Texthelp Talks Podcast with Sainsburys

Podcast: Creating a ‘great place to work’ for everyone


In this Texthelp Talks podcast, we chat with Toby Hopkins, Colleague Engagement and Inclusion Executive at Sainsburys. As a Disability Confident Leader, and an Investors in People Gold standard employer for the fourth year running, Toby will be sharing how Sainsbury’s has created, and continues to build, a great place to work for everyone. You'll gain insights to help you champion diversity and create a supportive working culture for all.



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Transcript

Paul Fox:
Welcome along to the latest Texthelp Talks podcast. We'll be bringing you a host of experts covering a range of topics from education right through into the workplace, so make sure you subscribe through your preferred podcast player or streaming service so you never miss an episode.

Paul Fox:
On today's podcast you're hearing from me, Paul Fox, workplace acquisitions lead at Texthelp, and I'm here with Toby Hopkins, colleague inclusion engagement executive at Sainsbury's. As a disability confident leader and an Investors in People Gold Standard employer, Toby will be sharing how Sainsbury's has created and continues to build a great place to work for everyone. So firstly, welcome along, Toby. It's great to have you here to chat with us today. We know that Sainsbury's vision is to be a great place to work for every single colleague, and with over 172,000 employees I'm sure there's a lot of key considerations to keep in mind. So what do you consider to be the core factors that are needed in creating an inclusive workplace for a large and diverse workforce?

Toby Hopkins:
Well, I think it comes back to our inclusion aim, if you like, and that overarches all of the work that we do at Sainsbury's. So our aim is that we want to be the most inclusive retailer, where every single one of our colleagues can fulfill their potential and all of our customers feel welcome when they shop with us. So it's really about creating that sense of belonging, where people can have exciting and fulfilling experiences but also where our customers feel that they belong in our stores, in our environment, and feel that we are able to cater adequately for their needs and exceed their expectations and make sure they can have a really great experience when they're shopping with us as well.

Toby Hopkins:
I think when you're looking at motivating a workforce and making sure it's that really diverse and inclusive environment, you've really got to make sure the leadership has their part really clearly carved out and they're really engaged in what they're doing. So for us the education piece really does form a key part of that. And our leaders play an incredible role in bringing that side throughout the business and making sure that we're informed about different people's experiences. And I think that's really the key to having the most inclusive workforce that you can manage.

Paul Fox:
I think, would you say that it's true, one of the key things is probably leadership in this? And I suppose the starting point is to get an understanding of what that great place to work means for colleagues. And indeed you've mentioned customers. Could you tell us about some of the initiatives that are allowing you to do this at Sainsbury's?

Toby Hopkins:
So there's a couple of things we have, really. So the main thing we've got is our employee assistance program that is a central part of our benefits package. And it provides all of our colleagues with a listening ear and the option to go on advanced support if they need it. Obviously I think some of the challenges when you look at wellbeing in general, and especially around the theme of mental health, we only ever talk about it as a mental health issue and a condition, rather than actually maintaining and making sure that we all have great mental health. And really it comes down to mental welfare, making sure that people have a happy and supportive working environment and they feel it's a place where they belong, they feel comfortable to be themselves, and all those sort of things that makes me a great place to work.

Toby Hopkins:
But nonetheless, the employee assistance program, it's really central to the benefits package there. It's something that is available to all colleagues, whether you drive a van at the online fulfillment center, work in the bakery, right up to one of the board directors, that is something that is there for everyone. And again, as I've mentioned, the option for people to have further support if it's needed as well.

Toby Hopkins:
Our Great Place to Work scheme, which operates a little bit like a colleague council, if you like, as well. So essentially every store, depot, business area, they'll have elected representatives who form a team and come together to discuss their concerns and anything that they think could be done to make the workplace quite literally a great place to work. That's the entire point of that as well. So they come together at various times throughout the year and make sure their concerns are relayed to management in the local areas as well. And also they get the opportunity quarterly and annually to come together at more events where senior management is present, including board directors. A number of our board directors go out throughout the year to complete listening groups in our stores and depots to really give our colleagues who work on the frontline an opportunity to engage and to ensure that they really understand what's actually going on in our stores at the time as well and with our colleagues, and what is important for them.

