People Matters: Gemma Bowers

For the next instalment of our People Matters series, I spoke to Gemma Bowers, chief people and culture officer at Regular Cleaning.

How is health and wellbeing linked to engagement and performance? Do you have any real-life examples of how focusing on the former boosts the latter?

Health and wellbeing are intrinsically linked to engagement and performance. If your people are supported and cared for, can discuss their needs at work and have adjustments made to accommodate them that go beyond legal requirements, they will be more motivated, feel invested in and want to do their best for the company they work for. You can’t always accommodate every request, but you can make adjustments to help in most cases.  

It’s not just about the employer expecting something from the employee. It’s so powerful if employees see that their employer wants to give back.

We’ve recently introduced a new, more formalised absence procedure that makes it clear to everybody what the process will be when someone calls in sick. This also served to formalise the wellbeing checks that our people and culture team were already having with colleagues. Now our absence and wellbeing check-ins are part of the same process.

As a result, we’ve had people returning to the business, where previously they would have remained on long-term sick leave. We’ve also seen a reduction in repetitive short-term sickness absence because our people and culture team are taking time to sit with people and talk to them. Rather than just a standard return-to-work chat with their line manager, people can open up with somebody independent. Sometimes people just need someone to listen and to understand.

What do employees really need to thrive?

Your colleagues need to feel cared for, respected, valued and needed, as well as job security. They need to feel invested in, too. This can be in terms of development and time.

People often link reward and recognition, but recognition goes a lot further than reward. People appreciate visits and a ‘thank you’ from leadership that they wouldn’t normally see. We find that is far more impactful than reward schemes. I’m not saying that people don’t appreciate a reward, but internal and external recognition weighs heavier.

Judgement barriers should be removed to create open relationships where people can be authentic. If people feel there’s no judgement, there will be no fear and people will talk freely. Reciprocal trust is important for any relationship.

What is the role of communications in making sure people make the most of the benefits and services that their employer offers?

Benefits should be fine-tuned to suit the needs of your colleagues. While many business leaders may believe they’ve nailed it, there’s often a disconnect with what people want and need. The landscape is ever-changing, so ongoing dialogue is critical to ensuring constant alignment.

Benefits like 24/7 virtual GP services address practical challenges faced by our cleaning teams, such as difficulty accessing healthcare services. The fact that we’re able to give our people something where they can get an appointment the same day, have their prescription emailed to them, and go to any pharmacy to collect it can make a radical difference to someone’s health.

Discount vouchers have become popular over the last couple of years because that’s what people need with the cost-of-living crisis.

We’ve gone to sites before to give everyone a Bottle Made Blue from the Made Blue Foundation. Every bottle purchased donates 500 litres of water fresh drinking water to people in deprived countries. We talked about the fact we were recognising our own people, but also helping people who don’t have fresh drinking water. We took that opportunity to sit and talk about our benefits — what they knew about them, what they used and what they would like us to offer. People felt heard and we received some fantastic feedback. Our learnings from those visits drove our strategy for the year.

How do you encourage an authentic, inclusive workforce? Not just tick boxes and suit budgets.

We are doing a lot of work around removing the stigma of being a cleaning colleague. We don’t want bias for others because we know what that feels like – many of our contract management team started out in cleaning roles. Being a cleaning colleague is a role that is admirable and relied upon and we shout about that!

We have a reciprocal mentoring scheme that is aimed to help people from across the business to progress and develop into different departments. We focus heavily on development, really helping anyone in the business that wants to improve or advance their career.

We’ve set up an DE&I working group made up of different people within the business who are passionate about equality, learning and understanding. These are our ED&I allies. I am the senior leader that sponsors the group. The group completely drives ideas and feedback, and I look at how this can be integrated into the business and included in our strategy.

Our in-house DE&I training is delivered to every colleague, and we provide behavioural training for our managers and aspiring managers.

How can you help ensure the approach to internal communications is inclusive?

It’s important to be neutral in tone and not make any assumptions. You should remain factual to eliminate any bias. Are your words inclusive? You should keep asking yourself this question.

We all communicate differently and so we communicate in lots of different ways to ensure we include and engage as many people as possible. We like to do communication autopsies to unpick how we could do things better in the future.

How can employers facilitate dialogue and build understanding when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion?

DE&I needs to flow through everything a company does and not just be a bolt-on. It should be made part of every interview, check-in, appraisal and objectives, and given a voice in team meetings. Making DE&I measurable is fundamental to being able to improve.

We often run quizzes and have case study packs. We find these are popular and a way of gaining knowledge in a fun way. We host awareness days for our teams to join where everybody learns something new.

Businesses should demonstrate they want to listen and then act. The most important thing is not to stand still.

People Matters blogs

Read the previous blogs in our People Matters series:

Justin Johnson

Jasmine Hudson

Grace Lewis

Jaime Lloyd-Jones

Mary Appleton

Sophie Wade

Smadar Cohen-Chen

Ashleigh Cresswell and Andy Grant

Matt Chapman and Kelly Dolphin

Will Hussey and Jonathan Peach

Sabrina Stubbs