The culture of a workplace can feel impossible to define, with many metrics falling short of showing HR leaders how those within the company feel about their work. For Kate Bates, Chief People and Culture Officer at Workwell Solutions, a career in Human Resources (HR) and People Management means creating a positive workplace culture and measuring this intangible idea with innovative and inclusive thinking.
Kate sat down with Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss how she came to her current role and the initiatives she has been most proud of in her HR career.
I am the Chief People and Culture officer at Workwell Solutions. We provide a range of contingent worker solutions and services to recruitment organisations across multiple office locations in the UK and abroad.
I didn't take the traditional route of A-Level and then university but instead commenced my CIPD qualifications and postgraduate degree at college, similar to how apprenticeships are completed nowadays. In 2019 I decided that I wanted to differentiate myself and my expertise, so I embarked on an MBA at Hertfordshire University and was completing that through the pandemic. That is one of the reasons I am in this role today — the degree embedded a lot of the HR people-related knowledge I already had with the operation and commercial side of business. Through this and my varied career, from working in retail, logistics and now workforce solutions, I have built an understanding of culture across many sectors.
Prior to when I joined in 2022, the company did not have a dedicated individual working in a People function for over ten years, so no one was driving a People and Culture strategy and challenging these aspects of the business. We have a lot of different offices and four operational service offerings, so if you do not work to bring those together, they all end up working in their own climate, and there isn't going to be a joint company culture. Therefore, I have been on a journey of bringing everything together as much as we can, recognising the differences across the geographical and operational areas.
We have a Together We Thrive mantra focusing on bringing departments together, I’ve launched an internal people platform called Hive, and we have what we call ‘Bee Ambassadors.’ The ambassadors help us create activities that make the cultures in every location as collaborative as possible. Geographically we are spread out, but by having ambassadors everywhere, we can carry out the same events in different offices that have the same feel.
It’s essential that belonging is a part of EDI. When you spend so much time at work, people must feel they belong and want to be there. Feedback is so important to me, and it is one of the things I have prioritised the most. I always want to understand the causes of issues and give people the chance to use their voices. Oftentimes small things make a huge difference to how people feel in the workplace.
I always want to understand the causes of issues and give people the chance to use their voices. Oftentimes small things make a huge difference to how people feel in the workplace.
One of the small changes we made was around shift patterns. We had a shift that ran from 8am to 8pm, but changed it to a finish time of 6pm based on employee feedback.
Everyone is busy with their day job, so we make sure we use our time with ambassadors wisely to speak about what’s important to employees. We collect information about the things that matter to them and create events around them, which means that people really want to participate. The reality is that you’ll always struggle to get everyone involved — not every event will appeal to everyone. However, we make sure there is a platform where everyone who wants to be involved can join in.
The people and culture strategy I have has several metrics from turnover to recruitment to engagement. Many things that we want to measure, like general happiness in the workplace, are difficult to define because they are intangible, so it’s about finding various ways to measure how happy people are. For example, I might be able to measure employee turnover in statistics, but I can see other metrics of engagement in work through things like how many employees are posting to LinkedIn about events we’ve been running. Together, these give me an idea of the general culture of the workplace.
I talk about talent generally. When you speak about inclusion, you are speaking about including the talent that is within your business. The talent in your organisation is what gives you a competitive advantage. If you are inclusive as a business, then you are going to retain that talent and knowledge rather than letting it go. Everyone in our business is an asset to us, but they will only perform if they are valued and want to be there, so it’s essential that we foster that sense of belonging.
For me, it's about how you feel about getting up and going to work. As a company, however, we define it in accordance with four key values that our CEO and other board members have come up with. We realised that just because senior management defined what they want the company values to be, this won’t make them a reality unless everyone engages with them. So we asked our staff to tell us what the values meant to them. We filmed their responses and then shared videos of this, helping to bring the values to life, because it is our people that make our culture.
It’s all about feedback and not making any appraisal process too cumbersome. We are all learning every single day, and we should ensure we have discussions about behaviours aligned with our values as part of ensuring the best culture.