Toby Hopkins:
And then as well, all of our board directors have the responsibility of taking over a dedicated strand of inclusion as well. And they come together in the form of the ops board meeting and the inclusion forum to really make sure they're championing the voice of an inclusive workforce. And thus we've given each of our board directors separate strands of inclusion to look after as well, that they can adequately champion the voice of that strand, and they get the opportunity to have some expanded expert knowledge in that particular area as well. All of that really rolls into the wider Great Place to Work Initiative, but our intention as well to make it a great place to work when it comes to [inaudible 00:05:01].

Paul Fox:
That all sounds absolutely fantastic. And I think what's really encouraging there to hear you talk about the board having that, there is a responsibility. It definitely seems there's a great degree of importance on it being peer and employee-led on a partnership approach right across the organization. And I suppose that's something I wanted to chat with you about, is the importance of partnerships. Because as well as that partnership approach internally you have a lot of different partnerships externally, I guess, helping you achieve inclusivity. You guys at Sainsbury's have attained the highest disability confidence rating, you're Investors and People accredited. So if we look at some of these more closely, the disability confidence scheme, helping organizations to keep disability inclusion at the very forefront, like I say, you're a disability confident leader. I'm just wondering if you can tell us a bit more about your journey on this scheme and how you've managed that achievement.

Toby Hopkins:
So disability inclusion, it's something that we're really, really committed to. It's not only it's the right thing to do, it's also central to our performance as a business. And again, fulfilling our inclusion aim of being the most inclusive place to work, where one of our colleagues can fill their potential but customers feel welcome when they shop with us. It really just is the right thing to do. So we started off the journey with a really holistic look at the business from a disabled person's perspective, both from a customer shopping with us or colleagues working in store, in our depots, and our store support centers as well. So we looked really at everything from the ground up. So when we were looking at the colleague experience we looked at, what does the entrance point of the organization look like? It's the recruitment side of things.

Toby Hopkins:
Okay, are we giving people the opportunity to inform us about their disability and their circumstances? Are we only putting emphasis on the negatives? How can we make this a really positive experience for our colleagues, our potential colleagues, to really ensure that they have a great experience when they come in to us? Is it accessible for those with visual and audio disabilities and the like as well, who may struggle with the conventional use of the website? Have we got all the accessibility really nailed down? Are we conforming to all the latest standards where our website accessibility should be? So those were the things that we really looked in to start with as well from our colleague experience. And then you build up, you start from the baseline, which is your recruitment, then you move into the assessment, the interview stage, and then the onboarding side of things as well when a colleague eventually starts with you as well.

Toby Hopkins:
And really making sure that we offer accessibility and have a disability inclusion lens really at all parts of that process as well. So when someone comes in for their induction, for instance, as well, are they going to be met with a blank look and, "Oh, hold on, we didn't tell you that we haven't got a ramp or anything like that"? "Oh no, we haven't actually got an interpreter for you. We haven't got anything printed out, no." And I think often there's a bit of a perception that when you're looking at disability inclusion, it's some of the things that you have to do are really expensive. That's not the case, it's all about having options available for different people. I always say that it's really important that when you're, say, conducting an interview, you would also have some questions printed out as well. So if someone maybe has a bit of a condition that might affect their reading ability or the like as well, or their comprehension, sometimes people can understand a lot better when they see it written down someplace. Sometimes people can understand it better when it's read out to them.

Toby Hopkins:
So it's all about just having those options available to people and really making sure that we champion that through with our line managers when they're conducting those really important processes as well. And then a big part of our disability confident agenda was our approach to workplace adjustments. And it's really about putting our colleagues at the center of their condition. They are the experts in their condition. They understand their condition like nobody else does. And we need to be proactively supporting them as a business to ensure that we can get them what they need and have a colleague fulfilling their duties at the full rate of their capability of performing. It's such a waste of talent when there's a minor barrier to capability in the form of a disability or condition, and it can be unlocked by the provision of some equipment or software or the like as well, but then that's not procured for the colleague. It's such a waste of talent. It's such a shame.

Toby Hopkins:
But by our approach at Sainsbury's by putting the colleague in the driving seat and understanding on our part that they are the expert in their condition, and really being able to work with them to understand what they need, how it may affect their work, and what we can do to really unlock their capability and ensure they have a great experience, was our workplace adjustments process, which really puts them in line of that and making sure that we can get our colleagues what they need the first time round as well.

