The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for food safety and hygiene in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As well as stepping up to help employees manage the cost-of-living crisis, the Food Standards Agency is managing greater responsibilities and an expanding workforce following Brexit.
People Policy and Reward Lead, Paul Moody talks about the challenges this situation poses and the steps his team have taken to solve them.
Expansion leads to new challenges
“Our fundamental mission is food you can trust – that means food that is safe to eat, is what it says it is and is healthier and more sustainable. To fulfil that mission, we employ people in a wide variety of roles. Around a quarter of our workforce is made up of front-line staff who work in meat plants to check that standards are being met. We also have people who work on policy, scientists, vets, environmental health officers, trading standards professionals – even ex-police officers working in our food crime unit.
With such a diverse range of specialist roles, recruitment at any time is a challenge in itself. Following Brexit, we’ve faced new challenges because we’ve had to recruit more people to do jobs that were previously done in the EU. We’ve increased our headcount by around a third.
That means we must now look at the way we approach staff retention in a new light. There’s no guarantee that the new people we have recruited are going to stay with us, unless we give them a competitive well-rounded offering.”
Alongside the challenges related to the FSA’s expansion, Paul and his team are acutely aware of the impact that the rise in cost-of-living is having on employees.
“Our people know that we can’t raise salary outside of annual pay reviews, and that there’s only so much that’s under our control. Naturally, we wanted to do all that we can to help, so we needed to look immediately at what else we could do to support our people and keep them engaged.
We were also mindful that some of the roles we’ve recruited for recently are in demand. Not just across the public sector, but in the private sector too where pay is usually higher. We have very good pensions of course, which are a major plus factor, but we also needed to look at what we can do now.”
Revaluating the employee offering, rejuvenating benefits
To tackle the challenges that it faces, the FSA has re-evaluated its Employee Value Proposition. Paul continues, “We’ve looked at what our career development is like and re-evaluated our way of working and what people want today. We now have people coming to us from other government departments because they like the way we work and the flexibility we provide. In some places, hybrid for desk-based workers is non contractual. We formalised things so we offer home contracts from day one – you’re contracted to work from home – and we make it clear we’re interested in outcomes, not clock watching.
By far the biggest impact on staff engagement though – and indeed support for the cost-of-living – has come from our focus on rejuvenating our employee benefits offering.
When the cost-of-living crisis first started, we asked people what might help. It became apparent that we already offered much of what they were asking for through the discounts and savings we provide through Edenred. The problem was that people simply weren’t aware of what we offered, to the extent that less than 50% of our people were using the scheme.
So first we ramped up communications around our benefits, including tailored communication for field workers, clearer information on the intranet and a big push on the Edenred Savings app.
Engagement with our benefits soon rose sharply as a result. However, the most impressive impact came when we launched Enhanced Discounts, an additional scheme from Edenred which we paid for which gives employees even greater savings on their daily shopping and many other bigger purchases.
Another thing we’ve done is shift from providing cash payments for reward and recognition, to vouchers through Edenred. This allows for real-time recognition and the vouchers are not subsumed within monthly pay as a cash award would be. It’s another small step we’ve taken to provide more help, but it all adds up and people appreciate that.”
The results since the FSA launched Enhanced Discounts have been dramatic. The number of FSA employees who use the benefits has now risen to 70% of the workforce. Spend has increased too. In the period for January to April 2023, orders totalled just under £100k compared to £14k in the same period in 2022 – an increase of over 600%.
Reflecting on this success Paul says:
“Benefits and discounts aren’t everything. They can’t compensate for a pay deal that might be lower than that was hoped for. But what we have been able to do is raise awareness, and then drive usage and engagement through a valued offering that can save people hundreds of pounds a year if they take advantage of it.
In light of the cost-of-living crisis, and our need to keep engagement levels up in a competitive job market, these benefits have received very positive feedback from employees and have become an increasingly significant part of our overall employee offering that helps to drive retention, recruitment and wellbeing.
In the next few years, we’re likely to see a number of our employees retire, so it’s vital that we now keep up the momentum with an employee offer that will attract new, people to join us.”