How Alzheimer's Research UK won the 2021 Charity Times HR Award

Alzheimer's Research UK's HR director, Alison Kelly talks to Melissa Moody about the changes the charity made to win the 2021 Charity Times HR Award and what other charities can learn.

Melissa: What HR reforms have been taken at Alzheimer’s Research UK, and why?

Alison: Alzheimer’s Research UK has gone through a period of significant and rapid growth in the past four years. During that time, the HR Team, just three people, have implemented strong foundations around Resourcing, Reward, Learning & Development, Employee Relations and Systems/Technology. This has included:

• Shaping our organisational culture by asking employees to define our leadership behaviours. These are integral to how we work and are woven through many HR practices and processes, enabling us to create a positive working environment.
• Implementing an HR Management System provides us with robust data where we can make informed decisions, improve efficiency, reduce risk, and provide employees with a more positive experience.
• Offering a range of learning and development initiatives, such as our Leadership Development Programme, Masterclasses, bite-size learning, e-learning and coaching, enables employees to develop their skills, knowledge and experience.
• Harmonising various practices and processes and enhancing our family-friendly policies, helps to create an inclusive culture, and ensure fairness.
• Following a review of how we work, employees are supported and encouraged to achieve a better work/life balance through more agile and remote ways of working.

Melissa: What things have been put in place to support employees during the pandemic?

Alison: In December 2019, we received our Employee Engagement Survey results, which showed ‘wellbeing’ was a key development area, highlighting emerging factors like stress and work/life balance among our employees.

When the pandemic struck, we responded quickly and transitioned the majority of employees to work remotely. The HR Team recognised this was going to be an incredibly difficult and uncertain time and were mindful that, pre-pandemic, employee wellbeing was already an area of concern.

It would have been relatively easy to put some quick wins and solutions in place, but one of the many aspects the HR Team pride themselves on is engaging with employees by seeking and listening to feedback. Carrying out an internal survey enabled us to understand how the pandemic was affecting employees and what solutions could be considered.

Based on employee feedback and external research, we implemented a Health and Wellbeing Strategy, creating a supportive environment through a range of benefits and resources focusing on mental, physical and financial health and wellbeing. We also launched support mechanisms helping employees and managers to have open and honest conversations, remain safe, connected and engaged at all levels.

These initiatives included:
• Introducing a revised Sickness Policy and Company Sick Pay scheme.
• Introducing a Health Cash Plan providing cashback towards healthcare costs.
• Creating a ‘My Health and Wellbeing’ platform on our intranet, enabling employees to access information about the benefits and support available across the pillars of financial, physical and mental health.
• Signing the ‘Time to Change Employer Pledge’, demonstrating our commitment to changing the way we think and act about mental health, and implementing a clear plan of action.
• Introducing two mental health e-learning courses – for managers and employees. Each providing employees with skills to look after themself and others and building confidence in asking for help.
• Implementing Wellness Action Plans as a practical tool to help employees and managers have open and honest conversations about concerns and consider reasonable adjustments.
• Creating a ‘Personal Stories’ section on our ‘My Health and Wellbeing’ platform, where members of the Senior Leadership Team and employees share their personal stories/journeys, which has helped to reduce the stigma that can be associated with mental health.
• Delivering ‘Managing Change’ and ‘Resilience’ workshops, provided additional support through the uncertainty of the pandemic.

We were hugely encouraged when we received our 2021 Employee Engagement Survey results revealing significant improvements in employee wellbeing.

Melissa: As winners of the Charity Times Awards 2021 HR Management Award, what can other charities learn from your methods?

Alison: Without doubt, our employees are intrinsic to Alzheimer’s Research UK achieving its vision of a world free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia. We continuously strive to be a great place to work and identify ways in which we can build on our already outstanding levels of engagement. We can only achieve this by actively seeking, listening and responding to employee feedback through various channels, surveys and forums.

One of our big successes is carrying out an annual employee engagement survey which focuses on 8 key factors: ‘Leadership’, ‘My Company’, ‘My Manager’, ‘My Team’, ‘Personal Growth’, ‘Wellbeing’, ‘Fair Deal’ and ‘Giving Something Back’. This survey enables us to identify our strengths and opportunities for development both at a team and organisational level. The survey also enables us to compare results from the previous survey and the progress that has been made through our action plans.

By listening to our employees and working closely with our highly-engaged Senior Leadership Team and Board of Trustees, we have been able to continue to build on levels of engagement and ensure that we are a great place to work.

It was an incredibly proud moment when the HR Team won the Charity Times Award 2021 for HR Management. Alzheimer’s Research UK really is a fantastic and supportive place to work and this is only made possible through our people.

Melissa: How can charities look to retain employees, particularly as a recruitment crisis threatens the sector?

We know as we emerge from the pandemic the coming months and years may be challenging for every sector, especially with high volumes of vacancies in the UK and skills shortages.

Alzheimer’s Research UK’s employee turnover is relatively low in the sector, but this does not mean we can become complacent. Through employee surveys and carrying out comprehensive exit interviews, we are able to gain insights into the perspectives of employees, which we can act upon.

As part of our approach to employee retention, we focus on a number of aspects such as:
• Building on our culture by ensuring high levels of employee engagement.
• Creating a diverse and inclusive environment where employees are empowered and feel they belong.
• Providing flexible working to support work-life balance.
• Having an effective induction programme, enabling positive starts for our new joiners.
• Ensuring roles, responsibilities and levels of pay are competitive and internally fair through internal and external benchmarking.
• Offering various initiatives enabling employees to develop their skills, knowledge and experience.

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