Toby Hopkins:
And then when you look into with our customers, for instance, as well, we did a really good full roadmap of what the disabled customer experience looks like as well, whether that's in the physical sense in our store buildings and the like as well and how accessible they are to those people who have disabilities, and then in terms of how our colleagues actually serve our customers with disabilities as well. It's something that's always stuck with me and it's something that I never thought of as well, but I've worked at Sainsbury's since I was 16, I'm 25 now, and started working in store originally as well and gradually worked my way up in the business. Something I always remember was watching, in my first ever induction, was watching the DVD that we have called Helping Hands.

Toby Hopkins:
And that's a beginning to end the lesson, if you like, on the basics of disability inclusion for our disabled customers. Now, when you're 16 you don't really know that you're never supposed to pet someone's guide dog. You don't know that you're supposed to tell a blind person that you're moving away, and you don't really understand the importance of lip reading or anything like that. But those things have stuck with me and that's something that I remember ever since. And it's been forming, I think, of our commitment as an organization to the inclusion of generally the whole, but in particular the inclusion of those who are disabled as well, and really making sure that our colleagues have the skills to communicate with our disabled customers and give them the really great service possible that we should be giving to absolutely everybody as well.

Toby Hopkins:
And then there's a number of small things. Our PIN pads, for instance, as well, for as long as I can remember, have been detachable on an expandable cable so that they can be brought down to wheelchair level and the like as well. We have wider tills for instance, so those in wheelchairs can get through. And then also we've recently launched the sunflower lanyard scheme as well, just to give our colleagues a bit further information around those who have non-visible disabilities. Some are required just that little bit extra bit of support or may become distressed or things like that as well. Just so they know, it's a discreet symbol that our colleagues can provide the support to our disabled customers that they need.

Toby Hopkins:
So for us it was all about approaching how we operate as a business through the lens of disability inclusion. And as again, I've mentioned before, but the vital burden of that are really awareness and education, so that, if you like, really takes us through our disability confident journey in general, along with a number of other things, including working in partnership with many local authorities to offer supported work placements for those currently in further education who are looking to gain some vital work experience. And we feel that that's a really important part of our offer as an organization, that we're able to offer those in our local communities, we're a business with over 1,000 stores, we are a national business, but we're also a local business in thousands of local communities up and down the UK. And we have a real part to play by working in partnerships with local authorities and educators to ensure that people who do need some support, actually we can give people a really good grounding in the workplace as well.

Toby Hopkins:
And very often people come to work for us on those schemes and they end up staying as permanent colleagues, often 10, 20 years or so. It's always really nice to see and it's something that I'm very proud of that we do. That's, if you like, our complete journey that takes us through disability confident.

Paul Fox:
Yeah, there's a couple of things stick with me there just that you're talking about. One, yes, the training video back when you were 16 and the simple things that you say you've kept with you, and the proactivity that you mentioned, proactively addressing the situation. And certainly from our perspective we see this, that the education space, so yes, that video you saw at 16, I think it sticks with all of us. As a dog lover I still have to resist the urge to pet a guide dog, but at least my hands now know.

Paul Fox:
So I'm guessing that the benefits of this proactive, as you say, through the lens of the end-user approach, it brings so many more benefits than just employee inclusion. This is stuff that goes beyond the workplace and it's something that can go through life with you, and it links to some ... That kind of productivity, the things that you're doing, that education, how it sticks with people, I'm guessing there must be a link then to the fact that for the fourth year running you guys have achieved your Investors and People Gold Standards. So there must be a lot of what you've learned through that journey then comes to the fore in that process as well.

Toby Hopkins:
Yeah, absolutely. And it's something, the Investors and People accreditation is something that we're really proud of as well. It's a lot of work that has to go into it, but again, it's always the right thing to do. And it's something, again, that we think is vitally important. I think really central to that is, the Investors and People accreditation, is the development offer we have for our colleagues. It's something that we're really proud of, that we have been able to embed this culture of curiosity, which in turn leads to a culture of learning where we focus on skills. It's all about giving people the skills they need for success in life. I've mentioned before the placements that we offer to disabled young people in communities to give them a leg up in the workforce as well.

Toby Hopkins:
And again, that's got a real focus on skills. It's about giving people real skills that are going to be useful in their life and going to be useful in their career and useful in getting them on the career ladder at some level in their life as well. So with the I&P board accreditation there's a number of things that really go into it. We've got numerous programs that support skills, it's everything ranging from HR, tech, retail management, customer service. There really is something for everyone that enables them to get hold of some really good skills that really support their career, make them a specialist in what they do, and then ultimately form a really great career at all levels.

Toby Hopkins:
We've got to consider that not everybody wants to climb the ladder to the highest level. Some people want to become a real specialist in what they're doing, and that is great. And they're all really important balanced skills that serve people well for their careers, they serve the business brilliantly, we can ensure we have the best people working for us, and also allow people to gain a qualification, which is something that we're really excited about. We have a number of apprenticeships that are available for colleagues to take part in, everything, as I've mentioned, HR, tech, which is something that we've focused on very recently as well in the last two years and we've had a big resurgence on, and really giving people the skills and tech to achieve great things for the business and great things for their careers as well.

Toby Hopkins:
And then some of the more softer but more important skills in terms of retail management to customer service, there really is something for everyone. And it's about giving people those options that are available to them and making them realize that actually this is a place where you're able to carve out a career for yourself. You're able to gain really important skills, gain a great or some great qualifications that will stand you in good stead for the future.

Paul Fox:
Excellent. There's so much good stuff going on and it's clear the initiatives and partnerships that you've formed are helping so much to champion diversity across the organization and indeed local communities. As you mentioned, you're a local store as much as a national store. But with regards in particular to neurodiversity, you mentioned the sunflower lanyard scheme, yes, and there's a refreshed focus on your diversity within the organization. What advice would you give to other organizations to help them create a place where employees feel free to be themselves?

Toby Hopkins:
You've really got to approach it with two separate lenses on. You've got to have one lens of a capability lens, and you've got to have the other lens a level playing field lens as well. So you need to be looking at unlocking capability. So I said before as well, those people who are neurodiverse, they have often so much untapped potential, and it's such a waste to not be able to tap into that potential and not really making sure that those people can bring their full capability to work as well. It's not advantageous for the organization to not be able to tap into that untapped potential, and it's also really frustrating for the individual when they know that they've got all this potential and can see things differently, it's really frustrating for them. It doesn't lead to a great working experience as well.

Toby Hopkins:
So it's really important that you look at that from a capability point of view and how they can tap into and how you as an organization can tap into that capability as well, which often allows you to solve so many problems as well. We've used a number of our disabled employees to help us understand what the customer experience is like for those who are disabled. For instance, our accessibility specialists who work specifically on the customer shopping websites as well is visually impaired himself, and always can approach that through the lens of a disabled person. So again, they can offer you a really unique insight as well. So it's really important that you look through that lens as well.

Toby Hopkins:
And then when we look at the level playing field lens, I think one of the real misunderstandings in the inclusion sphere more generally is that to be fair, you have to treat everybody the same, and that's not always the case. Treating people fairly is about treating people according to their different circumstances. It's a fallacy to say that everyone should be treated exactly equally. We couldn't possibly do one thing for some person, but then it wouldn't be variable depending on the person. No, you need to really approach it by looking at, "Okay, we have this playing field here for some people, it's perfectly level for some people or it's a bit more of an incline or decline. How can we really make sure that playing field is leveled by the provision of tools, line manager understanding, colleague understanding as well of how people's disability or condition may manifest itself?"

Toby Hopkins:
And what skills they can bring that other people can't as well. I've mentioned before as well about our accessibility specialist and how he specifically looks after the customer work side and really is able to apply that lens of someone who's visually impaired onto that to make sure it's a really great accessible website. It's understanding what perspective they bring to you as well, but ultimately you need to approach it through a capability lens and making sure you are untapping the potential that you have within the organization to deliver a really great experience. And then also making sure that your playing field is level and understanding that actually treating people fairly is not about treating everyone the same. It's about treating people according to their circumstances. And there's always things we can do for that. And those are really the two main things I would advise any organization to look at when you're looking specifically at disability and indeed neurodiversity.

Paul Fox:
Yeah, sound advice indeed, and I think that we definitely agree that employees undoubtedly perform better when they feel celebrated. And I think you've drawn in some really clear, tangible benefits there of the benefits of having a neurodiverse workforce and different ways of thinking. Speaking of employee wellbeing, there's no doubt that it's central to what you guys are doing. And over Sainsbury's, what, 150-year history, you have always valued what you refer to as bright ideas and bold decisions. And today I know you value the role of technology and data and evolving processes as well. So we need to look quickly at what role technology plays in ensuring your employees feel supported in their working day.

