Yoga, detoxing from social media, and the funky chicken...winners of the Civil Service Health and Wellbeing award share their story

Written by Kim Thomas and Naomi Larrsson on 2 April 2019

CSW speaks to the team of eight civil servants worked together to create an A-Z of health and wellbeing to find out what it takes to win an Civil Service Award

The eight members of Team Chaffinch, the winners of the 2018 Civil Service Award for health and wellbeing, met for the first time in June 2017 at the South East London Junior Leadership Academy, run by Civil Service Local. The event saw participants grouped into teams and asked to work on a 12-month project of their own choosing. Team Chaffinch’s members are Gail Peck, the team’s lead, and a project support lead at HM Revenue and Customs; Louella Ibekwe, the team’s deputy lead, and staff engagement manager at the Insolvency Service; Iona Doherty of HMRC; Rosie Grigalis of the Department for Work and Pensions; Edward Hu of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Koysar Hamid and Christopher Russell of the Home Office; and Ian Pratt of HM Courts and Tribunals Service. They were supported by CS Local facilitator Carol Anderson of the HMRC.

“The beauty of the Academy is that it brings together people from different departments to work on this project, to collaborate and make something really special,” says Ibekwe.

Recognising that wellbeing is a hot topic, the team hit on the idea of creating an A to Z wellbeing toolkit – a resource covering topics ranging from Appreciation to Zzzz (sleep), taking in holidays, nutrition, teambuilding and much else on the way

 “We wanted to have subjects that are fun and informative,” says Peck, but she adds the project has a serious purpose. “We need to ensure that our colleagues are healthy and happy. You need to take care of your wellbeing because that makes you happy to go to work, and that makes the workplace a great place to work,” Peck explains.

Each letter takes up a single slide, and includes a featured activity, a photograph of someone performing it, and a fun fact, as well as useful links to NHS pages, Civil Service Learning resources, or TED talks on YouTube. It was important not to make it too long and complicated, says Ibekwe: “This is meant to be a quick-and-easy toolkit. It can be accessed from work PCs, tablets, laptops and phone.”

The team spent a year researching and putting the toolkit together, all contributing ideas on how they focus on their own wellbeing. In fact, all the individuals and groups featured are civil service colleagues – it’s a toolkit “for civil servants by civil servants”, says Ibekwe. 

Peck’s participation in a Bikram yoga class is featured under Y (yoga), while Lisa Seeley, a member of Ibekwe’s insolvency team, talks about her experience of starting a walking group with colleagues under W (walking). The idea was to make use of existing best practice, says Ibekwe: “Most people have the answers to problems within the civil service – it’s just a case of sharing it.”

Finding an activity for every letter of the alphabet can be tricky, so there is a little rule-stretching in places – X became “detoX from social media”. The team’s favourite slide is D for “deskercise” (exercise that can be performed at one’s desk), featuring the funky chicken activity, which Ibekwe describes as “our trademark”.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with comments such as “Well done, everyone – I think this is a brilliant product” and “I shall share this with my team as it is very useful and the ‘funky chicken exercise’ really brightened up my day!” Its brevity has made it a particular hit with managers, says Ibekwe: “One of the problems before has been that you often have a 40- or 50-page document that people wouldn’t have time to read or engage with.”