Dan HardingDan HardingMay 22, 2018


Let’s set the scene: you’ve just pulled up to the offices of the client you have your morning meeting with. You make your way to the building’s entrance, only to be greeted by an eerily deserted lobby with an unmanned reception and an old tattered guest sign in book.

No instructions, no direction, and more importantly, no idea what to do or where to go next. Unfortunately, this scenario is more common than not. With meetings taking up an average of 17, 470 hours over the course of an employee’s career, it’s no wonder that people are less than impressed with a welcome from an abandoned foyer and a dusty sign-in book. But visitor satisfaction isn’t the only aspect businesses should be worried about when it comes to this scenario.

With GDPR coming into effect as of May 25, if your business still utilises the traditional book and pen, your GDPR compliance stops before anyone can even make it past the lobby.

Having all your visitors’ data sitting at your unmanned front desk for the world to see is no longer an option for businesses. With strict regulations in place regarding what data businesses can obtain and store from customers and for how long, having years’ worth of names, contact details, and guest preferences at your fingertips, is just no longer viable. And what happens if that data sitting on your unmanned reception desk ends up in the wrong hands?

Businesses often take a siloed approach when it comes to visitor data gathering. Those in finance may want bank details, those in IT may want account log-ins, and receptionists may want car registrations. And it all has to be GDPR compliant. So, how can businesses effectively provide a seamless and detailed sign-in process for visitors whilst also being GDPR compliant?

The visitor experience

A guest sign-in book is what most UK employees are welcomed with when visiting a business’ premises. But what about first impressions? And second and third impressions for that matter? How do visitors know where to go once they’ve signed in if you don’t have a receptionist? Do they need a badge to proceed? What if they need to sign your data policy or an NDA prior to progression?

Many of us are guilty of making snap judgements when walking onto a company’s premises, but if your visitor is uneasy the second they step through the door, you’re already starting at a disadvantage, and the real question is – is it worth the risk? You’d never expect not to be directed upon entering a hotel, so why should a visitor to your company expect anything less?

The solution

What many businesses are unaware of, is that both the GDPR and visitor experience aspects can be tackled with innovative technology, and the deployment of electronic visitor management solutions is key. There are now numerous smart solutions to streamline the visitor sign in process with GDPR readiness already built in, so there’s really no excuse for non-compliance.

So, let’s set the scene again. You’ve just pulled up to the offices at which you’re having your morning meeting. You make your way to the building’s entrance, only to be greeted by an eerily deserted lobby with an unmanned reception. But instead of signing an old dusty guest book and fumbling around to find out where you’re meant to be heading next, you notice a screen displaying the name of the business you have your meeting with.

So, you walk over and follow the on-screen prompts to sign in. You then enter your car registration, contact details, and sign the necessary documents on screen, it then takes a photo of you and prints an identification badge simultaneously as you follow the directions on screen to get to the correct floor and meeting room you require. Meanwhile, your hosts have already been informed you have arrived, and are already on their way to greet you.

Not only is this visitor experience seamless, it’s personal. Guest information is preloaded into the solution prior to arrival and what’s more, the solution is GDPR ready.

It’s time to bring the visitor experience in line with the technology available.

Paul AinsworthPaul AinsworthMay 18, 2018


Some of the best businesses in the UK to work for have been honoured at the 2018 UK Employee Experience Awards.

Taking place in the heart of London at the Park Plaza hotel overlooking the Thames, the spectacular day-long event saw the winners of 22 categories take to the stage following a morning of detailed presentations before expert judging panels.

Firms, including some of the best-known brands in the UK, outlined strategies and initiatives that lead to high staff satisfaction and retention rates, and explained how this translated into customer satisfaction and even boosted profits.

Attendees also enjoyed a day of networking opportunities and met with representatives from the event’s influential partners. This year, they included employment engagement specialists Benefex; global professional services provider FDM; Cranfield School of Management; Therapy Solutions; and the new venture from awards judge Donna O’Toole, August: The Awards Consultancy, the world’s first online course designed to help firms win awards and significantly raise their profile.

Meanwhile, also partnering the awards was The World Employee Experience Institute, and its founder Ben Whitter, AKA Mr Employee Experience himself, met with finalists throughout the day and also took to the stage during the gala ceremony to share valuable insights.

The event was also sponsored by children’s charity Barnardo’s, which outlined to attendees their amazing work in rescuing victims of child sexual exploitation.

The highlight of the day was the award presentations, which saw wholesalers Bidfood UK take home the coveted Overall Winner title after an outstanding victory in the Team of the Year category.

Other notable success stories includes London’s Jubilee Street Practice, which won Overall Best Employee Engagement, and the Holly Private Hospital in Essex, which won an amazing three category titles: Employee Engagement – Values & Strategy; Reward & Recognition; and Talent Management.

Speaking with Customer Experience Magazine, Ben Whitter said:

“Employee Experience is one of the most important aspects of business in the UK, and this event is the premier celebration of that.

