This article, and video, are based on an interview with Janet Leighton, Director of Happiness at the Timpson Group. She covers: what she does when she sits down with employees and their bank statements, her background in finance, what FDs need to know about wellbeing, why wellbeing is such a serious business and why it’s so important to be honest about money at work. And more!
Janet Leighton goes by the title of ‘Director of Happiness’ at the Timpson Group and, it’s clear, in speaking to her that she takes her job of spreading happiness throughout the UK-wide organisation very seriously.
That’s not to say that she’s at all ‘pink and fluffy’, which wellbeing professionals can sometimes be accused of. With a finance background, she has a fierce mix of both soft and hard skills, with a dose of tough love thrown in for good measure, too. This is evident when she talks about the lengths she goes to in looking after her colleagues’ financial wellbeing, which involves literally sitting down with them with all their bank statements, which she has done with hundreds of employees.
For these reasons, she is the ideal speaker to present at The Watercooler Event about ‘The Critical Role of Financial Wellbeing in Supporting Employees’ Mental Health and All Round Wellbeing’. For a truly original, maverick approach to such a topical issue considering the cost of living crisis, be sure not to miss her session.
Ahead of this, we caught up with her to find out more….
You’ve worked for 18 and a half years at Timpson, is that right?
Yes. 19 years in September.
But you haven’t been Director of Happiness for 19 years?
No, only since the role was created in January 2018.
How did you get into the role?
I joined as a finance manager in 2004, and previous to that I’d always been in finance too. What I love about finance is I love money. I’m always getting my calculator out!
But I realised I was really passionate about was people too. So, in 2014, when an opportunity came up to run one of our warehouses, I took it. Even though I’d never been in an operations role before! Everybody told me I was mental. But it was the people element I wanted.
Click on the video link above to hear more of Janet’s story…
So you’re not afraid to put yourself in uncomfortable positions?
No, no, no.. you can’t be in our business!
Wellbeing can be seen as a bit ‘pink and fluffy’ sometimes. But you’ve talked about the ‘seriousness’ of your happiness role. You’re a finance specialist – what can we say to give the role more credibility?
We take supporting our employees’ wellbeing very seriously.
One is ethical: it’s the right thing to do.
Secondly, it means a more productive, happier, better customer service, which means that the business makes more money.
To illustrate how serious this is, let’s just take financial wellbeing of our employees.
If you’ve got a colleague who is struggling financially, if we don’t try and support them, and help them and guide them, they’re just going to get in worse debt. Therefore, they’re not going to be able to perform well at work. We want to invest time and energy so they can.
You’ve sat down with literally 100s of colleagues and their bank statements, haven’t you?
Yes! And I get out my trusty calculator! I’ve sat down with hundreds of colleagues over the years and looked at their budgets and outgoings with them. I tell them to give me all their paperwork and, initially, they usually say ‘I owe X’. But when I sit down with them we usually realise that they actually owe a lot more than this figure. But I say ‘let’s deal with this together and work it out’.
And when you said ‘let’s deal with this together’ – what do you actually mean?
Well, put it this way, we have, at any given time, about £450,000 out in loans to our colleagues.
We understand that finding out they owe a lot of money might be quite scary. But we focus on putting a plan in place, which could include a loan from work. Or it could be accessing a professional body like a Pay Plan, Step Change, or any of those charitable bodies that are free for colleagues to use.
But the crucial thing is going through those first steps and finding out what the true situation is. And that’s sometimes the hardest part.
Can you describe a situation where you have helped an employee with their financial wellbeing?
Yes. I had a colleague who came to me and he was desperate to relocate to another area. He was struggling financially. (For the full story, click on the video above)
Do you treat all employees like this?
It depends on their particular circumstances. It also depends on how good they are. We want people that are passionate, reliable, flexible, honest, driven, try hard and have integrity. We call them ‘superstars’ and I’d say about 95% of our workforce are in this category.
If you’re one of those people, you’re going to get the help you need. If you’re not one of those people, we don’t really want you in our business, but we will still support you, although we won’t invest money in you. It’s a two way street.
What have you learned about dealing with colleagues and helping them with their finances, because it’s still, after all, a professional relationship?
Through sitting down with 100s of colleagues with their bank statements, I’ve learned to be very open, honest and often direct in the nicest possible way.
I think that’s important; don’t hold back and don’t make it fluffy.
You need to earn their trust. I stress that I’ve got integrity and that the conversation is confidential and I’m not going to share it.
The worst thing you can say to somebody who’s in a financial mess is ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter’.
We say: ‘Yes, we’ll help you. We can sort it with you.’ But we don’t say ‘stop worrying, it doesn’t matter.’ It does matter.
It’s important companies have someone who is there to support colleagues in this way. I believe strongly that if companies can support an individual’s emotional and/or financial wellbeing then most other things will sort themselves out.
What role does culture play?
Culture comes first. You need to show that you are there to support, guide and show empathy. I also believe it’s important to encourage people to believe that they are far more capable than they believe.
And sometimes we’ll push the boundaries with people. We will encourage people to do things differently and to take chances. We show them that, with the right support and the right attitude, they can do it.
We’re lucky because we recruit on personality; we’re not interested in CVs apart from name and telephone number. We don’t care what you’ve done in your past. It’s what you’re doing today, next week, next month, next year, that matters to us. But, on the flip side, we are very dynamic and we work very hard, so you never really get time to breathe for too long before you move on to the next thing.
To meet Janet in person, and contribute to the conversation come along to our sister event the Watercooler on April 25th and 26th, 2023. Her insight is particularly relevant given that 64% of UK working adults are more worried about their financial wellbeing today than one year ago.
The Watercooler, named in recognition of those crucial moments of connection between employees, is a free to attend conference and exhibition which demonstrates that wellbeing IS the future of work. For themes that were ‘hot topics’ at last year’s event, like line manager wellbeing, see this article.
Taking place at Excel London, The Watercooler event is where you can gather to join ideas together, make connections, learn from peers’ experiences and find the right solutions for your organisation – whatever its size and shape.
For reasons why this is a must-attend event for anyone interested in workplace wellbeing, see this article here.
For more on the connection on financial wellbeing and mental health – why not attend this webinar we are running soon?
You might also like: