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Leading a team producing a demanding festival in a challenging environment, Catherine Groom thinks developing and formalising a health and wellbeing policy is essential.

Keioui Keijaun Thomas, My Last American Dollar (Fierce 2019)

Manuel Vason

Writing an employee Health and Wellbeing policy had been on the to do list at Fierce since we published our accountability page in 2020. In the middle of Covid, following the death of George Floyd and considering the numerous struggles for liberation reaching the mainstream, we wanted to reflect on our internal practices and ensure the events of that year would be a catalyst for permanent change. 

The world has become an undeniably worse place since 2020 and that takes its toll on people, so in our recent review of policies we thought health and wellbeing should be a priority. 

As part of the policy’s development, we shared a draft with our board who in turn encouraged us to share it more widely. There will be things we have missed, of course, but we wanted to open up the thinking and practice that has informed its creation to be of use to others in the sector. 

Normalising the conversation around health and wellbeing

We began by consulting sector and non-sector colleagues, reading existing policies shared by friends at MAYK and those available on the increasingly useful RadHR platform.

As with all our policies, the Health and Wellbeing one leads with an explanation of how our values of Trust, Rigour, Disruption and Joy are relevant - just one of the ways we ensure our values inform our work. The policy was also informed by our practice, the nature of the team and artists we work with. We also considered the barriers our staff face, which came up in our regular team check-ins. 

The contexts we work in are also important. Producing a festival means there are times when work is much more stressful and workload increases, so this has informed the policy. We have also tested it to ensure it works under the pressures of festival delivery. 

To build access into our working culture and to prioritise employee health and wellbeing, we began with communication, to ensure everyone feels comfortable talking about it. We have normalised this conversation by starting all meetings with personal check-ins, starting appraisals with specific wellbeing questions and encouraging people to share access documents or disclose the barriers they face – after we have made an offer of employment. 

Person-centred methods of support

These are written into the policy as communication is central to the viability of the policy. For example, we respect people’s boundaries but understand these will be different for individuals. Some may prefer not to be part of a WhatsApp group or not to respond to messages out of hours. For others, checking messages when away makes them feel less overwhelmed on return. 

Communication around boundaries is essential to being able to adapt and respect how this is experienced by different people. Employees need to feel comfortable to say, for example, when they feel unable to work on a project because of the nature of the content, or if they are unable to do a physical task, or if they are finding festival working particularly stressful. All these examples are named in the policy, requiring us to consider person-centred, individual solutions. 

We have also developed other person-centred methods of support for inclusion in the policy. As we have experience writing Access to Work applications and other access documents, we are happy to support new and existing staff to do this. 

In addition, our policy states that we will follow the lead of any staff affected by external triggers, including suppliers who may not uphold the same high standards, and support them to deal with these situations in whatever way works best for them. 

A dynamic document under continual review

There are elements of the policy that are standard, recognising that everyone has to manage poor mental and/or physical health at some point in their lives. Having structures in place means people don’t have to make any disclosures they are uncomfortable with. 

Again, this starts with communication. We are clear about payment terms and do not use overly complicated language. Support ranges from an Employee Assistance Programme to offering additional time off following the intensity of the festival, to making our office as accessible and comfortable as possible. 

Our policy formalises the work we have been doing on employee health and wellbeing over more than four years. The language we use and the elements we include reflect the ways Fierce speaks about and addresses health and wellbeing. 

We know it isn’t perfect, but it is a living document and, as a dynamic part of our accountability work, it will be reviewed and adapted to remain relevant to the current workforce and the contexts we work in. It will change as the staff change, the organisation changes and the world around us changes. 

Catherine Groom is Co-Director at Fierce.

You can access Fierce’s Employee Health and Wellbeing Policy here

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Headshot of Catherine Groom