Waste management company Cawleys has been trading for more than 70 years.
The family-run business employs 226 people across the UK, with a 70/30 split between non-office based and office based staff.
Kirsty Dwan joined the firm just over seven years ago, in August 2016. She was solely responsible for HR until May 2022, when she hired a part-time recruitment administrator to help fill the company’s growing number of vacancies.
Why were there so many vacancies at the company?
When we came out of Covid, we ended up with a high number of vacancies because a large proportion of our staff are drivers and there was a mass exodus of them during the pandemic. A lot of companies really raised their rates just to try and keep drivers in post. Recruitment got a little bit out of hand and we had 33 live vacancies at one point, which was far too much for me to handle.
We’ve since done a lot of the work in terms of our benefits, pay and hours and I’ve really noticed a shift in people wanting to come and work for us. They have been very proactive in seeking us out, which is a brilliant place to be in.
What benefits are currently offered to your employees?
Cawleys is part of a movement of businesses voluntarily committing to paying their staff an hourly rate which is higher than the government threshold – addressing the startling statistic that more than 13.3% of workers in the regions they operate earn less than they need to live on.
In May, we also reduced working hours by 2.5 hours per week for all staff, helping improve wellbeing and work-life balance, which did not affect any employees financially.
Last year, we increased the number of mental health first aiders from two to 11. Working alongside physical first aiders, they are fully trained to identify and support employees facing mental health challenges.
Other benefits we offer include life insurance for all staff, value awards which are recognition awards based on demonstrating behaviours that represent the company values, an incentive scheme for every employee that varies based on individual job roles, and a £500 recruitment referral scheme.
The company’s Waste Not Want Not portal provides information and updates as well as the following benefits:
- Wellbeing area offering fitness and health information.
- Employee recognition rewards programme.
- HR and training information
- Discounts and cash back from high-street stores
- Celebratory e-cards
- Thank you awards – all staff can nominate colleagues for monthly awards with cash payments of £50
- Additional vouchers given to all employees at Christmas by the management board. These are administered as a credit on the portal for everyone to use as they choose.
- Long service awards
How often do you review your benefits offering and why?
I look at it on an ongoing basis purely because when I first started we didn’t have that many benefits in place. It was very standard, but the company was growing quite substantially. I will probably do an annual audit, but I regularly run reports just to see how well things are being utilised. The good thing with the Waste Not, Want Not platform is you can report from it and see the utilisation. We have the employee assistance programme and the cycle-to-work scheme housed there too, so I can get some good data.
We also do annual engagement surveys with our staff and ask about how they feel the benefits and the pay, and other things are contributing to their lives. We use that feedback as well.
How has your offering changed since the pandemic?
Hugely. Covid was a massive shock for everybody and our workforce almost split into two very distinct camps because we had a large number of people who couldn’t not be in work, such as our operatives who are sorting the waste and our drivers who are collecting. And then we had others based in the office who had to learn how to work from home. So during that time we set up wellbeing sessions, we looked at some online personal training for people just so they could keep active and also keep involved with everybody. We sent a wellbeing pack to every member of our staff, including drivers and operatives, and everyone in the office just to say “take care of yourself” and “we’re all in this together”. That was very, very well received. Since then we’ve been much more flexible in our working practices where we can be.
We also reviewed and reduced everybody’s working hours by half an hour a day. We increased our recruitment referral amount from £250 to £500 in that time as well.
We also put life insurance in place, which was a massive thing for us.
What are your current HR/benefits challenges?
Up until this morning I would have said it was recruitment. Recruitment has been a challenge for a number of reasons. Let’s be honest, we’re not a sexy industry at all and you can only sell it so far. At the end of the day, I still need people that are going to collect and sort the waste by hand, so that has been a challenge.
We were delighted in July this year to receive Investors in People Gold accreditation, and that really does attest to how well we’ve shifted our focus to our people and how much we value our staff. Since we got that and the living wage employer accreditation this year, as well as the other changes we’ve made, we’ve noticed a real shift. As I say, people are now queuing up to work for us, which is fab.
How is your organisation supporting employees with the cost-of-living crisis?
Mainly by paying the real living wage and reducing everybody’s working hours. We did a big piece of work on what would make things a bit easier and found out that by closing the offices at 5.30pm, people were sometimes taking over an hour and a half to get home just because of traffic.
