UK car finance and loan business Zuto employs around 450 people based across two sites in Macclesfield and Manchester, with many working in a hybrid way. In May 2022, it received B Corp certification and committed to fostering a culture of equality and sustainability to create a great environment for employees.
Mary Beighton has been its director of people at culture for nearly four years, having joined the firm more than 11 years ago in a marketing role. She currently manages a team of 13.
How did you begin your career at Zuto?
My background is in marketing and project management and, as the business has grown, I’ve been fortunate enough to have many opportunities to develop professionally. It became quite clear that the people side of things was where my strengths lay and I qualified on the job as the years have gone by, ending up in in the position that I’m in now.
As a people team, we cover the full employee lifecycle, which includes everything from talent acquisition and talent brand through to learning and development. HR and facilities fall into the people team.
In terms of who informs what benefits we want to introduce, we also have an impact network. We received B Corp accreditation last year and we’ve used that framework and translated it into four different impacts areas: inclusivity, wellbeing, communities and planet. It’s like an employee forum, so these different impact groups talk about improvements that we want to make and changes that we want to drive. The wellbeing and inclusivity groups have been key in helping us understand exactly what is wanted or needed then the HR team makes it happen. The finance team will also be involved if there’s any financial implications, and the leadership team will have an input and steer as well.
What benefits do you currently offer?
There’s quite a lot! We’ve got four different pillars to our benefits, the first one being wellbeing. We’ve got all the usual stuff, including an employee assistance programme (EAP) and health cash plan. We’ve also got a Thrive mental wellbeing app and Healthy Hub, which gives our people virtual GP access and one-to-one counselling online, and discounted gym fitness memberships. We’ve got a large team of qualified mental health first aiders internally, including 18 who are fully qualified. We also offer in-office experiences that we attribute to our wellbeing benefits, such as regular massages and health MOTs. We bring in external parties to provide virtual meditation and Pilates sessions, and these are all qualified healthcare professionals. There are also other, more fun things we do, like people bringing their dogs in occasionally and offering healthy snacks in the kitchen from a wellbeing perspective.
Regular workshops are delivered internally, which could be focused on issues such as sleep, nutrition or stress management. Soft skills workshops can support people with resilience and confidence as well.
In terms of financial benefits, we offer a standard pension, income protection, life assurance of three times annual salary, and shopping attraction and entertainment discounts. We offer discounted travel and city centre parking, as well as a cycle-to-work salary sacrifice scheme. We’re also launching electric vehicles through salary sacrifice.
The next pillar is family friendly. We have made some significant enhancements to our primary and secondary caregiver leave. Primary care givers have six months at full pay and six months at 50% pay, and secondary caregivers receive four weeks that 100% of salary plus an additional two weeks of unpaid leave should they want to take it.
We’ve recently launched a transition policy to support people going through gender transition. We also have miscarriage policy, which is up to four weeks of fully paid leave, and a menopause policy, which offers adjustments and support, as well as paid leave for people going through and experiencing symptoms of the menopause.
Our fertility benefits offer people up to two years and complete flexibility in terms of time off for those undergoing fertility treatments. Our company sick pay now provides up to three months of full pay for employees who are off and absent through illness.
As well as these pillars, we have “just because we deserve it” benefits, which are nice to have. This includes a holiday allowance of up to 35 days a year, as well as a birthday day off and one volunteering day off per annum. We have fully stocked drinks, fridges, fruits, healthy snacks, Friday bar and regular lunches out.
What’s your policy around flexible and hybrid working?
We don’t list this as a benefit to be honest because it feels like this is just the norm, but our approach is to offer loads of flexibility.
We have core hours and we have a 40-hour working week, so we give people flexibility outside of those core hours. The expectation is that people need to be available for meetings within the core hours, but outside of that they have full flexibility. If it works for them to log in early or equally later on in the evening, that’s fine. The only caveats are if there are concerns around performance or behaviours, in which case we would have an expectation for people to attend the office more regularly. In terms of home and office working, it’s roughly half and half but we’ve not formalised this into any kind of policy as yet because again, we want it to be as flexible as it needs to be.