“I have heard of some truly amazing EX initiatives in the run-up to today’s event, and I was lucky enough to tour the HQ of finalists to see for myself exactly why they deserve to be here today competing for these titles. They are all raising the standard for other businesses and I salute each and every one of them.”

Meanwhile, Matt Nathanielsz of Benefex added:

“EX is a massive trend in industries after years of being overlooked and undervalued. It’s great to see so many companies making the experience for their employees so special.”

Judges were also “hugely impressed” with the presentations. Judging Chairperson Hina Sharma, Head of Communications with Pitney Bowes UK, said:

“What was most impressive for me and many of the judges was how the finalists linked their employee engagement initiatives to overall business success. That standard of entries was exceptional. Well done to all who entered.”

Neil Skehel, CEO of hosts Awards International, added:

“It was fantastic to see so many inspiring companies who are leading the way in effective employee experience. Congratulations and thank you to all of our finalists, winners, and judges. See you again next year.”

Employee Engagement – Recognition & WellbeingStaysure

Employee Engagement – Growth by Design – Startle

Diversity & Inclusion –  Sky

Employee Engagement – Values & Strategy – The Holly Private Hospital

Employee Engagement – Transforming through EX – Jubilee Street Practice

Employee Engagement – EX Design – Manpower Group

Health & Wellbeing – Let’s get healthy

Insight & Feedback – Sparks Grove and FCA

Learning & Development – BT Business and Blue Sky

Reward & Recognition – The Holly Private Hospital

Talent Management – The Holly Private Hospital

Innovation in Recruitment – Marketing VF

Business Transformation & Managing Change – Homeserve

Organisational Development – BT Business and Blue Sky

Thought Leader in Employee Experience – Rebecca Robinson, Sparks Grove

SME – The Holly Private Hospital

Technology for Productivity – LifeWorks

Agency of the Year – Manpower Group

Leader in Employee Experience – Marketing VF

Team of the Year – Bidfood UK

Overall Best Employee Engagement – Jubilee Street Practice

Overall Winner – Bidfood UK

Cliff EttridgeCliff EttridgeMay 18, 2018


The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey says it clearly: “Millennials feel that most businesses have no ambition beyond profit.” 

The report also says that millennials consider businesses to be underperforming by 10 percentage points at improving livelihoods and underperforming by 12 percentage points on social/environmental benefit.

In Deloitte’s report, which saw repeating trends from previous years, millennials listed five preference areas when it came to considering a new employer: fair salaries; being a great place to work; skills development; work that makes a difference; and sustainable job creation. The word ‘purpose’ is not explicitly called out here, although it is intimated. So, what is meant by purpose? More importantly, what do employees think it means?

Take a look at Universum’s report into the World’s Most Attractive Employers for 2017 and what they see as being important to employees: work/life balance; security; working globally; being challenged; and doing something for the greater good – with circa 30 percent of employees citing the latter as something they are looking for in an employer. But note that figure. It’s just one-in-three.

And who comes top as the company that employees tell Universum they’d like to work for? Google. A brand that has – alongside Facebook – faced intense media scrutiny for its ability to manage the data of its customers online and the content which it shares. Criticisms which are not just recent, they have been in public view for a good few years. The brand that said ‘do no evil’, has now shifted its position to being the world’s repository for knowledge. Perhaps because ‘do no evil’ read in too many minds as ‘do good’.

And this brings us to the LinkedIn Global Talent survey, which records just 24 percent of candidates seeing a brand’s purpose as an important factor when considering a new role. At the top of the list sits the culture and values of a business and the job role. And here we get to the nub of the issue. Fulfilment comes from doing a good job.

In conversation with a client recently, they cited their own research into purpose with customers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, just a third of their customers – people like you and I – saw social purpose as an important factor. Instead, they just wanted products and services that worked; that surprised and delighted them because they worked well.

Purpose or social purpose? I think we too often let the latter – the altruistic purpose – cloud our judgment. It results in what my colleague Dan Dufour would refer to as purpose washing. Yes, it is important for brands to ‘do no evil’, but ultimately for organisations, giving employees purpose is about giving them meaningful goals. This in turn improves what the psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi refers to as ‘flow’, that state of intense absorption where we focus fully upon what we are doing.

Purpose is important to your employer brand, but that purpose can be simple, self-contained. Think carefully about how you bring purpose to life in your brand.

For more information on employer brand and employee engagement thinking visit The Team’s Employee Engagement pages, or connect via LinkedIn directly.

James LeeJames LeeMay 15, 2018


The widespread adoption of mobile and cloud technologies are ‘consumerising’ Digital Experience within the enterprise and driving the reinvention of business.

Organisations in every sector are benefitting from, and seeking to take advantage of, new technologies and models that were developed in the consumer space, rather than in the enterprise sector.

It’s changing the way we work. This ‘digital dexterity’ is driven by information intensity and the desire to share and collaborate. We’re all used to an on demand experience in our personal lives – we order a movie on Netflix, it plays immediately; we order a taxi on Uber, it arrives within minutes; we order food on Deliveroo, or an item on Amazon, and both will arrive within the hour.

