Howden responds to Covid-19 pandemic with People First strategy

People First banner in the office

Howden is the retail broking arm of Hyperion Insurance Group and provides a range of specialist insurance and employee benefits solutions to clients around the world. Together with Howden One, its global specialist broking network, the company comprises over 15,000 professionals, operating in more than 90 territories.

Howden’s leading Employee Benefits & Wellbeing division provides strategic advice to corporates, SMEs, and consumer clients on healthcare, protection, wellbeing, technology platforms and pension benefits in the UK and internationally.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the company has focused on strategies that ensure the wellbeing of its employees and, as far as possible, it has been able to operate on a ‘business as usual’ basis.

People First strategy leads the way

Howden is an operationally and financially resilient Group. It was quick to react to the crisis and ensure that client advice and servicing continued to be delivered successfully, albeit in a virtual environment. The company is very much ‘open for business’.

Howden has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic with its People First strategy. As the name suggests, employees rather than shareholders are put first, which in turn enables them to put the client first.

A key part of this strategy has been ensuring job security. From the start of the pandemic, David Howden, CEO, Hyperion, and Chris Evans, CEO, Howden UK, made it clear that jobs were safe.

They reassured staff that they had no plans to furlough any employees or ask them to take any reductions in their salaries. These steps ensured that employees could concentrate on adapting to the new working landscape and supporting clients, rather than worrying about their jobs.

In addition, Howden’s RESPECT initiative sets out the company’s principles and approach towards equality, diversity and respect in the workplace. A dedicated Employee Group works with stakeholders across the business to ensure these principles are firmly embedded within the company culture and behaviours.

How is the Group responding to the challenge?

To respond to the challenges of lockdown, the Group introduced new agile and creative working practices to deliver, “Business as Normal in Abnormal Times”.

Employee health and safety has always been paramount. The company closed the Howden UK offices ahead of the Government’s instructions and implemented remote working to protect employees, customers and trading partners.

The company activated this quickly and 90% of all employees were working remotely within hours of lockdown – a move made possible by its operationally strong infrastructure.

All non-essential business travel was suspended and wherever possible, teams are using technology to replace face-to-face meetings. The business had been stress-tested, before the recent office closures, and has proven its remote working capability, ensuring normal service delivery.

The Group has invested in IT, telephony and network capabilities to support smart working and rolled out collaborative remote working tools such as Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and other digital tools to keep employees in touch with customers and partners.

The business also uses the Workplace platform to create a sense of community with employees whilst they are working from home. It is a popular tool for sharing business updates as well as social posts.

A focus on health and wellbeing

Looking after the health and wellbeing of employees working remotely has been a priority for the business. When lockdown began, employees were able to request any equipment they needed (IT equipment, chairs etc.) to work from home safely and productively.

The HR and Learning & Development teams adapted quickly to provide online resources and virtual sessions to support staff. This included training on working effectively in a virtual world, resilience workshops and wellbeing sessions for parents - aimed specifically at ways to support children. From the start of lockdown, Howden supported a flexible approach to working patterns.

Employees were reminded of the wide range of employee benefits that are available to them such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), a mental health app, access to RedArc nurses, a virtual GP service, and private medical insurance amongst other benefits. New benefits have also been added to respond to the current challenges that some employees are facing with the launch of a mortgage advice service available to all UK employees.

Daily online exercise classes were introduced free of charge via Workplace. There have also been wellbeing webinars, presentations and videos that were shared via Workplace and Team Meetings.

The business has not lost sight of the need to inject some fun into work life to ensure that staff are happy and enjoying their job, albeit in a virtual environment. A range of social activities have been organised including Friday playlists, quizzes, fancy dress drinks, virtual lunches and coffee mornings.

From the start, the need to ensure that people take regular breaks and look after their mental health has been paramount.

Building upon the Group’s 2019 UK employee wellbeing survey, the 2020 Global People Survey was issued to all employees during lockdown.

The aim was to understand how employees feel working for the company, what it does well and where there is room for improvement. The results will help to shape future HR and wellbeing strategies, as well as considering steps for a more sustainable future. There were over 4,500 responses globally with 87% of the UK workforce participating.

Commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility

Howden is aware that many local communities are suffering during these challenging times.

The company has responded with a concerted effort to give back to those who need it most, including:

  • Offering to make a £50 donation to the NHS charity on employees’ behalf with over £11,000 being donated
  • An art competition was organised for employees and their children with the prize being £100 donation to a charity of the winner’s choice
  • Donations of supplies have been made to local charities
  • Ongoing partnership with the Alzheimer Society – for example hosting a Virtual Dementia Friends Workshop

 

How effective has this strategy been?

96% of employees responded to the Global People Survey saying that Howden’s response had been handled very well and that as a business it had managed to maintain the highest levels of service in supporting clients (despite the disruption caused by office closures). The regular communication and support provided to employees has been widely and positively received.

Chris Evans, CEO, Howden UK said,

“People First has always been the guiding principle of our business and this has been more important than ever during the Covid-19 crisis. We know that many employees within Howden and their families are facing challenges resulting from this unique situation; from having to juggle work with home schooling, unexpected financial pressures, social isolation or managing caring responsibilities. We have provided a wide range of resources and tools to support our people and have been very clear that they can work flexibly to help them meet the needs of home and work in the best way to suit them.’’

“Importantly, we have reinforced that they have job security. We eliminated worries and uncertainty around pay cuts and furlough by announcing right at the start that we wouldn’t be asking employees to reduce their salary or putting them on furlough. “We want to continue to be a home for talent; we already employ some of the best in the business. We are continuing to focus on retaining, recruiting, and nurturing talent, now and beyond this crisis.’’

Glenn Thomas, MD and Global Practice Leader of Howden’s dedicated Employee Benefits & Wellbeing division adds:

“As employee benefits consultants, we advise clients of all sizes on how to build and implement effective benefit and wellbeing strategies. This always starts with putting employees at the heart of the strategy. This is exactly what we do at Howden and why People First is the value that underpins everything that we do.’’

‘’Supporting our employees’ mental wellbeing has been a top priority during this crisis. We have used a wide range of communication methods and interactive tools to stay in touch with our teams and keep them engaged. We have also reminded them of the employee benefits available to them to ensure that they know how to access any support and advice they may need. We know that by looking after our own people first they can in turn concentrate on putting our clients first."

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