Power up your people

uploaded on 12 April 2021

Student learning from teacher in the classroom

Power up your people

Five organisations share how they responded to the pandemic and what they will do to build resilience and performance for the year ahead

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. This is certainly the case for HR practitioners across the UK who not only had to ensure their people could continue to work through the pandemic but have had to put in place new initiatives which would keep the workforce engaged. We caught up with five organisations to find out what made a difference in the past year and their priorities for 2021.


Jo Bootle, Reward, TSB Bank

“Our top priorities included supporting employees’ health and wellbeing, with managers staying close to their teams, checking how they were managing. We used Yammer, stand-ups with the CEO and Exco, Teams calls and intranet messages to show all employees we’re there for them in these challenging times. We enabled around half of our 7,000 employees, who work across different communities and locations, to continue working from home. Office chairs and monitors could be used to help home set ups, and we encouraged flexible working to juggle work with life. We frequently reassess how employees feel about the ongoing challenges and potential future working arrangements.


To support employee wellbeing, we added the Unmind app to our pre-Covid offering of wellbeing ambassadors, EAP, Wellbeing Hub, and a carers policy of 70 hours paid leave pa. This is all readily accessible and Unmind is now available to a “plus 1” friend or family member for extra support. As a bank our purpose is to increase money confidence for all – so, together with a wealth of information on our Reward and Benefits Hub, we’ve packaged up a wide range of accessible employee resources to support their financial wellbeing. Our recognition offering was relaunched – ‘Spotlight’ which enables peers and managers to give each other social or points-based recognition. Colleagues can use points to purchase a wide range of items from the online brochure. At Christmas, Spotlight was used to gift employees £35 to spend as they wished through the brochure, including donations to charity. With over 95% signed up to the platform, it gives us a great base to support employee engagement across a diverse workforce.


For the year ahead, we’ll use feedback from a recent employee engagement survey to get a clearer idea of the success of the support given so far – and prioritise the employee assistance available for 2021. The pandemic has accelerated new ways of working and how we collaborate. Hybrid working is here to stay, and we’re repurposing office space with this in mind. I can often feel more connected with my manager and wider teams on a screen than I did in the old way of working across different locations. Today, we have an ever more people-oriented and supportive culture – a positive result from a challenging situation. In the latest lockdown we continued to build on our approach from the last lockdown, keeping lines of communication open and supporting employee health and wellbeing. We’re planning the repurposing of office space with future hybrid working in mind.”



Keri Handford, HRD, Cadent Gas

“As suppliers of round-the-clock emergency gas services, our priority is to keep employees and customers safe. Our safety team worked closely with field workers to determine PPE requirements and work in a Covid-safe way. We made the emergency response call centre safe for staff and equipped the rest of the workforce to work from home. Upskilling managers was critical to support new ways of working. Managers shared best practice and advice through a website dedicated to the coronavirus response. Performance management conversations continued virtually via Teams and managers checked in with their teams each day. Looking ahead we want to take forward the positive aspects of flexible working – more time with family, exercise and other productive endeavours, and minimise the downsides – isolation, missing social interaction and collaboration. We are exploring how to create the best of both worlds through the design of our new office in Coventry. We’ll review policy to ensure it supports new ways of working and can be applied equitably across for the entire workforce.


For lockdown 3.0, we have continued to remind people of the support services available to them. We’ve particularly recognised the challenges people have faced with home schooling at this time. We’ve made sure people feel they have permission to be flexible in terms of planning their working day, blocking out time where needed to spend going out for a walk in the daylight or helping children with their school work. Cadent has also made a number of devices available for parents whose children need them to do their school work from home.”



Sue Evans, Interim Director of HR and Organisational Change, West Sussex County Council

“Lockdown began the day I took up this new post and was due to meet my team for the first time. My brief was to lead HR and OD in supporting improvements in the way the council works, delivers services, especially Children’s Services and Fire and Rescue. The cultural change would have to be delivered in step with supporting staff to deliver front line services through the pandemic. HR & OD was central to the emergency response and redeployment of staff and we seized the opportunity to lay the foundations for change. Redeployment enabled us to stop doing business as usual, work out ways to do things better, and develop good working relationships across sectors. We rewrote the people strategy around wellbeing, new values, quality and style of leadership, and a continuous drive to improve performance and develop staff.