Many of these services learn from our interactions to deliver a more relevant and appropriate experience, and this is something we’re coming to expect from every interaction with technology. According to Accenture, by 2020, 51 percent of consumers and 75 percent of business buyers expect companies to anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions.

So why should the tools and services we use in the workplace be any different? Employees want to be connected with their colleagues and processes across multiple devices during their workdays. Workers expect enterprise tools for searching, sharing, and consuming information to be as ‘smart’ and compelling as those they use in their personal lives. They want information and analytics to be contextualised, based on their work, and delivered when they need it. In short, they want to be enriched.

Yet Human Resources is one sector that has fallen behind in terms of adoption of consumer grade technology. Despite being the part of the organisation that deals with people, it’s also the part that’s most affected by legacy systems and processes. HR professionals are often working with outdated tools and information that lacks context, as well as being targeted on ‘keeping the boat steady’, rather than driving change.

But the digital workplace offers significant potential for organisations strategically prepared to re-engineer processes around how employees currently work and engage each other. Organisations need to take advantage of interconnected trends that Gartner identifies as the ‘four factors in the Nexus of Forces’ – mobile, social, cloud, and information – which reinforce the digital workplace with a sense of responsibility for all stakeholders: consumers, the workforce, shareholders, communities, and the environment.

Work is no longer somewhere you go, it’s something you do at a time and on a device that is most appropriate to you in the moment. With the work-life balance becoming ever more important, it is incumbent on employers to proactively maintain the health and happiness of their employees. But to do that, HR professionals need the right tools and so do the employees. For example, an increasingly remote or mobile workforce struggles to feel a sense of community without social interaction and recognition.

Legacy HR tools are equivalent to an itemised phone bill – they deliver information but they don’t tell HR professionals the full story, because the tools often exist in silos. Many organisations will claim to have a well-being strategy, but it is one that has evolved piecemeal, with a benefits tool and an EAP in separate systems that don’t talk to each other.

Wellbeing needs to be delivered as a holistic approach, covering physical, emotional, personal, financial, and professional wellness, because all elements are interlinked. As the World Health Organisation defines it, health is “the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of diseases or infirmity.”

So, with the consumerisation of employee benefits, instead of rigid organisation-oriented offerings, the focus shifts to the individual employee. This allows each employee to customise their own experience with personally relevant benefits and make the maintenance of their own well-being more convenient.

By consumerising employee well-being, employees have the freedom to evaluate and choose their own benefits – using employer-provided money. It makes sense for both parties that the money spent on the employees is spent to the benefit of the recipients. This is where LifeWorks sits – at the intersection of the people and the business solution. And what’s more, a healthy and happy workforce can help companies save money and turn a profit.

So be aware that consumerisation is coming and it’s not a ‘strategy’ or something to be ‘adopted’. As Gartner says, consumerisation can be embraced and it must be dealt with, but it cannot be stopped. It will also become so entrenched within business that employees will gravitate towards employers that offer the best well-being experience and away from those that are lacking.

Ben WhitterBen WhitterMay 14, 2018


Ben Whitter is known as Mr Employee Experience in business circles, and his role as a global Employee Experience (EX) leader brings him into contact with many companies keen to improve how they accommodate their most important resource – their staff.
He is also the CEO and Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute, which is partnering the 2018 Employee Experience Awards. As part of an exciting new blog series exclusive to Customer Experience Magazine, Ben is touring the headquarters of awards finalists to uncover and highlight what makes them EX pioneers…


The weekend before I visited the IGNIS HQ in Fulham, the whole team were in New York for a team experience – a great example to begin with when describing the exceptional Employee Experience on offer within this ambitious marketing agency.

On arrival, I was offered a personalised welcome, a Virtual Reality presentation of IGNIS staff members’ award-winning work with clients, and popcorn!

IGNIS is an organisation that shares my own philosophy: experience is everything! This shines a bright light through their entire business strategy – from the way they work with clients to the way they intentionally develop the experience of work for their own staff.

Valuing values

As a growing company, the team recognised that a major factor to enable continued success was to double-down on the core values of the business whilst developing aligned experiences for their new and existing staff. It was this fusion of values and experiences that had a profound impact on the business.

Two measures that matter most to companies are profit and earnings. The EX at IGNIS has been cited as the key factor in a 17 percent rise in gross profit in 2017. The organisation has also won a number of prestigious creative and financial awards. EX has delivered incredible results, no question, but what were these experiences and how did IGNIS deliver what I’m calling ‘Growth by Design’?

The ‘IGN-itiative’ platform was developed to enhance and elevate the experience of work at the firm. The kick-off was the ‘Iglympics’, an unashamed “school sports day meets Bake-Off”, which was further developed to include their Ugandan charity partner, EaC, with the ‘Ign-athon’, a 10k annual fundraising run held alongside other cultural events.

