Here at Shine we challenge the idea, held by many, that staff wellbeing programmes are exclusive to large companies with resources to invest. However, this example shows again that smaller companies can still reap the benefits when promoting employee wellbeing.

Austin Fraser is a consulting firm specialising in technology and life sciences recruitment. There are 95 employees based in eight UK sites with headquarters in Reading. The office is open-plan to encourage a transparent culture, with employees sat amongst the senior leadership which generates good levels of informal engagement. As workplace design firm Area explains, staff wellbeing is an integral part of the office environment:

“The result is a workspace which takes inspiration from, and blurs the lines between, a modern home, boutique hotel, and coffee shop. The office benefits from several design characteristics which aid overall employee wellbeing including an open-plan concierge area which instantly connects staff and visitors. Through intelligent architectural zoning, the primary dining area can serve a number of functions to encourage staff to interact with each other, both on a social and work level.


The main work areas have also been designed with employee wellbeing in mind, complete with sit-stand workspaces, and a layout which facilitates the creation of individual working neighbourhoods within the open-plan space, connected by supporting spaces.


Recognition for its commitment to staff

While its office design for wellbeing is evident, it is just part of a wider, well-considered, employee wellness programme. Austin Fraser has received several accolades for its wellbeing efforts. It has consistently placed in the top 100 ‘The Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For’ for the last four years for its excellent employee engagement. Alongside this, the firm also received gold status in health and wellbeing from the ‘Investors in People’ awards which recognises organisations with healthy and happy staff, which are engaged in their work and motivated.

This is a noteworthy achievement because since the awards were set up in 1991, 15,000 companies have applied for IIP awards and only 1,036 have received gold awards. An assessor from IIP said that the company was: ‘One of the most consistently enthusiastic and motivated groups of staff that I have ever had the pleasure to meet – a truly energising experience’.

Learning and development manager, Natasha Meller, commented: ‘We are extremely proud to be recognised for our investment in both our employees and the working environment that we provide for them. We all believe that we work for an amazing company and its great to know that external people feel the same about us!’


Supporting staff working from home

Since its employees have been working from home, Austin Fraser has pulled out all the stops to support them. All staff were already provided with a MacBook laptop and Bluetooth headset so the transition to working from home was fairly seamless.

To ensure that employees feel connected to the company, CEO Peter Hart has been sending weekly updates to employees on how the business is doing via video. These also include messages of thanks to employees who have been working well during the lockdown. Alongside this there are also several creative initiatives to keep employees engaged and connected by boosting morale. Employees have been sharing ideas on the company’s ‘Wellbeing Wall’ which is a forum full of ideas like home workouts, recipes and breathwork tips.

As well as this, employees share their ‘Recipe of the Week’ with the wider business and staff are encouraged to try making the meal and share how it went. In the spirit of learning more about colleagues’ home lives, a ‘Pets Corner’ was set up where employees share pictures of their animals. Some employees also took part in ‘Austin Fraser Cribs’ where every Friday employees showed colleagues around their home and explained their setup for working from home in the style of MTV’s hit show.

“Employee wellbeing and workplace engagement is something we’ve really focused on since the company was formed nearly nine years ago. We strive to improve the environment for our team to ensure that coming to work is an enjoyable experience for everybody.” Peter Hart, CEO.

Read how another SME – Pure Planet – is improving staff mental health and wellbeing.