Case Study: Kilmarnock

Return to workplaces page

Health and wellbeing is an intrinsic part of the culture at one Canterbury social enterprise.

Kilmarnock chief executive Michelle Sharp says wellbeing in the workplace starts with creating and encouraging a fun and open culture, where staff respect each other, and their differences.

The sign on Michelle’s office door is indicative of the very culture she has helped to create at Kilmarnock.

‘Ministry of Happiness, Cackling and Bouncing,’ it reads, before announcing Michelle as the organisation’s designated Happiness Minister.  

“For me, health and wellbeing is about people feeling they can bring their whole self to work, so they’re basically being allowed to be who they are.”

“We acknowledge that we are all different, and you should be able to participate in whatever way you feel comfortable.”

Kilmarnock is an organisation “in the business of changing attitudes about disability”.

The social enterprise provides employment and further education for people with disabilities.

“Health and wellbeing is integral to everything we do,” says Michelle.

In her office, five posters are pinned to the wall, each outlining a different ‘enabler’.

One of the organisation’s strategic enablers is focussed on health and wellbeing, meaning nothing is left to chance.

“Everything we do around that is very deliberate.”

Their intensive and fun annual programme, broken down into monthly themes, includes community participation and education activities for all staff. 

“It’s about making sure that in every layer of our culture it’s absolutely embedded.”

As an employer, Sharp provides education opportunities that allow her staff to make really good choices.

“If you’re healthy physically, you’re going to feel so much better mentally, as we all know.”

Training and wellness manager Marionette Chaney is tasked with educating staff on health and wellbeing and encouraging participation in the activities each month.

Employees gain credits for achieving their goals and work towards certificates.

“The effort they put in is just amazing. It’s become part of what we do.”

Marionette is passionate about helping staff to live a good life, and change any bad habits.

“We are one big happy family and we are there to support each other. So if you’re feeling down or upset, something outside of work happened, you don’t have an on and off switch, so if you need to talk, we are here. We like to encourage each other and just be there.”

Road and cyber safety, budgeting, hygiene practises, yoga and junk-free stints, have all been part of their health and wellbeing programme.

Meanwhile, food education has seen a huge shift in attitudes, with staff collectively voting to get rid of a fizzy drink vending machine in the cafeteria. At break times, mandarins, kiwi fruit and water are now commonplace.

Michelle says it is encouraging that many organisations are now stepping up to make wellbeing a priority in the workplace.

“It should be seen as an investment in your people. We’re so used to investing in IT and processes, why shouldn’t we invest in health and wellbeing as organisations?”

“Our people are our best asset, our biggest asset and by investing in health and wellbeing we see dramatic changes.”

“And people who are happy are more likely to get out of bed in the morning, so the rewards are endless.”

Sharp says if a person is happy in every area of their life, this is the person they will bring to work.

“We see it as clearly an investment of our social side but also an investment in our business growth.”

When Kilmarnock started placing a focus on wellbeing in 2016, they reaped the rewards and continue to do so today.

“We are a far more inclusive and accepting workplace than we ever have been before,” says Michelle.

Attendance is at its highest, with less sickness and happy staff.

Kilmarnock’s holistic approach to wellbeing is also giving young employees the skills, confidence and attitude needed to move in to the mainstream workforce - a place that many never expected to end up.