The culmination is their bi-annual trip to Uganda to build a cattle-shed and teach in schools. I also enjoyed hearing about their ‘Virtual Fridays’ concept, which actually takes place on Thursday! This is a global digital meeting for colleagues around the world to share, create, and interact. Another example of this bond-building (and one that actually does take place on a Thursday) is their legendary ‘Thirsty Thursdays’ – a regular get-together of the team to have fun in different ways.

These events are consciously and thoughtfully designed to connect people with purpose, and to unlock the power of this community of colleagues and friends. They bring people together to work and learn together in an environment that cultivates trust and positive behaviours whilst amplifying and ensuring values are genuinely lived and breathed within the business.

Investing in ideas

The organisation also invests in ideas and has demonstrated some great examples of things they are taking a punt on by backing staff to create a new product or something of real value to their client base. This is powerful – not just listening to staff, but backing them with funds to get something off the ground. True EX organisations are not walking blindly into the future; they are constantly evolving, innovating, and co-creating with their staff.

A big buzzword within Employee Experience these days is alignment. This is something that stood out from the visit. IGNIS work very hard to ensure their experiences, on both the client and employee side, are connected and strongly aligned. This is a critical factor in EX approaches.

IGNIS has consciously cultivated a multi-disciplinary approach to work and a flat structure, which proactively stops a silo mentality from emerging. It is this that enables them to continue to operate with an entrepreneurial and creative flair.

Work hard – play hard

Work hard – play hard is mantra that often presents itself within successful teams, and IGNIS is proud to have built a company based on challenging work while having fun at the same time. In the very fabric of the organisation is a can-do attitude, both in the individual and the organisational sense. This is a team that overcomes challenges together and actively designs experiences to strengthen their bonds.

The company actively encourages a deep connection with the world around each person and encourages colleagues to ‘get out more’. The team is clear that seeing, experiencing, and expanding interactions with the world delivers great work and greater people.

Part of the EX is about reflecting and building on experiences, which is a compelling practice in and of itself, but connecting this to business and individual outcomes is often the part that organisations don’t do. Not IGNIS however – they get that the world, the business, and the employee are connected.

Morten IllumMorten IllumMay 3, 2018


Recent research by Google supports a point I have been discussing with customers for many months now: there is no real difference between the user experience and the Employee Experience any more.

What that means is, if you expect to schedule your Sunday with your mobile phone calendar, upload photos to cloud storage and connect with people using applications, you will expect to do pretty much the same thing on Monday, when you arrive at the office.

In 2018, many of us don’t feel efficient unless we’re able to access applications on demand, and this applies to our work as much as our personal lives. Given we spend as much time in our offices as we do at home, we have to consider how the workplace can become better equipped to meet our daily expectations.

Designing the workplace to better incorporate technology is not about being futuristic. It’s about meeting the minimum requirements that users now have. A business that does not consider how to improve its workplace design to suit our daily habits risks alienating its employees, and ultimately decreasing productivity, losing talent, or both.

Maximising efficiency of space

So how do we go about creating a better workspace? It starts with considering how to make everything more efficient. More efficient tech, more efficient space, more efficient people.

A win-win solution for the business and employee would be if building designers and technology companies collaborated on the designing of new, or redevelopment of, existing buildings.

Working together to create a digital plan of each space, as well as the kind of structural, technical plans traditionally drawn up by those in the industry, could increase the chances of these spaces meeting the needs of its occupants. This could be as simple as re-arranging the furniture to give teams more of a chance to interact, with screens, docking stations and charge points to keep people productive with whatever device they are carrying.

The point is, if these different viewpoints and experiences come together to create ‘smart’ workplaces, the people who work here will also be able to collaborate more – spending less time trying to find cables and connections, and more time getting the job done.

The tech platform to improve productivity

With this design in place, it’s then time to address the technology that can get the best from your workforce. Is it a VR booth or a robot assistant? No. The smart office is about getting the basics right.

Access to a secure, reliable and fast Wi-Fi connection is essential for most job roles and industries now, especially for those who are office-based or working remotely. But if the future workplace is not just connected, but smart, it can become much more personalised for the workers who use it.

Having user credentials that are recognised across any location or device, for example, removes the unnecessary task of repeated logins, which over the course of days, weeks and years is an enormous time saver.

Better connection, improved communication

From here, we can start to push the boundaries using IoT. Controlling the heating of a room to your liking using your smartphone, or turning on the coffee machine remotely, are just two examples of a quicker, more personal working environment using technology. This is not only possible, but pretty affordable. And if you want to control a broader range of equipment, we are also seeing plug in multi-sensors entering the market, which use machine learning to identify the signals being sent by any number of electronic devices.

Very quickly, you could be setting up an office with hundreds of devices interlinked, allowing you to better understand how those devices are being used, and create new offerings for your employees. It might sound futuristic, but steps like this are relatively simple and I think, near-term.