Continuous improvement drives transformation so HR & OD ran sessions for middle managers to help them understand how to add and sustain value through reflective practice. We established new ways to lead and manage people in a hybrid workforce and helped managers understand; how to make people feel trusted and empowered to work remotely and flexibly, recognise and praise good work, build resilience, and manage the mental wellbeing of their team. We moved our entire learning portfolio online and encouraged managers to share learning and best practice across the organisation. Conscious that organisations are the shadow of their leaders, the Chief Executive and ELT worked hard to model resilience, trust and authenticity, and to admit in public when things didn’t feel OK. We had to address our own digital hyperactivity in order to tell staff to unplug and switch off from work. I’m proud to have been part of the team in West Sussex throughout lockdown. We have begun the turnaround in children’s services and the Fire and Rescue Service, onboarded a raft of new assistant directors, increased retention and development and improved service delivery. HR & OD needs to make sure it has got the basics right for the organisation to grow back stronger. That means having a robust foundation of policies and practices that support new ways of working, reward and recognise staff so they want to work for you and managing performance to make your organisation a great place to work.”



Matt Davies, Human Resources Director, Target Group

“With the exception of essential services staff, we transferred 1,500 colleagues with the necessary office equipment to work from home. Pre-pandemic, we worked hard with leaders to create an environment for staff to talk openly about mental health. This paid dividends during the pandemic. We doubled our team of mental health first aiders, signposted colleagues to resources, produced a wellbeing guide, and ran live webinars on physical and mental health while working from home. Colleagues requested more human contact, so we reduced email communication in favour of virtual face-to-face communication. Regular town halls with the CEO and directors helped staff to feel connected and informed. Managers were encouraged to check in with staff at least three times a week and host a social activity for fun Friday. Working parents and carers in particular appreciated empathy and understanding from colleagues. When surveyed, 95% of colleagues agreed they had adapted well to working from home.


Intending to run as close to normal as possible, HR continued our focus on D&I, L&D, engagement, and motivation. Leadership behaviours were redefined in light of the pandemic and virtual workshops delivered to strengthen required behaviours. We introduced a new feature, “This Is Me” in our monthly newsletter to help staff understand what makes us diverse; creating inclusion. Peers lifted each other up with a record level of recognition. Our online recognition platform enabled colleagues and clients to call out, recognise and reward a job well done. We were especially pleased that our Best Companies Survey scores continued to rise during lockdown. This year we are looking to strengthen hybrid working practices with tweaks to L&D, governance, meetings, teamworking, and our site strategy. We’ll modernise policies to reflect new ways of working and a more modern tone of voice. Professionally, HR has faced the challenge of a lifetime. It’s been tough but I’m so proud we have shown our capability to transform the business and influence leaders.”



Graeme Mooney, Head of Reward, United Utilities, the North West’s water company 

“As a provider of essential services, our biggest challenge was to support frontline teams to be able to work safely, with all the necessary PPE and training. Office staff were mobilised to work from home and authorised to buy additional kit on expenses, as needed. We also managed to provide the technology in rapid time to allow our contact centre staff to work from home while remaining GDPR compliant.


Along with ensuring we could continue to provide key services, our top priority was the physical and mental wellbeing of all staff, whether they were still working on one of our sites or whether they were now working at home. We recognised that remote workers in particular can feel isolated, so we ran regular pulse surveys to ask how they were feeling, asked team managers to check-in with each team member at least twice a week and expanded our range of mental health and wellbeing resources, information and video updates, whilst expanding our pool of mental health first aiders. Our occupational health partners also produced a video to help home workers avoid back and muscle problems by setting up their home-working space effectively.


Covid has disproportionately impacted health, earnings, and job security in the North West. Conscious of the wider impact on families, we established a financial support scheme to provide employees experiencing severe hardship or bereavement with one-off payments of up to £5,000 per applicant. UU board members donated 20% of their salary for three months to FareShare to fight food poverty in the region, which provided more than 600,000 meals and many staff also generously donated their £25 Christmas gift payment, raising an impressive £40K.


We’re now looking at ways we can work in the future, whether that’s more flexibly or through more efficient use of technology to connect frontline and field-based teams. Our people have demonstrated they can successfully work from home, but unless people switch off at the end of the day, working from home will feel like neo-presenteeism rather than liberation from the office. We have reserved office space for collaborative working and continue to evolve technology to support even greater collaboration irrespective of location. As an HR team we’ve been proud of our contribution to our Covid emergency response. People can see the work we do as being critical to business performance.”

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