workingmums.co.uk speaks to Principality Building Society about the policies and practice that saw it take top place in the Best Workplaces for Women ranking 2022.
What makes for a good place to work if you are a woman? Principality Building Society [PBS] should know as Wales’ largest building society and the sixth largest in the UK was recently ranked top of the UK’s Best Workplaces for Women 2022 by Great Place to Work.
Workingmums.co.uk spoke to Marie Haggett, the company’s Employee Relations Policy and Projects Manager, to find out about how its flexible culture, backed by forward-thinking policies on progression, part-time working and mental health, has contributed to that ranking.
When it comes to flexible working, the building society has recently undergone a huge transformation to move to a fully hybrid way of working in head office, with workers able to choose how, when and where they work . Marie says employees were working flexibly before Covid, but there was not a lot of working from home across the business, for instance, its customer contact departments were heavily office-based. That has all changed. Moreover, employees can request to work flexibly from day one.
Covid and an office refurbishment provided the impetus for the change. PBS commissioned an extensive staff survey on its plans for the refurbishment. Before the transformation, HQ used to have over 800 fixed desks. While it still has capacity for over 700 staff the office has been designed in a very different way, with more collaborative space, fewer formal meeting rooms and more quiet spaces, including a quiet floor where there are multi-faith rooms, wellbeing rooms and no cameras on computers. The floor is used for more focused work and the colour scheme is neutral and calm while the floor is bursting with greenery.
“We thought it through. We realised nothing had gone horribly wrong from working from home during the first part of Covid and that that and refurbishing the office were an opportunity to change to a fully hybrid way of working,” says Marie, who adds that when she is in the office she always lets her team members know where she is sitting so they can find her. Individual teams negotiate the flexible working that suits individuals and the team best. A further survey is underway to allow the business to understand how the hybrid model is working in practice.
All managers have had training related to hybrid and flexible working, covering everything from adopting a flexible mindset based on trust, different ways of working and how to talk to people about what works best for them to proximity bias and being aware of the dangers of blurring the line between work and home life too much.
In the retail business, which was fairly rigid until recently, the company has introduced more flexible working over the last year. In the past workers have had to cover Saturdays, but PBS has brought in Saturday-only workers so that those employees who find Saturdays a challenge can opt out. It has also increased the number of part-time positions available in response to demand. Backing all of this up was a study of footfall and calls at different branches to ensure they are staffed at the level needed. “It was a massive piece of work,” says Marie, “as we had to get the resource in the right places, but everyone has got what they wanted.”
The company, 60% of whose workers are female, has also done a lot of work to improve its gender pay gap and two of its six executive leaders are female, including the CEO. However it is recognised there is more work to be done to build the pipeline.
PBS has also looked at career pathways, acknowledging that some people don’t want to progress – or may not want to progress for now. They have created different tiers of senior consultants in their retail network – so that people can choose to focus on aspects of the job that will support them to further their careers at the pace they want. “Not everyone wants to progress,” says Marie. “People can now feel comfortable saying they don’t want to do a particular course that will take them up to the next level.” She adds that they can always change their mind if their circumstances change.
PBS is currently reviewing its parental leave provision with a view to further enhancing its family friendly policies to be launched next year, which will include neonatal leave.
In 2020 it developed a menopause policy, backed with a menopause champion, which has been well received and means women and men can talk about the menopause openly. Other policies include a baby loss policy brought in last year, five days’ paid carers leave, a daily wellbeing hour and a rejuvenate day on the eighth of every month where people can focus on catching up or reading without the pressure of having to attend meetings.
All of these policies have contributed to PBS’ high engagement scores. Its staff surveys attract large numbers: 93% of staff say management trusts people to do a good job without watching over their shoulders, for instance. Over 800 of its 1,100 staff completed a recent survey on financial wellbeing.
On wellbeing, the company provides support in the form of an employee assistance programme and mental health advocate. Mental health has been a big issue in the last years and senior leaders have spoken openly about the struggles they have faced. PBS has an opt in opt out private medical scheme. People who use it can get help quickly and can self-refer. The company is also currently in the process of getting those trained in mental health support to train managers.
In addition, employees can access a financial support fund where employees can get interest-free loans which they pay back gradually through their salary. To support employees with the cost of living , PBS also gave staff a one-off payment of a thousand pounds in June and Marie says the cost of living crisis is high on the executive agenda.
PBS also holds regular lunch and learn sessions, including one from The Jordan Legacy CIC on suicide which 72 colleagues attended. Suicide has affected employees across the business and the session included useful information for supporting people in the workplace.
In making the submission to Great Place to Work, Lorna Kerr, former Chief People Officer, stated: “We are big enough to have large ambition, but small enough to value, respect and engage everyone as an individual. Although we have been established for over 150 years, we pride ourselves on our progressive environment, which encourages our colleagues to thrive. We are currently on an exciting transformative journey, with a strong vision of a brighter future with continued growth.”