As a supplier of business connectivity, our energies are focused on managing, and securing, the explosion of traffic that will come from the digital workplace. For you, the business owner, and the employee, your task is to remove barriers to mobile-friendly working, and gradually create the kind of smart, digital environment that people really want to work in.

Ben WhitterBen WhitterApril 30, 2018


Ben Whitter is known as Mr Employee Experience in business circles, and his role as a global Employee Experience (EX) leader brings him into contact with many companies keen to improve how they accommodate their most important resource – their staff.
He is also the CEO and Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute, which is partnering the 2018 Employee Experience Awards. As part of an exciting new blog series exclusive to Customer Experience Magazine, Ben is touring the headquarters of awards finalists to uncover and highlight what makes them EX pioneers…


On my tour of companies which have been shortlisted as finalists in the 2018 UK Employee Experience Awards, my second destination was Startle, an innovative firm that “awakens consumer senses” by helping brands deliver unique experiences in their venues with background music and technology.

I had an inkling I would be very impressed from the get-go; the firm, with its 16 employees, enjoys a 100 percent staff retention rate. Startle is in the business of creating memorable consumer experiences, so it stood to reason that if I was to find a memorable employee experience anywhere, this would be it.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Employees taking ownership

Startle has thrown out the tatty old rule book on building a great company and the experience it should provide for employees. They have created their own rules through experience and innovation.

At the centre of this business model are the employees – or as Startle calls them, ‘owners’. Unlike other organisations which claim they want staff to feel like owners while giving them zero ownership, Startle, from the beginning, has operated a share ownership model. This means that the employees have a genuine stake in the business.

Startle is already committed to giving away 10 percent of the company in the next five years to its staff – that 100 percent employee retention figure might make more sense now, but everything else Startle does is equally as impressive. Given the fact that all employees are owners, there is total transparency with information. Every colleague receives a full data set on performance, including the financial side of things.

This is delivered in real-time performance updates and around a solid set of guarantees to their customer base. Everything is shared so that employees and team leaders can act on the data through candid and focused performance conversations.

A rewarding experience

Meanwhile, you won’t find a typical performance management process here – there is none! There are no formal reviews, as contribution is measured by peers.

Reward is determined by peers. Recognition is delivered by peers.

This is conducted through an anonymous and live voting experience. As all the targets are discussed and shared amongst the team, accountability for results is high. There is no hiding, but there is also no lack of support as the team pulls together to solve problems and develop even better experiences for their customers.

How could it be any other way when Startle’s big promise to its customers is the company’s much heralded Relentless Support™ 24/7?

The company is crystal clear on what matters most within the Customer Experience, and this filters through everything within the Employee Experience. Startle stands firm on three performance metrics: response time, satisfaction, and cost/efficiency.

Key objectives are agreed based on the metrics, and alignment is established with each team member. Alignment is key within the Employee Experience; many companies create some good things but fail to connect and align them to what matters most within the business. I get the impression this would never occur at Startle as the entire business model is dependent on it and every employee is invested in it.

These metrics are the point of focus for the only corporate-style meeting the business has. This is a 90-minute meeting every week to cover issues, metrics, and progress. The meeting always starts and ends on time. The rest of the time the company operates in an informal way.

The business has grown by drawing on past experiences, learning lessons fast, strengthening accountability, and harnessing the full potential of the team by creating a happy and fulfilling workplace. If people are not happy, then collectively they fix it, which is a great lesson for any employer.

Awards achievers

Startle is also no stranger to winning awards – it picked up several UK Business Awards in 2017. Operating on employee-first principles, the company has cited its Employee Experience as the reason for its success.

Being a virtual company, the potential for digital communication channels is maximised, but they also get the whole team – which is dispersed around the world – together for special gatherings. For example, the whole team flew into Germany at Christmas for a shared experience. These elements are proving hugely beneficial in ensuring the connection between people at Startle remains strong and that trust in the team and each other is high.

One experience that emphasised team building was the staff kayaking the River Thames over five days – and 500 miles – to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

As for work/life balance – forget it! I have always thought there was something misleading and sad about that concept. Companies like Startle and other progressive organisations are thinking much more in ‘life/life’ terms. We are much better off when we build around the ‘whole person’. This is evident at Startle, where colleagues have young families, so working flexibly, with real clarity and autonomy, are just a way of life.

If colleagues want to access training and development, and it is aligned to the growth of the company and individual, Startle will be in ‘yes’ mode. Any employee can raise a case for development. One colleague I spoke to did just that and Startle paid for a degree programme as an investment in the business and the individual.

A history of beards…

Startle uses apps to take the pulse of progress and enable employee input into key decisions at all levels. Informal one-on-ones are still available to provide feedback, coaching, and support. Usually occurring every two weeks, these sessions are also listening points to spot any themes or patterns, and to take action to respond to issues.

Every week there is the practice of a 10-minute talk. Employees take turns to talk about anything they wish to share with the team. Recent editions including big picture thinking, staying calm, and even a history of beards! The latter would have been my favourite!

