Leading for a positive health, safety and wellbeing culture

Worldwide, there are around 340 million occupational accidents and 160 million victims of work-related illnesses annually.

We believe that accidents are preventable and have committed to embracing a zero harm mindset. We believe the best way to do this is by creating a culture of safety where injuries and ill health are avoided.
In recognition of 28 April 2022 being World Day for Safety & Health at Work, we caught up with two global leaders at Sodexo – Region Chair, Asia Pacific and Middle East & Africa, Johnpaul Dimech and Chief HR Officer, Annick de Vanssay – to understand more about the importance of a positive health safety and wellbeing culture and the commitment being made to improve health and safety performance across the business.

How would you describe the health, safety and wellbeing culture at Sodexo?

Johnpaul Dimech, Region Chair, Asia Pacific and Middle East & Africa

Johnpaul: The culture at Sodexo has evolved significantly over recent years and, as a result, so too has our performance. We’ve dedicated a lot of effort into shifting the culture in order to change behaviours around health, safety and wellbeing and inspire more of a mindset of how we can continuously improve and make Sodexo a safer place to work for our people.

In the past, our approach was inconsistent and, while some parts of our business were flying the flag for best practices in health and safety, others were less mature and the reporting of near misses, for example, was not something we did consistently. Through a company-wide effort over a number of years, we now see greater consistency in our approach and a much more positive health, safety and wellbeing culture, which we continue to nourish.

Annick: One of the key factors in supporting a positive health, safety and wellbeing culture is creating an environment in which our teams feel comfortable calling out behaviours which are unsafe and raising their hand if they feel they do not have the right training, equipment, know-how or environment in which to do their job safely.

We can influence that culture and work environment through strong leadership and trust, giving our leaders the skills they need to engage their teams and have conversations about important issues such as health and safety. A positive health, safety and wellbeing culture is something that needs to be achieved through collective effort across all parts of the business. It requires transparency, trust, empowerment, accountability and collaboration; it cannot be achieved through a “carrot and stick” mentality.

Why is a positive health, safety and wellbeing culture so important for Sodexo’s business?

Annick: Sodexo is a service business and our most important asset is our people and, therefore, we must protect them, invest in them and support them in a way that enables them to do their job as effectively, efficiently and as safely as possible.

As part of our focus on people, we have to make sure that their workplace experience is the best it can be; we want our teams to feel engaged and happy in their work in order to deliver the best services to our clients and consumers. Having a positive health, safety and wellbeing culture is fundamental to our employee experience. It is non-negotiable.

Johnpaul: Like all businesses, we have ambitions to grow. A positive health, safety and wellbeing culture helps us to give our clients confidence in our ability to deliver multiple integrated services in a way that protects the safety of our employees and our clients’ consumers.

Again, it’s about building trust, inspiring confidence and, in many cases, accompanying our clients on their own journey around health, safety and wellbeing improvements.

What actions do you put in place to support health, safety and wellbeing at Sodexo?

Annick de Vanssay, Chief HR Officer

Annick: First and foremost, we provide our teams with the training they need to do their job safely. Secondly, we recognise best practice and highlight the stories that showcase teams taking positive steps towards improving health, safety and wellbeing. Thirdly, and we’ve already reference it, we support our leaders to inspire an open and transparent culture in which people feel empowered to raise concerns about health, safety and wellbeing.

More concretely, every meeting at Sodexo begins with a safety moment, which means the topic is always on the agenda. The same is true whether we’re talking about a team meeting between a site manager and their team on a client site or an executive committee meeting with the global CEO. The commitment to health, safety and wellbeing is global and is relevant to everybody in our business.

Johnpaul: A key focus of our actions is centred around our three checks for safety, which have become something of a mantra at Sodexo… Do I know how to do the job? Do I have the right equipment? Is my environment safe? I am confident that if you asked any one of our 400,000 employees across our global business, they would be able to recite that mantra! It’s simple, it’s memorable, it’s relevant and it’s consistently applied across Sodexo.

As well as focusing on our frontline teams, we’ve also deployed actions to ensure our leaders lead by example, have safety conversations with their teams and recognise positive health, safety and wellbeing practices. Through simple actions, such as regular safety walks performed by our leaders, we can address all of these areas and make health, safety and wellbeing a part of our culture rather than just an audit of our performance.

What are you doing at Sodexo to drive further progress around health, safety and wellbeing and what is your personal commitment as a leader at Sodexo?

Johnpaul: While we recognise we’ve made huge improvements over recent years, we acknowledge that we’re on a journey and we have to do more to achieve our zero harm ambition. Health, safety and wellbeing is a global topic. We have a global strategy and action plan, which includes clear actions around leadership, culture and behaviours, training and awareness, and communications. 

The strategy and plan may be global, but it’s on the ground in our operations where we can make a real difference, which is why I personally commit to ensuring we translate the global plan into regional and country actions that can be successfully deployed by our teams. 

Annick: Our leaders play a critical role in influencing the culture of our organisation and impacting the workplace experience of our employees. As JP says, among our global actions, we are focused on leadership. That means making our leaders accountable for tracking health and safety performance; praising, encouraging, promoting and rewarding good practice, while engaging their teams to find solutions to improve health, safety and wellbeing; and, of course, fostering a positive health, safety and wellbeing culture by demonstrating personal commitment and leading by example.

The HR function at Sodexo – and me personally as the leader of the function – has an important part to play in supporting our employees with appropriate training; helping our leaders to become safety ambassadors; and inspiring the ongoing cultural shift needed to achieve zero harm.

Find out more about... our health and safety culture