Specialist wine retailer Majestic Wine employs around 1,350 people and operates more than 200 stores across the UK.
In April this year, the company restructured its pay and reward scheme, increasing wages and offering extra bonuses to shop staff.
Jacqui Rouse joined the business as its people director more than two years ago. She manages a team of 18, which includes employees working in talent and engagement, learning and development, payroll and HR.
What benefits are currently offered to your employees?
In addition to more common benefits like paid holidays, the ability to buy and sell annual leave, pension contributions and life insurance, we also offer a comprehensive suite of benefits that align with Majestic’s company culture.
We provide incremental salary increases for colleagues based on their experience, the size of store they are responsible for and their Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) qualification. Majestic pays for our colleagues to achieve these qualifications, and our internal learning and development team coaches them through the courses and exams.
We also offer once-in-a-lifetime, all-expenses paid incentive trips for high-performing store teams to spend time with wine producers and alcohol brands on all four corners of the globe. Around 250 of our colleagues will experience an incentive trip in the next 12 months to reward their hard work and further their wine education.
Employees additionally have the opportunity to take an unpaid career break or sabbatical and enhanced maternity, paternity and adoption leave benefits, as well as private healthcare through Bupa.
We give gifts to colleagues celebrating weddings, engagements, births and additional colleague discounts on wine for those getting married and ‘vintage’ benefits for colleagues who reach landmark lengths of service with us, starting from five years. For those who have worked at Majestic for 10 years or more we hold an annual lunch, and for those who have clocked up 15 years or more we hold an overnight event at a five-star hotel for those colleagues and their partners, and reward them with additional gifts. These occasions are incredibly well received and something we are particularly proud of at Majestic. We have a good number of colleagues who have celebrated these length of service milestones with us.
We have recently launched a car salary sacrifice scheme, offering our colleagues a tax benefit if they take out leases on more environmentally friendly electric vehicles.
We work closely with the Retail Trust and are one of the most engaged retailers in the UK. More than 500 of our 1,350 colleagues are registered on the Retail Trust website, around 300 have benefited from discounts by using the Hapi app, and 50 have used the Trust’s helpline.
Our work with the Retail Trust is part of our wider commitment to the health and wellbeing of our colleagues. We hold regular internal webinars on mental health and have a wellbeing forum where we listen to what is on our colleagues’ minds.
How often do you review your benefits offering and why?
We regularly benchmark our suite of benefits against the market on an informal basis, reviewing what other businesses are doing and asking ourselves: Are we competitive? What is currently important to people? How could we do more to help our colleagues? We are continually looking at what we can do differently, better – and more creatively.
How has your offering changed since the Covid-19 pandemic began?
The main change has been to hybrid working, which as we know has been a key factor of engagement for many of our colleagues, particularly new starters coming into the business since the pandemic. However, as a retail organisation, we also need to be very cognisant of the fact we have a number of colleagues who work in our stores where hybrid working is not necessarily feasible. What we have offered in our stores, however, is more flexible working options, with two different full-time contracts based on how many hours our store colleagues would prefer to work. We know that some of our colleagues would like to work fewer hours but still be considered full time, so this benefit helps us to cater for those needs.
What are your current HR/benefits challenges?
There are constant challenges for retail businesses around longer working hours, hybrid working, and how to manage colleague expectations in those areas. The Covid pandemic and the sudden shift to remote working gave people a taste of completely new work-life balance, and managing the demands of our colleagues to allow them to maintain a healthy balance is key. But the challenge lies in the fact that a good work-life balance means different things to different people.
More broadly, finding the right talent – and managing that from a cost perspective – is an increasing challenge given the current labour market. Retail is not seen as one of the most attractive industries to work in, even though we are one of the UK’s biggest private sector employers. So there is an ongoing challenge to better market ourselves as employers and we are continually striving to show our current and potential colleagues the opportunities that are available in an environment like Majestic – and how fun it can be to work in an industry such as ours.
How is Majestic supporting employees with the cost-of-living crisis?
Earlier this year we reviewed our pay structures, with a particular focus on our lowest paid colleagues. For store colleagues, we conducted a full review of the pay structure and put in place new salary increments which better reward their expertise, experience and the performance of their shop. All store colleagues were also awarded a basic pay increase that took their hourly rate to at least £10.60, ahead of the national minimum wage, and they retained the ability to earn uncapped bonuses based on their store’s performance against sales targets. In 2022/23, we paid out our biggest ever bonus pot to store colleagues.
For Support Centre and Distribution Centre colleagues, those on lower salaries were awarded larger increases in pay, which meant that colleagues earning £30,000 or less benefited from the largest pay rises in percentage terms. As a Majestic board, we again took the decision not to take a pay rise – just as we did in 2022 – to help support our colleagues through the current cost-of-living pressures.
We have also engaged strongly with the Retail Trust, with almost half our colleagues using their services, including the Hapi discounts app.
What are the main challenges for HR/benefits departments today in general?
Employee expectations around wellbeing, ways of working, the work-life balance, development opportunities and the desire to progress quickly through an organisation have arguably never been higher. As businesses, we want to create an environment that drives high levels of colleague engagement and employee retention, but we have to work incredibly hard to gain that trust and loyalty. That’s not all about being paid more, but being offered opportunities for career development, being treated well at work, and being cared for as a human being, not just an employee. People want to feel valued as an employee, but also proud of who they work for and emotionally connected to what they do day-to-day.
Is there anything the government could do that would help?
Many things! Incentives to enable all individuals to remain in work through the overall life cycle would be welcome – think about working parents, or how we support the ageing workforce. We have a number of colleagues who are engaging in their second careers with us. As employers, we can enhance colleague benefits and the ability to keep individuals in work, but the Government also has the opportunity to provide a much better statutory benefit framework and support organisations in being able to implement this.
The other big area where the government could help is in making it easier to bring great talent into the country from overseas. This has been a huge problem since Brexit and we have seen the challenges it has posed to the UK labour market.
What do you foresee will be the hot topics for HR in the future?
I’ve talked about it before, but I think the big theme will be the increasing demands being placed on organisations from current and future employees in areas like hybrid working, health and wellbeing. Those organisations who are the most successful will be those who embrace these opportunities and collaborate with colleagues to come up with solutions that work for both the employees and employers.
How do you ensure employees know about the available benefits?
We have a number of different communication channels that we use to talk about our suite of benefits. We talk to all of our new employees about our benefits as part of their induction period; we have an intranet open to all colleagues that provides details; and we also communicate the specifics of any new and improved benefits via our monthly email updates to the business.
Which benefit(s) have the biggest take-up?
Our most popular benefits are our staff discounts, pension and the retail discounts provided by the Hapi app, via the Retail Trust. Many of our colleagues work for Majestic because of their passion for wines and spirits, so it’s no surprise that they purchase their favourite products to enjoy at home with friends and family. In addition, being able to access retail discounts so quickly and easily has been particularly helpful at a time when the cost of food and non-food products has spiralled.
What’s the best employee benefit you’ve ever had and why?
It has to be the Hapi app on Retail Trust. In the 12 months that Majestic has been using it, our colleagues have spent £30,000 on the app. It’s just an incredibly convenient way to obtain discounts and reduce your outgoings during the current cost-of-living crisis.
If you had an unlimited budget, what employee benefit(s) would you like to introduce for employees?
I’d love to provide private healthcare for all, and I’d love to give everyone unlimited annual leave. That’s a benefit that has been found to engage and motivate workforces, yet colleagues never really take more leave than they would have done if they only had a set amount.