With the backing of the CEO and top team for an employee and customer-centric business model, this is an example of growth by design. This team has purpose, momentum, and energy behind it.

From what I now know about Startle, I suspect that they will not only achieve their collective mission in the time they have set to achieve it, but they will also create a lot memorable experiences in the process, for employees and customers.

Ben WhitterBen WhitterApril 23, 2018


Ben Whitter is known as Mr Employee Experience in business circles, and his role as a global Employee Experience (EX) leader brings him into contact with many companies keen to improve how they accommodate their most important resource – their staff.

He is also the CEO and Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute, which is partnering the 2018 Employee Experience Awards. As part of an exciting new blog series exclusive to Customer Experience Magazine, Ben is touring the headquarters of awards finalists to uncover and highlight what makes them EX pioneers. For his first blog, Ben paid a visit to the London base of high street fashion stalwarts River Island…

As ‘Mr Employee Experience’, I’m keen to get to know the EX practices of some of the best-known names in UK business today, and so I am undertaking visits to various HQs to get a feel for their methods.

‘Joy’ division

First on my hit-list was clothing giant River Island, which is this year celebrating its 30th anniversary of dressing the nation in the finest of fashion garb. Their mantra is “Spreading the Joy of Fashion”, and their success is evident – to be as stable as they are in today’s challenging retail sector is quite an achievement.

The company has ambitions to become a digital leader and has embarked on a digital transformation programme, investing heavily in the realm of online shopping. They have tripled the number of IT and digital roles and doubled the size of their innovation hub to attract the best talent. Meanwhile, the shifts within Customer Experience at River Island are now being mirrored in Employee Experience.

The company has over 12,500 employees and annual sales of over £930 million. It has reported an employee gender split of around 70:30 female, with 40 percent females in senior management roles, and a gender pay gap of 4.7 percent. In terms of perks, staff enjoy up to 50 percent off clothes, a subsidised on-site gym with various fitness classes, masseuse, restaurant, and celebrations at various points across the year.

River Island was listed among the Sunday Times Best Big Companies to Work For 2018, so it’s clear their EX approach is yielding remarkable results and recognition. A catalyst for this employee-centric focus was a change to the performance review process three years ago.

Fashionable feedback

The company binned the tired old annual performance review model and switched to regular feedback-based conversations to grow, develop, and support highly engaged performances from staff. No more tedious ratings and rankings!

Whilst having a framework, they don’t dictate when or how managers and their teams meet. Strategies such as this led them to consider the holistic ‘experience’ of work across the board. The wheels were set in motion to become an EX organisation, and that journey is continuing and evolving today.

The move to scrap performance reviews instilled a readiness to challenge the status quo and question other practices and long-held beliefs about how work should be. It was therefore no surprise when I learned that River Island is discussing a move to change the name of their HR department to ‘People Experience’. Human Resources is simply no longer a relevant term to describe what the team at River Island does.

The company as a whole has realised that long-gone are the days when the emphasis was on transactions alone. Like many other enlightened firms around the world, River Island is challenging what a HR department does, and how its members think and behave to enable success.

Welcome to the family!

Meanwhile, during my time at River Island HQ, it became clear that the firm is a ‘family’ business. As a privately-owned business, the Lewis family, of which there are three members on the board, including the CEO, Ben Lewis, have built one of the UK’s most successful high street brands.

The notion of family cropped up repeatedly during my conversations with staff. The company will experiment with ideas, hone them, and test them thoroughly before making any changes that affect the River Island family. The concept of family as a way to view and experience the workplace does not work for all organisations, but for some, it is the most effective way to develop and grow.

Keeping Employees App-y

Not for River Island knee-jerk reactions based on the latest fad or gimmick! Every move matters. Yes, there are times where disrupting practices will be necessary, but even then, employees are helping to lead the way. Co-creation internally has emerged as the primary approach to developing new experiences, and methods of doing this include use of the firm’s internal app, RIVA (River Island Virtual Academy. Internally designed and produced, one new feature within the app enables colleagues across to the business to share knowledge and skills with each other on any topic or theme. Developing internal digital capability is a trend within EX-savvy firms – companies are building from within and cementing relationships within their business.

As my visit continued, I was shown ever-more impressive attitudes to EX. A small but significant example was the team organising an ice cream van to visit in the warmer summer months. It’s a simple move, but the positive impact this will have will be dramatic.

Bigger initiatives include River Island investing in programmes that provide targeted support to staff both inside and outside of the workplace. A fine example is workshops designed on a range of wellbeing topics alongside digital content.

Community caring

This year, River Island has been added to the Government’s apprenticeship training provider register. As experts in retail, the company felt it was best placed to develop this programme – including all of its learning modules – in-house. As part of the experience, apprentices will also be able to use their new skills to support one of River Island’s charity partners, The British Red Cross, through placements at the charity’s shops. This is indicative of an EX organisation – creating experiences that relate to the brand’s identity and purpose, whilst also unlocking positive outcomes for the wider community.

