visits and real-time data. Having access to these metrics gives the university the ability to assess, build and adapt its offer within a very short time window

Resource saving

Where previously the university had a number of HR colleagues working on its health and wellbeing offer, the Juice platform has been purposely designed to require minimal resource from the employer. It now only needs a fractional assistant/support level resource (some 15-20% of a full-time employee) to service it, releasing the HR team to focus efforts on other projects.

Staff, students and alumni continue to shape Juice’s activity content, with ‘Juicevocates’, an informal steering group, acting as volunteer health and wellbeing advocates. The university facilitates a small part of this provision but it actively invites staff to share their hobbies, talents, and interests under the Juice banner. Examples of this have been a staff choir, needlecraft and Strictly Come Dancing sessions, which were all volunteer-led.

The results

Since launch, levels of awareness and engagement and feedback show Juice has had a significant impact on health, wellbeing and university culture.

Since January 2016, Juice’s activity provision has seen:

  • 3,500 sessions advertised, comprising 36 activities held in 80 venues
  • 12,000 bookings made by c3,800 staff
  • 3,100 activity ratings with an average 4.5*, 5* being the maximum

The Juice platform is well received by staff and has received 72,100 visitors, with 337,700 page views from around the world.

The university’s 2016 Staff Survey shows a big improvement to staff engagement and commitment. Of the 72% of staff who completed the survey, 81% were aware of Juice, and more than 2,500 staff had taken part in at least one Juice activity. These figures continue to grow each month. The survey also showed:

  • 94% were proud to work for the university, an increase of 8% since 2012
  • 89% would recommend the university as an excellent place to work, an increase of 14% since 2012
  • 82% felt a strong sense of belonging to the university, an increase of 16% since 2012
  • 89% were committed to the university’s goals, an increase of 18% since 2012
  • 84% felt inspired to do their best work every day, an increase of 8% since 2012

Following the success of Juice, other employers were interested to learn more about it and how it could benefit their workforces, and so the subsidiary company Everyday Juice Limited was born. The company comprises experts in HR and staff engagement, working with a network of qualified occupational health specialists to offer clinical and non-clinical consultancy services, providing the Juice platform inclusive of all online content and helping organisations to articulate the business case for their organisation.

The subsidiary company is still young but having an impact within the higher education sector and beyond. So far, Juice is being used by colleagues at Leeds Trinity University, the University of Nottingham’s Faculty of Engineering, and Milton Keynes College, as well as a number of smaller employers out of sector. The company is also in advanced discussions with a number of other universities, NHS Trusts and local councils. 

New Economics Foundation Everyday Juice model


To maintain their position in the competitive marketplace, organisations need to be innovative, adaptable and create remarkable places to work, which attract, grow and engage talented people. These talented people need to be healthy, well and happy

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