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Engaging with our staff

We understand the importance of connecting, conversing with, and congratulating our staff.  To understand how employees feel about our business, we conduct annual employee engagement surveys across the head office population and all of our distribution centres, and are extending these to our Travel and High Street store management population. The surveys aim to understand employee views on learning opportunities, team working, our working environment and how we manage employee health and wellbeing. The results are reviewed and shared with all staff, and actions are agreed to respond to specific points of feedback.

We have a number of different ways of engaging and communicating with our employees on a regular basis. Each team elects departmental representatives to attend our employee forum which meets quarterly in our London and Swindon offices. The forum provides an opportunity for employees to discuss different issues and for sharing ideas about how to make the office a better place to work. The senior leadership team holds quarterly employee briefings to update employees on business strategy, and we also hold regular team briefings across the business. Further information is disseminated through weekly e-newsletters and the intranet. All of these engagement channels provide opportunities to update staff on the Company’s performance, to celebrate and recognise success and to provide a mechanism for staff to raise issues and ask questions.

Our weekly ‘Hall of Fame’ gives employees a chance to highlight and show appreciation for their peers’ successes and hard work when a colleague has gone the extra mile. A short description of why the colleague is appreciated is disseminated in a Hall of Fame e-newsletter. We also have an employee recognition scheme, Shining Stars, which takes place in both our Travel and High Street businesses, and where each department nominates and votes for their team’s ’Shining Star’. This year 37 employees received Shining Stars awards and celebrated with the senior management team and head office population. We also celebrate the achievements of our store staff as they work hard to deliver our business plans and strategies. We operate an Annual Store Awards programme, which includes Most Improved Store, Store of the Year, Store Manager of the Year, Regional Manager of the Year and a Special Recognition Award.

Valuing our people

One of the key points of feedback from our employee engagement surveys continues to be the importance of work-life balance to our employees. We have a number of initiatives to promote flexible working, with line managers encouraged to consider requests for flexible working hours and home working. All head office employees are able to leave work at 4pm on Fridays, and they also receive an extra day’s holiday on their birthday.

Other initiatives to promote better work-life balance include our ‘School Starter’ scheme which grants working parents half a day’s paid leave to take their child to their first day at school, phased retirement plans to allow employees to voluntarily reduce their working hours as their retirement date approaches and ‘V-Time Working’ which enables employees to voluntarily reduce their working hours for a defined period, to cope with life-changing events and in doing so reduce the levels of stress they face.

Making a commitment to mental health across the organisation

At WHSmith we believe that it is just as important to support our colleagues’ mental wellbeing as it is to look after their physical wellbeing. Our strategy is led from the top, with our CEO, Stephen Clarke, signing the Time to Change pledge in February 2017 at an event attended by over 200 employees, many of whom also signed their own pledge. As part of this event, we were delighted when Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change, described the WHSmith mental wellbeing plan as a ‘blueprint’ for other retailers.

Our mental wellbeing strategy is underpinned by two partnerships with specialist mental health organisations: we work with Time to Change to raise awareness of mental health issues and the associated stigma among employees; and with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England to provide training on how to support mental health in the workplace.

On World Mental Health Day in July 2016, WHSmith made a pledge to have as many mental health first aiders as physical health first aiders and to train all line and store managers to be mental health aware.  Having worked closely with MHFA England to create a tailored approach to delivering the training to suit the nature of our business, we now have six instructors qualified by MHFA to deliver the training and have achieved our target of matching the same number of mental health first aiders as physical health first aiders across the business. Training for line and store managers is well progressed with over 90 per cent of office line managers trained as well as the vast majority of store managers.

The training helps our Mental Health First Aiders to develop a number of skills, which they can then use to support their colleagues, including:

• An in-depth understanding of mental health and the factors that can affect wellbeing
• Practical skills to spot the triggers and signs of mental health issues
• Confidence to step in, reassure and support a person in distress
• Enhanced interpersonal skills such as non-judgmental listening
• Knowledge to help someone recover their health by guiding them to further support - whether through self-help resources, us as their employer, the NHS, or a mix of support facilities.

We are implementing awareness-raising which is tailored to each area of the business. This includes briefings by our MHFA instructors and First Aiders, some of whom have shared their personal experiences, talks by guest speakers from MIND and Place2Be and the introduction of wellbeing posters in our stores and distribution centres. The posters include information on the freephone anonymous 24/7 support line provided for all employees, as well as contact details for the First Aiders in each region, information on the WHSmith Benevolent Fund, which provides help in times of hardship, and the anti-bullying Speak Up line.

We are now in the early stages of measuring the impact of training and awareness-raising, with encouraging signs so far - a material reduction in the stigma associated with reporting an absence as one due to mental ill health, and a significant increase in take up of support services. We are continuing to look at better ways of reporting and analysing absence data and First Aider incidents.

Finally, our ongoing work with Place2Be on the promotion of free resources for our employees to share with local schools to support Children’s Mental Health Week each February complements our mental wellbeing strategy. The objective is to encourage employees to think about mental health in a positive way and take steps to make a difference in the lives of children who they have a connection with. As part of the project, primary and secondary schools receive an email about the event and this is also communicated to all WHSmith employees to encourage as much engagement as possible.

Although we are extremely proud of the progress we have made at WHSmith, we know there is still much more work to do, including making sure that we keep our First Aiders’ training up to date with refresher courses, reviewing aspects of our culture which can be changed to better promote mental wellbeing, and progressing options such as e-learning to extend the training to an even larger number of employees.

Another way in which we provide support and assistance to current and retired employees is through the WHSmith Benevolent Fund. The WHSmith Benevolent Fund is a registered charity which was established by Lord Hambledon in 1925 for the benefit of current and retired employees of WHSmith and their families who are in financial difficulty or hardship and in need. The Fund awards cash grants to help alleviate cases of hardship, grants for mobility scooters, stairlifts and other mobility aids, and also provides care breaks and recuperative holidays. Over the last decade, the Benevolent Fund has made grants to serving and retired staff members and their families in excess of £1 million.

We want to ensure that our employees have a way of speaking out if there is a problem at work. Our ‘Speak Up’ line is a confidential telephone line which employees can call if they have a concern about something or someone within the business. Issues raised on this line are escalated to senior management where appropriate.