Another trend in EX-focussed organisations is the development of a ‘mentoring and coaching’ community. Managers are developing the skills of coaches, which can then be utilised to full effect in performance conversations. River Island has seen an uplift in scores from their employee engagement survey (up to seven percent across several metrics) based on the quality of managers in this regard and the quality of the performance and feedback conversations that have taken place.

PRIDE in their work

Finally, I must applaud the firm on their very own PRIDE (People at River Island Delivering Excellence) Awards! Colleagues can recognise each other at any point for making a difference and delivering excellence within their work. This fantastic scheme has sent a real buzz through the business as they celebrate together.

All-in-all, it’s clear that River Island is at the vanguard of EX, just as it leads the way in high street style each and every season.

Tore HaggrenTore HaggrenApril 20, 2018


The link between creating a positive Customer Experience and an engaged workforce is widely accepted, so why do we find it hard to build motivated teams that are passionate about the companies they work for and ready to go the extra mile for their customers?

The answer often lies in how employees feel about their employers, whether the company culture creates a sense of well-being and opportunity in the workplace, and ultimately how happy employees are in their jobs.

There are of course many reasons why employees may be unhappy and thus disengaged, but something that often underpins many of these reasons is a sense of not being listened to; either when an issue occurs or after the event, by a direct line manager, the executive team, or the HR department. If employees don’t get – or don’t feel that they get – the chance to speak up and be heard, it’s highly unlikely that they will be motivated to make the effort. They are more likely to be dissatisfied and move on, costing the company in lost productivity and higher recruitment costs.

The challenge is therefore how to distinguish between a Monday morning gripe in the office kitchen and a concrete problem with a line manager or a business process that a quick chat over a coffee can’t begin to address.

A 2014 Gallup study found that the main cause of employee unhappiness is down to bad management, but the question is how much of that is likely to be because of a failure to listen, translate, or understand what is being said ‘in code’ around the water cooler into an issue that needs to be acted upon.

We’ve examined seven signs that employees are unhappy and how a Voice of the Employee (VoE) programme could help organisations to ‘listen’ and ‘act’ on what every employee is saying on a regular basis so that they are not only happy to be at work but engaged in the entire process.

“I’m retiring in two years. What’s the point in trying?”: Employees that can’t be bothered to challenge the status quo, even though they have the skills and experience to offer real insight into business improvements, are often demotivated by managers that are not willing to learn from those at the frontline.

  • Encourage and ask for ideas, using short ‘pulse’ surveys to initiate conversations at key moments in the employee lifecycle (three-month review, after training, etc.) but also seek feedback when new products and services are introduced, for example. This doesn’t just mean deploying a big annual employee survey. They have their uses but companies who really want to engage their teams need to develop a much more agile approach to listening to employees.

“No one else is complaining”: Team members that don’t see any role for themselves in the Customer Experience process, or feel straight jacketed by rules and regulations, are less likely to think outside of the box.

  • Enable employees to provide anonymous feedback at first so they feel safe and can learn to trust the process. Also be prepared to enhance your listening skills by leveraging unsolicited, reactive approaches such as online comment boxes and using social media sites such Glassdoor to capture information.

“I’m not going to wake the sleeping dragon”: This is a clear example of an employee that is asleep on the job, coasting, with no intention of putting any more effort into the work than is required.

  • Encourage people to rock the boat and make it clear that all ideas are good ideas, even if it’s not ‘good news’. Employees that are encouraged to use their skills to resolve customer issues ‘on the spot’ – and more importantly are given permission to come ‘off script’ to deliver solutions without fear of being criticised – are much more likely to achieve higher job satisfaction.

“There’s no point in telling management what’s needed”: Even more damning, employees that feel that no one is listening, feel disempowered, or are demotivated, are less likely to flag issues that need resolving, or to suggest ideas that could improve efficiency, productivity, or the Customer Experience.

  • Tell employees what you’ve heard so they can see that it is worth sharing ideas and act upon them as soon as possible. Employees that are provided with an opportunity to make a difference are more motivated and provide better Customer Experiences, which helps retain customers and spreads positive word of mouth.

“My manager just wants the job done”: Sadly, managers that don’t value or seek feedback and simply take a ‘tick box’ approach to the execution of daily tasks get exactly what they ask for – employees that stop thinking about how to do things better.

  • Use a third party or separate department to encourage honest feedback, but also be prepared to offer best practice ‘toolkits’ that provide employees with the autonomy to challenge conventional thinking.

“It was my idea but as usual I didn’t get any credit for it”: Managers that take all the glory for themselves and don’t reward individuals that do go the extra mile run the risk of reducing innovation, but also eliminate any feelings of loyalty or emotional ties to the company.

  • Build in reward and recognition to the feedback programme but also provide employees with a platform to share their experiences and knowledge with others. Harnessing storytelling as a learning opportunity not only passes on individual success to the team, creating an opportunity for viral change, but enables employees to be applauded for their efforts by their peers.

