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Best Companies, Responding to a Global Crisis session at Best Companies Live Q2 2022 event
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Giving Something Back: Responding to a global crisis

When a global crisis breaks out, how do organisations lead the way in showing that they care, and why does it matter? That’s the question we put to our panellists during May 2022’s Best Companies Live event, where they spoke candidly about their responses to both the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, as well as the rising cost of living in the UK, and what that’s meant for employee engagement within their organisations.

In the following article we share the highlights from the conversation and look at some of the initiatives and support systems they’ve put in place, and how their colleagues have got involved. If you would prefer to watch the full session, please click the video above.

At Best Companies, Giving Something Back is one of the eight workplace factors that make up our methodology and it looks at the ways in which a business gives back to the local and wider community, its care for the environment, whether it has a social conscience, and if it helps people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Our findings tell us that it is the ‘Giving Something Back’ factor that differentiates most ordinary organisations from world class ones. It is no coincidence that organisations that invest heavily in this area have employees that are highly engaged.

Our data from the survey period between January – March 2022, shows some 63% of the respondents agreed their organisation has a strong social conscience, indicating that they think they are positively contributing to the issues going on in wider society.

But when it comes to times of crisis – such as the war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living in the UK – how important is it for employees to know that their organisations can help in hours of need and how does this impact engagement?

“It's made our people feel like they've done that little thing in the lives of someone living through a huge conflict”

For Caroline van der Feltz, HR Director at Danske Bank, Giving Something Back is part of the organisation’s DNA, and so it put a huge emphasis on both how it – and its colleagues – could quickly act to help Ukrainian refugees.

“We've seen a lot of refugees arriving in Northern Ireland where we're based and our colleagues felt the desire and need to really help,” she explained.

“One of our branch managers has really led our efforts linking us up with the home office, local councils, and government to help refugees open bank accounts – giving them a degree of normality to help them settle. We're also getting other banks to refer people who they can’t help quite so quickly to us. It's made our people feel like they've done that little thing in the lives of someone living through a huge conflict.”  

Van der Feltz explained that in addition to the bank account support, employees have volunteered to help with CV writing, interview skills training and employability skills for Ukrainians looking to settle in Northern Ireland.

“All of this has been really rewarding and restorative for our people,” she added.

“It has had a big impact on the organisation”

Helping those in desperate need has also been something that employees at housing association, Abri, have been keen to get involved with. Director of Housing and Community Investment, Michelle Dawson, said that she was “overwhelmed by how colleagues wanted to help” as the crisis unfolded.

“It’s had a big impact on the organisation,” she continued. “It’s who we are. Abri means shelter, and we have social purpose at our heart – that’s why our people come to work.”

Colleagues at Abri have not only rallied in their support in both hosting refugees and helping them settle – but they have supported their customers in social housing to do the same. Supported by the organisation, employees have started to use internal communications channels to develop peer-to-peer networking groups to help signpost things in the community to help families settle, as well as using Abri’s network of community cafes to open places where refugees can meet.

“I’ve been blown away by the ways in which colleagues want to create that peer network” Dawson continued. “Ideas are emerging from colleagues and they’re supporting each other.”

“Our purpose is to improve life”

For Dawn Moore, Group Director of People and Communications at infrastructure specialists, J Murphy & Sons, the war in Ukraine has led to the organisation truly living its purpose thanks to the initiatives it has put in place to help displaced people find work and successfully relocate in the UK.

“Our purpose is to improve life,” she explained. “In our sector there’s a skills shortage, plus, we already have a number of people from Ukraine and the surrounding areas in our workforce. So, against that backdrop we wanted to put our purpose as a business into practice and support our colleagues who still have family in Ukraine, by establishing 180 job openings and a comprehensive package of support. This includes finding accommodation, support with language and more.”

Moore explained that the scheme itself was not only a lifeline for those looking to escape the horrors of war, but it had a significant impact on engagement levels amongst Murphy’s own employees. Thanks to a buddy and mentoring initiative set up as part of the scheme to help refugees settle, a number of the workforce volunteered to help with translations, offer language training or accommodation.

“Not only have we been able to offer quality jobs to these people – because there’s a fab array of skills – but it’s had a huge impact on employee engagement. I think it has been particularly motivational and fulfilling for our employees,” she concluded.

“Morally we ought to do it as decent employers”

Understanding that the conflict in Ukraine has only sought to deepen the cost-of-living crisis in the UK, Peter Banks, Managing Director at luxury hotel, Rudding Park, explained that it was vital for his organisation to put measures in place to ensure staff had the support available to enable them to continue working.

“Six people have come to me for funding this week which is far more than we’ve ever seen,” he explained of the no-interest loan initiative the company has in place to help colleagues with financial difficulties.

“I've also introduced a petrol allowance for my team that tell me they can't afford to come to work. I've worked out the difference between petrol price in 2021 to what it is now... and I pay them a one-off bonus at the end of each month.”

Banks said that initiatives such as the petrol bonus are important for colleagues to feel they are supported during times of hardship, but that for his business, a targeted approach works better than a blanket company-wide initiative.

“The message we're sending is ‘we really care about you’ and morally we ought to do it as decent employers – both listening to and caring for our people,” he explained.

“But it's targeted, as the people who live in at the hotel don't need the same assistance. The people who do need it are the ones who need to pay for their additional fuel costs.”

“When an idea meets an opportunity”

For Colin Lawson, Founder and Partner at Equilibrium Financial Planning, a hardship fund system is in place for any employees struggling with money.

However, it is the organisation’s initiative to help the elderly and vulnerable in times of crisis that he says is really making an impact. This sees the firm collect the equivalent of the £300 winter fuel allowance from its eligible clients that aren’t in need of it and donate it to those who do.

“This has successfully raised £10,000 per annum and we are supporting three different charities,” he explained. “It just shows what can happen when an idea meets an opportunity – and we’re hoping to relaunch this initiative with all our clients using the upcoming payment they’ll get in January. If they agree to give their payment up, we’ll find the funds in advance to give to the charities that really need it to support people with the cost of living right now.”

To enjoy this session in full, see the full recording here.

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