How do you shift from a paternalistic to progressive culture in the eyes of your employees?


Brewers Decorator Centres has grappled with this question recently and come up with an award-winning solution to it, for which the financial wellbeing of its employees is at its heart (it won our Make A Difference Award for Best Financial Wellbeing strategy).

It’s a family business by background, founded in 1904, but has grown to 1500 employees today and, with that, the leadership had to find a way to keep that caring culture while growing.

With the financial situation getting more challenging in light of steeply rising Consumer Price Index and mortgage rates, a particular focus has been ensuring employees know about especially its financial products.

We spoke to Jane Clifford, People Director, at Brewers to find out more.

How do you keep the sense of a caring culture and family ethos when you grow into a bigger business?

It’s an ongoing discussion in our business. We try hard to keep thinking of employees as individuals. In our People Department, for example, we talk about being equally ‘commercial and compassionate’, and to always remember it’s about a person, especially when dealing with, let’s say, a disciplinary issue, or a health issue, which is impacting that individual’s ability to do their work, or be at work.

With any formal meetings, we endeavor to take the employee through the process with respect. It’s about keeping that balance between being consistent and fair, as well as personable to the individual.

How do you explain to employees/managers what it means to be ‘commercial and compassionate’?

In the People Team, we talk about the ‘4C’s which are: commercial, compassionate, communication and consistency.

You’ve got to try and strike a balance between the four. And one of the conversations to have is to say that this is difficult to do, and recognise that.

I’ve been here eight years and another thing I say in these conversations is that this is a business with really good intent in terms of getting things right for its colleagues and customers. Of course, we don’t get things right 100% of the time, no business does, but we’re trying. We learn. We regroup. We try again.

Learning and talking are the important actions in a business for change.

Can you share what you did to make this shift specifically from paternalistic to progressive?

So first of all, it’s important to say we didn’t see ‘paternalistic’ as negative. We saw it as a shorthand for ‘we care’. But we’re now 1500 employees. What we did before in a quiet and informal way needed to be more visible, so people really knew we were there if they needed us. What we’ve tried to do now is publicise what support is available much more clearly and more accessibly.

And you felt this was particularly true in relation to financial wellbeing?

Yes, our personal loans are a good example.

We’ve always offered them  to colleagues that need them But what we haven’t really done is say clearly ‘we’re here when you need us’.

Join our growing network of employers
Receive Make A Difference News straight to your inbox

To make this clearer, we rebranded them ‘Helping Hand Loans’.

This kind of support is so important to our colleagues, particularly in the current financial crisis because if something like the washing machine or cooker breaks, this can be devastating for them and their families.

We shared the message with all of our colleagues to tell them about the loans and we also ran advertising in our company magazine, which comes out twice a year. We want to get across the message that we don’t want people to be afraid to ask and there’s no judgement. We’ve had a significant uptick in people coming to us about these loans, probably due to the economic climate.

Apart from the economic climate, why do you think talking about financial wellbeing and support is so important?

I don’t come from an affluent background myself. I know what it feels like to worry about money. Certainly, in the early part of my childhood until my early teens, I was very consciously that you could quite quickly not be OK financially.

As a manager, that gives you a degree of empathy. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to access credit, but there are many people who can’t access normal forms of credit, and can’t go into their overdraft. And there aren’t many options for these people.  

That’s why we started looking into working with financial wellbeing platform Wagestream, where employees can manage their money and learn about things like how to best save money, and they can access their earnings earlier than pay day.

Through Wagestream, we give employees access to independent financial advice because we felt it was really important, if we were going to give people access to their money early, that they had that advice as well. 

Have you done anything else to support employee financial wellbeing?

Yes. We’ve introduced Medicash, which is a health cash plan which offers cashback on health treatments like dentistry or consulting a chiropractor or optician.

What I like about this benefit is that I would never want someone to feel that they couldn’t afford to do important health checks, like on their teeth. It also prioritises wellbeing without people having to think too much about it because..

The main thing I’m thinking when creating these benefits is: how can we just make things a bit easier for people?

Are people speaking openly about money more?

Money is an incredibly personal subject. I haven’t had a lot of conversations with colleagues about money because I wouldn’t wish to presume, or ask them about it. But we do see that the applications for the Helping Hand loans have gone up, so the message is getting out and people are acting on it.

We’ve also had a good uptake of Wagestream, about 30% of the workforce accesses it now. But, more important than that, awareness of Wagestream is high so I know that when people need it, they know it’s there.

What do you think constitutes good financial wellbeing?

Anyone, in any area of the business, at any level, can have money worries.

Financial wellbeing to me is partly about knowing where help is when you need it.

I would like to think a colleague of ours would feel a little bit more reassured about the worry of sudden unexpected bills which can throw your financial plans, that there are ways we can help. I hope they feel reassured that their employer could help them quickly in that situation. In turn, creating support like this gives me a good feeling about what we’re doing as a company that cares.


Sponsored by The Watercooler


Sign up to receive Make A Difference's fortnightly round up of features, news, reports, case studies, practical tools and more for employers who want to make a difference to work culture, mental health and wellbeing.