Toby Hopkins:
Technology provides us with a number of points of leverage, really, to ensure that our colleagues have a really great experience and that we can achieve our business goals. In terms of when we're looking at specifically supporting our colleagues, I think that's where our new approach to workplace adjustments comes in, which I've alluded to a little bit earlier as well. But by really putting colleagues at the center of that and making it clear that they are the experts in their condition and giving them the opportunity to really point out what would be the things that would be most beneficial for them and what support would be really beneficial for them to be able to achieve in their role and to be able to have a great experience and make great contributions to the business, a number of my colleagues use various different technology tools to be able to work with that as well. A number of softwares that we use for yourself as well, as well as numerous other things to support with other disabilities, hearing impairments and the like as well.

Toby Hopkins:
So having that technology allows us to really tap into capability that we've not previously been able to tap into. We've also recently completed a large Windows 10 rollout across the organization as well with numerous new in-built accessibility features, which can help a number of our colleagues who might not be quite in the qualifying criteria or have the need for specialist software or any other kind of assistive technology that can help them. But again, it's about giving them the skills they need to be able to perform in their role and to remedy any conditions that might impact comprehension. And things like the immersive reader in Microsoft Teams, for instance, as well, it allows people to understand what's happening around them. It gives them a purposeful contribution, makes them feel that they have a purposeful contribution to the work that they're doing and really ensures that they have that great product experience, which is ultimately what we're all about.

Paul Fox:
It's interesting what you say about the tech and benefits to all. It's a bit like earlier when you touched on the website accessibility. I think more people are becoming aware that an accessible website is generally a better website. There are other benefits, I would say, in accessibility and inclusion. Your SEO is normally better, et cetera. And on that role of technology, do you think, is there an increasing awareness of the benefits to others among employees? As you said, it may be now on the periphery of having a defined need or specialty support. So I know, as you mentioned, Read and Write is in use in Sainsbury's. Would you have employees who see the wider benefits and productivity benefits outside of the disability and inclusion aspects of that support?

Toby Hopkins:
Yeah, I think so. Certainly Read and Write allows us to unlock a number of colleagues' capability and gives them that sense of purpose in their work, which is really important. I've mentioned that there's nothing more frustrating for our colleagues when they're not able to tap into their full potential and make their full contribution. But then you look in the wider sphere and things like an accessible website, for instance. It's no skin off the nose for someone who doesn't require an accessible website to go through that really simple thing, autopopulating fields when you enter a post code, for instance, as well, just to save clicks and the like, or making legends more visible or the like as well, or click buttons that are larger. So it's less of a small thing for people to go to who are visually impaired. It's no skin off the nose of someone who doesn't have a visual impairment to be able to use a website like that.

Toby Hopkins:
So it's about giving people the flexibility and the options available to them to ensure that they can have a great experience as a customer, but also as a colleague as well. So it's all about that blend, but ultimately this all plays into a commercial environment as well. You know, I've mentioned when I was 16 and we had the Helping Hands DVD to take you through the basics of disability inclusion. We don't do it just because it's a nice thing to do. We do it because it's important commercially for our business. And it's only right that those people who are disabled should be able to have a great experience as a customer and feel that the business is here for them, which is ultimately what we want to do. Everyone that shops in our store is a customer and is at an equal level of respect. And some who need a little more help than others, then it is only the right thing for us to do as a business.

Toby Hopkins:
I think just coming back to the point on technology as well, is just about, if I may add as well, with certainly when we look at our HR technology and the data that they're able to gather from that as well, and something that we run throughout the year are various campaigns to make sure that our colleagues can be really honest with us about their life circumstance and any sort of disability or condition that they may have. And it's really important that we know our colleagues better than anybody else. We want to get the full picture and be able to understand exactly who's working for us and how we can support them. So in terms of the technology we have as a business, being able to extrapolate the information about who in our organization has a disability, what the nature of their condition might be and how it manifests itself, that also allows us to build a really rich and compelling picture about how we can support our people in the organization.

Paul Fox:
Absolutely. And yeah, I think that's something that's becoming more and more important to organizations, is that idea to understand and to foster that atmosphere where people feel that they can, I suppose, disclose, discuss areas of disability or areas for support. Listen, Toby, it's been absolutely fantastic chatting with you today. I'm sure, like me, our listeners have learned a lot from hearing your experiences. So I'd like to say a massive thank you for joining us today. And to our listeners, thanks for listening in. Don't forget to subscribe to Texthelp Talks on your preferred podcast player or streaming service to catch the next episode. In the meantime, thanks again. Bye-bye.
 
 

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