“They just want me to come up with ideas for free, in my own time”: If there is no incentive to be creative during normal working hours, resentment about lack of recognition can cause innovation to stagnate.

  • Make it worth their while – gamify or incentivise the feedback process, but above all ensure that processes are in place to encourage continuous participation, sharing real feedback from real people about real experiences, across the entire organisation.

If you are prepared to read the signs, the link between happiness and employee engagement can undoubtedly deliver both job satisfaction and a great Customer Experience. As Richard Branson says:

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Improved listening skills and a willingness to act on what employees say is therefore a win-win for everyone.

Ian RummelsIan RummelsApril 18, 2018


What do wellbeing and benefits have in common? Simple – they both have a huge impact on employees.

Yet too often they are treated like separate business needs. Both play a crucial role in shaping Employee Experience, so an integrated wellbeing and employee benefits strategy can create genuinely happy people – and at PES, we know that that leads to a happy business.

For example, one study shows that 53 percent of employees feel wellbeing programmes have increased their engagement, while 64 percent say they have made them more productive. Another study demonstrates that 81 percent of employers use employee benefits as a tool to retain top talent.

So how do you integrate wellbeing and employee benefits into a seamless whole? By putting employees at the centre. In this article, we share 10 tips on how to embed both wellbeing and employee benefits into your organisational culture. You’ll notice that there’s a strong crossover with HR too, because when it comes to putting employees first, the link between business disciplines is narrower than you think.

  1. Examine your values: what do you stand for? Is ‘employee wellbeing’ included? The wording may be different (for example, at PES, our values include ‘doing the right thing’), but they should reflect how your people are treated.
  2. Leadership behaviours: do your senior people walk the talk? Employees will become disengaged by disingenuous leaders. Recent research has shown that the more senior you are in a company, the happier you are. Don’t assume your junior staff feel the same way! They are always going to be paid less, so think about what else you can do to improve their experience.
  3. Line managers: are they fair, supportive, and able to listen to their teams? Dame Carol Black, the former health and work tsar, says the greatest difference to workplace productivity comes from line managers being trained in how to listen to, understand, and give autonomy to their people.
  4. Communication: does the right hand know what the left is doing? If the line manager says one thing and the leader says another, people will be confused. Aim for consistency to avoid chaos.
  5. Job roles: do they play to people’s strengths, offer development opportunities, and reflect the business mission? Few things kill motivation more than a dull daily routine with no overall purpose to strive for.
  6. Your physical environment: is it safe, pleasant, and easy to get to? A long, traffic-fumed commute really adds to people’s stress levels. You can’t always help that, of course, but you can offer flexible start and finish times, and ensure that your office space has peaceful, appealing décor and restful breakout areas.
  7. Equipment and ergonomics: from comfortable desks and chairs to efficient, easy-to-use technology, do people have the tools they need to perform well? If inanimate objects frequently take the rap in your organisation, your kit may need updating.
  8. Flexibility: as above, can you allow people to set their own hours to accommodate the school run, look after a sick child, or avoid horrendous rush-hour bottlenecks?
  9. Pay and reward: can your employees look forward to salary increases? Money isn’t everything, but of course it’s an important part of your reward package so think about bonuses, incentives, commission and other forms of recognition.
  10. Just as importantly, do you offer employee benefits? Benefits are more than just reward. They form part of a wider strategy to improve the employee experience on every level. This means your choice of benefits is important – will they really meet the needs of your particular employee demographic? Is life assurance as important to 25-year-old as, say, discounted gym membership or online shopping? If your benefits are offered online via a tailored, innovative platform that reflects your employer brand, employees are likely to have a better experience than if they have to fill in endless forms.

Let go of what you imagine wellbeing to be, or what employee benefits are about. Take it back to basics: do you really want your employees to feel good about coming to work? If so, this will be embedded in your organisational culture in many ways.

Of course, you can only influence how your employees feel, you can’t control it. But you can acknowledge that they have a life outside work (through flexible working, empathic managers, lifestyle benefits, and so on), which will help them give more to the job.

For smaller businesses, making these changes may seem daunting – but a trusted partner can analyse needs and provide practical, workable solutions.

About PES

Delivering a great employee experience is a challenge for growing organisations. At PES, it’s what we do. Our online employee benefits platform, HR support and workplace wellbeing services bring out the best in your employees – enabling your business to thrive.

Call us on 01454 808658, email us at hello@wearepes.co.uk or visit www.wearepes.co.uk

Inform. Inspire. Include.
A free way to improve your business.

Customer Experience Magazine is the online magazine packed full of industry news, blogs, features, reports, case studies, video bites and international stories all focusing on customer experience.



Contact Information

For article submissions:
Paul Ainsworth

For general inquiries, advertising and partnership information:
Tel: 0207 1932 428

For Masterclass enquiries:
Tel: 0207 1937 483

Customer Experience Magazine Limited
Acacia Farm, Lower Road,
Royston, Herts, SG8 0EE
Company number: 7511106