So we took that feedback onboard and realised that if we close at 5pm, that person will probably knock half an hour off their drive home and that will make a huge difference to them.
The biggest thing that we did as a company was when we knew that the cost-of-living crisis was not going to get any better, we increased all salaries across the board by 5% in October 2022, which was a massive financial commitment from us and from the board. We did that at a time where we also were being squeezed by the same crisis as a company. Fuel prices were not going down, we still had the buildings and a lot of infrastructure that we needed to keep going, but we took that hit at the beginning of the crisis to really show that we wanted to support everybody who works for us as much as we can.
There was no financial detriment to anybody and we worked really hard on it to give them something without taking away because, while it’s great to reduce the working week, nobody wanted a reduced salary in the middle of a crisis. So essentially we gave everybody that 5% and we’ve reduced their working week and most people probably had a pay rise in that time too.
Another thing we’ve done to support staff with the cost of living is ensure that everybody across the board now has an incentive or bonus scheme available to them, based on KPI or attendance or performance. So there is an additional scheme that’s financially driven for everyone who’s office-based and non office-based.
Is it difficult to ensure your benefits meet the needs of both office-based and non office-based employees?
It can be a challenge, but the financial ones are the easiest because obviously we all like to have more money and life assurance, and things like that.
I’d say the biggest challenge I have is trying to reflect the flexibility of work patterns for my non office-based staff.
What are the main challenges for HR/benefits departments today in general?
Matching the requirement for flexibility. The government is bringing in new flexible working legislation next year which is brilliant, but it doesn’t lend itself easily to every role and that does cause a challenge with the expectation that employees now have of what can be achieved on a flexible basis. Coming out of Covid, we all changed how we worked, but getting that balance right for manual and office-based staff is tough as I can’t afford the same flexibility for both. That does provide me with a huge challenge because I want to be fair, but the industry doesn’t allow me to, and that’s going to be an ongoing challenge.
Also just ensuring that people feel adequately rewarded for the work that they do. Although we’re not a very glamorous industry, we are essential, and I want to make sure people feel that they’re rewarded well for the work that they are doing when looking at our competitors and our marketplace.
What do you foresee will be the hot topics for HR in the future?
Managing the expectations of new recruits. Everyone’s talking about Generation Z and the new, younger generation that’s coming into the workforce. Their expectations of a normal job are very different from pre-Covid. I have people wanting ultimate flexibility from day one, and we need to really get our head round how we’re going to deal with that as a country, because it made big changes to people’s lives during Covid. We’re going to have to really work to keep that generation empowered and motivated and manage them properly.
How do you ensure employees know about the available benefits?
The Waste Not, Want Not platform that we brought in well over three years ago has really helped because it has a communications page, and we can put announcements there that go out to everybody. If we have a new benefit, it’s highlighted there.
We also carry out comprehensive inductions for everybody where all the information is provided. One of our big winners in achieving our Investors in People award was our communications. We really progressed a lot on that and we also put all of our benefits information on our recruitment material that we do. So when we go out to market, we’re selling the job, the company and the benefits and it’s referred to explicitly in our contract and all our offer letters. So we’ve got the inductions and then we’ve got the Waste Not, Want Not site and we’ve got posters up around the place as well.
Which benefit(s) have the biggest take-up?
The incentive schemes that we have brought in have been very well received.
Also the discount platform that we’ve got makes a difference to everybody, regardless of role, because the same discounts are available to everybody and that can make a real difference to your pocket at the end of a week or a month.
What’s the best employee benefit you’ve ever had and why?
Private healthcare is a huge benefit for me and for my family, and I also like the idea of having your birthday off. It’s a really nice thing to offer and it’s a quick win.
Private healthcare speaks for itself – you’ve just got that extra little bit of security – and a birthday day off, well, who doesn’t want an extra day off?
If you had an unlimited budget, what employee benefit(s) would you like to introduce for employees?
I would love them all to have private medical insurance. I absolutely love it. We have the life assurance that is only payable in the worst possible scenario for somebody, which is a good benefit to have, but private healthcare just makes a difference to everybody. Everyone has issues with health, be it them or their family, and just to have that little less anxiety, I’d love to be able to offer that.