Our people Prioritizing health, well-being and resilience
ABB believes there is a direct link between the physical and mental health of its people and the company’s overall performance
At ABB, we understand that the health, well-being and resilience of our people is critical to our ability to achieve our strategic goals. To this end, we provide them with standards and guidelines on identifying, reporting and managing health risks. ABB’s health programs, which we offer to our people across the world, are built around awareness-raising activities and training focused on general and occupational health issues and concerns. We aim to provide proactive coverage of both risk-related health issues and the task of promoting good health in general.
A year like no other
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we required many of our employees to work remotely; by making physical distancing mandatory, ABB was able to significantly slow down the transmission of the virus at its sites around the world. Remote working and the need to adhere to physical distancing guidelines presented our people with a new set of challenges, however, and we moved swiftly to provide them with guidance, support and tools aimed at assuring their mental health and well-being.
From global pandemic risk assessment tools and home workstation safety guidance to locally run programs and customized approaches, we worked to meet employees' health and well-being needs. At the corporate level, our HSE and HR functions identified a global EAP (employee assistance program) provider for entities based in countries without a local EAP provider.
We achieved our 2020 sustainability target, which was to have at least 70 percent of all ABB employees participating in one or more ABB well-being program. Over the year, 86 percent of our people were covered by an ABB well-being program, an increase of 9 percent over 2019. The top three globally reported programs were voluntary medical checks, mental health and fitness and physical activity.
At present, we require all of our entities to provide employees with a no-smoking policy and access to smoking cessation programs, as well as three other well-being programs. ABB’s well-being programs are designed to give employees the skills, knowledge and self-confidence they need to properly manage their health, quality of work, and productivity. These programs include: healthy nutrition, physical fitness, mental health, vaccinations and infection control, medical checks, good ergonomics and addiction prevention.
Major initiatives in 2020
Over the year, our resilience building program continued to provide support to employees coping with challenges related to the 2019 carve-out of our Power Grids business; this process concluded on June 30, 2020. By the end of 2020, some 7,000 more employees were able to complete the program, many of them via the new version of the course we created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since we began offering resilience training in 2017, more than 55,000 employees in 84 countries have completed our courses. The training has been well received by our employees, who have on average rated it 4.0 and above on a scale of 1–5.
In 2020, we also updated the well-being, resilience and occupational hygiene portions of the health section on ABB’s intranet. In addition, we posted articles on pandemic-related topics on ABB’s social channels. Typical titles included, “Boosting your immune system during the pandemic,” “COVID-19 – dealing with loneliness,” and “Family options during isolation – COVID-19.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the world’s focus on mental health, and we continue to develop programs related to managing work-related stress and the impact of physical distancing requirements. For example, inspired by the unique challenges our employees faced this past year, we have begun to conceptualize a mindfulness meditation program. The program will not only train employees in basic meditation techniques but also will teach managers to understand the importance of the program, recognize the signs and symptoms of employees under too much stress, and take appropriate measures to assist over-stressed employees.
In Q1 2019, ABB released its pandemic management standards, together with supporting risk assessment tools and preparedness checklists. These documents enabled our organization to take swift action when we realized the SARS-CoV2 virus had pandemic potential.
Since the January 2020 outbreak and subsequent lockdown in Wuhan, ABB’s emergency response was carried via corporate, business and country crisis management teams together with representatives from the Health and other functions. From the very beginning, these well-prepared teams delivered the right levels of guidance to the organization. Consequently, ABB was able to continue its critical operations without putting employees at risk of infection.
In addition to the support given to the local crisis team, ABB’s corporate crisis team also produced documents that covered interrupting virus transmission chains, protecting employees, travel restrictions, remote work guidance, case definition and management, disinfection and cleaning protocols, physical distancing, how to use masks within the workplace, testing policies, return to work measures, and guidance on vaccinations.
We also tracked and monitored all potential cases around the globe. This work helped us to limit disruptions in our operations from any cases acquired within the community.
Since 2017, when ABB’s health function started to develop the ABB well-being program, we have derived many valuable lessons that will serve us well in the years ahead.
In the beginning, we required each of ABB’s Business Areas to implement a no-smoking policy and provide employees with access to three well-being programs. While this was effective, we realized that we needed to be able to determine how our program was impacting each business. To this end, by the end of 2020 we had adopted the INTELEX system for collecting program data. Critically, we also required each business to track the cost of the program, monitor participation rates, and determine business-specific objectives and KPIs for their well-being programs. Giving our Business Areas increased responsibility for these programs helped us to exceed our 2020 target.
Based on this experience, next year we will give our Business Areas responsibility for setting their own health and well-being targets. During our past sustainability cycle, the health function determined the participation targets for each business based on their headcount, the number of trainers available to them, and the number of their employees that were trained in the previous year.
In addition, we learned that management collaboration with employees was essential to building the right health program. Facilitating such cooperation brought us closer to our goal: fostering a culture where health is taken into account for all decision-making processes. Based on this lesson, we made such collaboration the core of our 2030 health strategy.
Our 2030 health strategy has three core components: understanding the cost of poor health and how to reduce its occurrence; enhancing employee involvement in creating a sense of their own well-being; and ensuring collaboration between ABB’s functions and Business Areas for the creation of health programs.
We also gained valuable lessons while delivering our resilience awareness trainings. Very early on, we realized that managers provide crucial support for employees and that we could strengthen our resilience program by bringing managers onboard. To this end, we worked to give managers the skills required to identify the early warning signs of a person experiencing emotional distress; we also provided managers with guidance on how to support employees through such periods of difficulty.
Finally, we learned that we needed to give employees and their families ready access to continuous support from a competent EAP provider.