Suzie Barrett: People Power – why you need to look after your staff

A PR agency’s key asset is the brains of its employees so we are in the business of managing brains, says Suzie Barrett a partner, and head of HR, at Third City, an award winning PR agency.

companies claim that ‘people are their biggest asset’ – but at Third City, this is indisputable.

The quality of the people we employ is crucial to the service we provide and the results we create for our clients. Hiring the right people is something that we therefore take very seriously – but how do you ensure you retain talent once you’ve got the right people through the door?

Our belief is that implementing proactive health and wellbeing policies can be the difference between being a good place to work and a great one. I believe our recent silver award at PR Week’s ‘best place to work’ is testament to this.

While we know that our biggest asset is our people; the biggest asset our people have is their health and wellbeing – so it makes good business sense for us to look after it.

By thinking more broadly about an employee’s experience at work, some simple policies can significantly improve their working life, which brings wide-ranging benefits.

For example, we always try and include staff in important decision processes, listen to feedback and make changes where we can. We recently moved payday to the 25th of each month because it better suited their needs; we consulted on new locations for an office move later in the year and we have introduced flexible working hours including a 4pm early-finish time on Fridays.

A big priority is ensuring that everyone knows that they have an individual route to success. Alongside traditional regular 360 reviews, personal development is pushed through programmes like ‘Third City Talks’. Held every month, the talks are led by external experts and range from directly relatable topics such as our recent ‘How to foster inner-calmness in the workplace’ talk, to help with mindfulness, through to more abstract topics like the future of London’s skyline development, to boost our lateral thinking.

PR, like a lot of industries, can move at a frenetic pace and there is an ‘always on’ mentality that appears to be embedded in its ethos – it is not uncommon to see employees expected to stay well past their contracted hours, to work at weekends and to constantly check in when on holiday. Of course, our staff will occasionally have to work abnormal hours, whether it’s for an event or time sensitive document, but to make excessive working part of a company’s culture is a dangerous route to go down.

At Third City we are just as active in encouraging a ‘switched off’ culture when away from work as we are with our ‘switched on’ philosophy during office hours. Everyone, especially junior staff, is encouraged to leave on time and take full lunch breaks, if this isn’t happening we look at why. It’s great to see motivated staff, but if employees are leaving late every day, it’s time to look at whether the workload distribution is correct and whether other factors are at play.

We implement a wide range of policies that benefit an individual’s work life and broader wellbeing. Great importance is placed on external learning and employees are encouraged to pursue personal projects – they’re allowed three days a year to work on ‘good’ schemes such as a charity close to their heart or a friends business – and this is indicative of the importance we place on external learning. When provided in tandem with a strong internal development policy and learning culture, people are given the chance to experience different ways of thinking and methods, which is crucial to well-rounded development and motivation.

So far I have looked at the psychological elements of workplace health, but a focus on physical health shouldn’t be forgotten. PR companies like Third City are increasingly reflecting society’s growing shift towards clean living. Things like cycling to work schemes are now an ever-present benefit across the industry and a shift from chocolate-based snack cupboards to ones filled with fruit and nuts. We also run weekly-yoga sessions for staff as an extra perk.

Ultimately, when looking at health in the workplace, there is no uniform way to approach it. Different industries bring different workplace situations and employee needs, and of course, companies will have contrasting views on what constitutes wellbeing in their workplace.

Regardless though, developing a strong internal culture with efficient knowledge sharing capabilities is the place to start addressing and improving the working day. Added to this, external training is a great way to broaden an employee’s experience and improve job satisfaction.

Health and wellbeing need not be expensive. We succeed by concentrating on the fundamentals; good communication, flexible working practices, effective and fair line management and the team support people need to meet the challenges they face at work.

You could argue it’s a firm’s moral responsibility to do all they can to provide an enjoyable and stimulating workplace – we certainly believe this to be the case.

About Suzie Barrett

Suzie has over 15 years of PR experience and a specific interest in workplace wellbeing. She is Head of HR at Third City, and a working mum of three children. She is the key driving force behind the agency’s Best Place to Work award.
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