How often do you review your benefits offering?
It’s continuous. We don’t have any set points in the year to specifically review them holistically, but we do annually review any policies that are already in place such as the primary caregiver leave, menopause and fertility policies.
People within our impact groups will have ideas or something will happen in the world and we’ll discuss it and that’s how improvements and enhancements typically come about, alongside feedback that we get through our surveys. For example, we ran a survey in October last year specifically on cost of living because we knew that this was a challenge for a lot of our people. Off the back of that, we saw opportunities in terms of what benefits we could offer around the travel discounts as people were spending £200-plus on parking or trains. That was what triggered us to look more closely at that area and introduce initiatives that we knew people would actually benefit from. So, we could have one new benefit a month regularly and then nothing for six months, it really depends on what our people are telling us.
How did Covid change what you offered staff?
Flexibility was forced upon us in terms of remote working and that’s stuck because people are benefiting from it. Outside of flexibility, it’s absolutely about wellbeing, offering support for people’s mental health, physical health and financial wellbeing.
We’ve put an awful lot of work into our management development to ensure that our people managers can spot the signs of mental wellbeing. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been doing a lot of virtual and hybrid events to try and make sure that everyone, regardless of where they work, has an opportunity to get involved. For example, we did a hybrid event for National Women’s Day involving 30 people in the office and 20 people who dialled in. It’s really important to understand that one size doesn’t fit all anymore when it comes to communicating with your people. At the same time, we’re doing in-office experiences as well, because we want people to come in and engage and that’s important for our culture.
Were there any specific benefits that you introduced as a result of the pandemic?
It’s been more of an evolution to be honest. We’ve definitely dialled up in some areas, around wellbeing for example, as a result of the pandemic specifically, but I don’t think there was ever a moment where we sat down and said, “what do we need to do differently now?”. As things have changed over the years and expectations have changed, we’ve just adapted.
What are your current challenges in terms of benefits and wider HR policy?
One of the themes that we’re talking about a lot is inclusivity and making sure that the policies and benefits we have are equitable. We’re considering the shape of people’s family units or the way in which children are born into family units and have rewritten all of our people policies quite recently to ensure that the language that we use is inclusive and appropriate for our wide range of demographics.
Another theme is the cost of living. In the past 12 months we’ve placed a huge focus on this to ensure that as a business we are doing everything we can to support our people. One of the challenges that we’ve seen is that much of what we used to think was a great benefit is now just expected from people coming into the business. For example, flexible hybrid work is just the norm, so we’re having to really make sure that what we we’re enhancing is a valued benefit, rather than just something we should be doing.
Also, thinking about the cost of living and financial benefits, balancing the short-term immediate hits, quick-win type benefits with the long-term ones is important. For example, in terms of pensions, do we consider increasing our overall pension contributions for our full population? Are people going to appreciate that more than a bigger salary adjustment now because of the cost-of-living crisis that that that’s happening today? So having that short-term versus long-term view of what is really going to benefit people is a fine balance.
Were there any other benefits that were introduced to support the cost of living?
We’ve introduced financial coaching in partnership with Stratton Wealth Management because the feedback that we got from staff was that many don’t know how to budget or manage their money. They don’t understand their incomings or their pension, or they want to save for a mortgage. We got a really clear indication that people would appreciate some form of financial advice and support, so on a monthly basis now people can book a 15-minute consultation with Stratton and they receive completely independent financial advice.
Additionally, we heard more than a couple of times that people couldn’t afford a hot meal a day which prompted us to open a pantry in the office. We have now a fully stocked store cupboard with soups, pasta and other foods so that employees can help themselves, which has been really well received. They can also take food home if they need to.
What are the wider challenges in terms of benefits today?
The expectation piece I mentioned earlier is a challenge and is something that we’re very mindful of in terms of offering what is a valued benefit versus what is expected as standard.
I also believe that it’s a candidate’s market out there and the war on talent’s raging, so you’ve really got to differentiate yourself with your benefits if you really want to stand out from the crowd as an employer.
What is Zuto’s stand-out benefit then?
