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Howells Patent & Glazing

Organisation Name: Howells Patent Glazing Limited

Sector: Manufacturing

Size of Organisation: 35 employees

Thrive Lead: Debbie Willets

What They Do: Family-run Howells Patent Glazing, based in Cradley Heath in the Black Country, has been manufacturing, supplying, and installing high-quality aluminium roof lights and glazing for businesses and the public since 1973. The firm employs around 30 people and works with trade and domestic customers all over the UK.

What Howells did: Howells began the process of achieving Thrive at Work accreditation in January 2019 and set about making sure it had policies that were clear on how the business could support its employees’ mental health. Debbie said: “To be honest, our old policies weren’t fit for purpose when it came to the mental health of our staff. We didn’t really have procedures in place to deal with issues that came up, and staff did not feel confident in raising their concerns.

“When we started Thrive at Work, the free seminars we attended as part of the programme showed us we needed to take a more holistic approach to our employees’ wellbeing. So we started by asking staff to complete an anonymous health survey to assess employees’ mental health across the company.”’

Once that was complete, Howells made comprehensive changes to its policies around mental health, which meant staff was more empowered to speak out if they felt like something was wrong. Training was given in mental health first aid to selected members of staff. Once qualified, they were able to spot any potential issues among staff early, meaning problems could be addressed early and the risk of people taking time off sick was reduced. Additionally, materials such as leaflets and flyers related to a range of mental health topics, such as anxiety, alcohol abuse, and the importance of exercise, were placed in a discreet location at Howells’ offices, meaning staff could pick them up without fear of being spotted by colleagues. Debbie added: “It wasn’t easy to convince staff to engage with the initial health assessment, but once they realised the Thrive at Work programme was for their benefit, they began to embrace it. It took a little bit of time to get our Bronze accreditation as our paperwork needed to be spot-on, but it meant we made really useful changes to our business which have helped our staff in the long-run.”

How Thrive at Work has impacted the organisation: Implementing Thrive has seen staff more willing to discuss issues that are affecting them and ask for flexible working on occasions. As a result, they are seen as being more approachable as a business. Take up of initiatives including healthy eating and physical activity has increased. Howell’s first-ever open day in January 2020 saw visitors on a factory tour, something they would not have considered before. Increased interactions with staff and interest in their work made this a 'must-do' part of the open day. Shy staff who wouldn’t usually meet customers were happy to chat and answer questions. Debbie advises, a whole new business venture has developed off the back of this including school visits. After Howells earned its full Thrive at Work accreditation, the changes it had brought in resulted in a significant drop in sickness absences, a more open and honest workforce, and more understanding management. When the mental health of staff was tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the sudden death of one of the firm’s drivers in 2020, the changes Howells had made came into their own.

Debbie added: “When the government advised manufacturing and construction still needed to go ahead during lockdown when many other industries were told to either shut down or tell their staff to work from home, this created quite a bit of worry among our staff. Luckily, by this point we had already made a lot of changes at Howells, which meant staff felt more confident in opening up about how they were feeling and asking for help if they needed it and when our driver tragically passed away in June, we were able to put into practice the mental health training and guidance we had received and provide clear communications to our staff so that they felt properly informed. The old mindset before Thrive would not have equipped us to deal with death at work in a compassionate and sensitive way because of these changes, we’ve had excellent attendance in 2020, with the only real absences being down to certain staff having to self-isolate through COVID-19 for a time. It meant we were able to work as well as we could have done in a very challenging time for the business and the economy in general. Our staff are far more likely to raise issues early now. And even if they don’t, our mental health first aiders are there to check in on our staff on a regular basis.”

The positive change in attitude among staff led Howells to host its first-ever open day in January 2020, which was a huge success for the firm. Customers were invited to the factory in Cradley Heath to see glass products being manufactured and were able to ask factory workers as many questions as they liked.

Debbie said: “Our factory staff were so happy to speak to the people who ended up using the products they had created, and loved answering their questions. Many of the staff who were chatting away tended to be shy in the past, so we had never considered holding an open day. But because of the openness at Howells now, we thought we’d give it a go, and it was a huge success. It has led us to organise things like school trips and ‘days in industry’ that we hadn’t done in our long history. Simply put, it never would have happened without Thrive at Work. While you need to put time and effort in to get the accreditation, the results have definitely been worth it.”

Accreditation Date: November 2019

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