I’d go back to our family friendly offering because we’ve curated these to be as inclusive as possible, to offer people full flexibility at every stage in their life. It’s not just about having kids, it’s about if you get ill or if you’ve got dependents, if you’re a caregiver, if you’re going through a life change or any kind of transition, the menopause or fertility treatment. We’ve put an awful lot of thought into making sure that we’re creating a level playing field, regardless of people’s personal situation.
Is there anything the government could do to help?
If you’d have asked me before the Budget announcements, I’d have said childcare costs because we know childcare costs in the UK are among the highest in the world and that does impact a lot of people’s ability to go back to the workplace. It’s something that that we’ve had feedback on internally as well. Also, what else can be done to supplement the cost of childcare now the salary sacrifice scheme isn’t in play anymore, perhaps reintroducing more affordable childcare for older children on a salary sacrifice basis would be really helpful.
Also, thinking again to the cost of living, caps on fuel, energy, food prices, and even upping the minimum wage. Zuto is a real living wage employer Zuto, which is significantly different from the current minimum wage, and I don’t think minimum wage is enough for people to live on.
What are the future challenges we might face in this area?
Wellbeing is a key one, especially investing in mental wellbeing and bringing neurodiversity into that as well.
There’s so much more conversation around diversity in the workplace now but a lot of businesses aren’t as progressive in their thinking as the good ones. The challenge in terms of creating an equitable playing field for employees will be in holding businesses to account. There’s an awfully long way to go for a lot of companies in ensuring that they are doing the right thing by all of their employees, regardless of their personal circumstances.
How do you make sure that your employees know about your employee benefits?
It’s honestly a challenge! We can communicate, communicate, and communicate some more and we still have people saying “I didn’t know I had a charity day off” – even though there’s been 10 blogs about it and it’s been on the intranet. So, we do all sorts. We’ve got two-way surveys, 360-degree feedback and webinars, and we have regular workshops on our benefits. That might be about everything that’s available or it might be we just drill down into one that we’ve just launched. We’ve also got a complete company intranet, so people can at any point deep dive and find information on the benefits that we’ve got.
We have regular manager briefings where we share and cascade information. We use those as to discuss a benefit of the week to make people aware that they’ve got health cash plans, for example. We use our internal comms channels as well. We do quite a few case studies, for example, someone recently took a charity day so we profiled her to really bring to life what these benefits mean. Our suppliers also come to the office, for example Health Shield who provide our health cash plan, so people can talk to them. Word of mouth is probably the most powerful tool when it comes to communicating these benefits – that and a personal recommendation are most effective.
What benefit has had the biggest take up?
Our mental health care team are well utilised, which is a good thing and a bad thing depending on which way you look at it. We’ve established that team as the go-to for anyone who would benefit from that kind of support, and we’ve seen a marked increase in our health cash plan take up. Again, as people become more aware of what’s available, we can see that the take up is improving month on month. In the same way as the mental health first aid team, we can see engagement with our EAP facility is increasing. All of what we do in-office, like the financial coaching sessions and massages, get booked up very quickly. It really depends on where it’s positioned and what people’s requirements are, but we’ve certainly seen a massive uptake and engagement with our wellbeing benefits.
What’s the best benefit you’ve ever had?
The flexibility that we’ve got now is something that I really value. I’ve got three children and I don’t know how anyone could cope with having to juggle the responsibilities of family life with three young kids and a full-time job without that flexibility. I appreciate that the most out of everything that I’ve had access to over the years.
If you had an unlimited budget for employee benefits, what would you introduce?
Something around individual support. It would be incredible if we could facilitate that for our entire workforce and so people could get bespoke support, advice, development or signposting depending on their circumstances. A one-size-fits-all approach works really well in some areas but to support people on an individual basis there would need to be something one-on-one, so a personal or professional coach for all would be on my wish list with an unlimited budget.
Can you explain more about the menopause support you provide?
This came about through the inclusivity group. We developed the policy to ensure that if people were absent because of menopausal symptoms they were not penalised. We also all got together to provide a support network specifically geared towards women who are going through the menopause and that’s been really successful. It’s not applicable to all, but some of our male population have found it very useful because their partners are going through the menopause as well.