Covid-19 certainly hit the UK leisure and hospitality sector hard. From the first lockdown in March 2020 pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants have come in and out of closure, each time opening up to face a new set of uncertainties.
For many employers in the industry, retaining employees and supporting them through the disruption has been a major priority. With the majority of their workers furloughed for over a year or not eligible for financial support, employers have had to get creative with how they look after their people and help them ease back into normality.
This has been the reality for our partner wagamama, who employs over 6,000 people throughout its network of 150 restaurants across the UK. We took the time to speak to Christian Sparey, People Operations Manager to find out just how the pandemic has changed their approach to employee financial wellbeing and what the future holds for this leading UK restaurant brand.
How has COVID impacted employee wellbeing at Wagamama?
Our number one priority was the safety of our teams - essentially how can we ensure they feel safe and happy at work. It has been a really phased approach to opening back up again to ensure this priority was at the forefront.
After conducting a range of surveys, we found that some of our people were suffering from poor wellbeing, mirroring the feelings of many across the UK due to changing tiers and lockdown restrictions, with the root cause being poor financial wellbeing.
We also found that for some there was a lot of anxiety around managing their health and their financial situation. Others have really missed social interactions with colleagues and customers which has had a detrimental impact on their wellbeing.
How has Wagamama helped employee wellbeing during COVID?
A lot of our people went on furlough, but some were not eligible, so we also had to work with them to ensure they were financially supported when lockdown and tier changes were varying across the UK.
As lockdown progressed, we knew we also needed to stay connected with our people, many of whom were not working due to their restaurant being closed. This meant introducing online physical activities like HIIT and yoga classes, as well as regular video and email updates from our exec team to keep our teams engaged and updated.
We also ran regular surveys which helped us to understand more about our peoples’ wellbeing. The response rate to these was very high and we were able to address people’s anxieties about health and finances at a core level. Even something as simple as putting the daily COVID health check that employees had to do onto our employee app, meant that employees could check-in with our benefits and offerings on a regular basis too.
More recently, we have brought back our recruitment referral scheme to help with finding the right employees and we also want to be able to reward our people for helping us with this.
Looking back, we have learnt so much from the last eighteen months. We were fortunate that we were able to provide job security to our restaurant teams and it’s now onto the next chapter….
Do you think that COVID has shone a light on how financially vulnerable some people in the UK really are?
Yes, if we hadn’t had Salary Finance already embedded, I think it would be something we would have been rushing to do!
Because our people had already been used to using and familiar with the range of products, they were used to the products before COVID started. Although some of our people had to pause their savings during COVID, it’s really great to see that they are now really starting to save again.
What does the future hold for financial wellbeing at Wagamama?
As an employer, we believe we have a duty around the education piece which will formulate into our wider wellbeing strategy. We can’t ask everyone to set up a savings account, but we can inform people of the benefits of doing so and different ways to support their financial wellbeing.
The next part of our journey will see us ensure that our people truly know and understand what is available to them. For us, this means keeping everyone informed, giving our people the right tools that can make a real difference to their lives.
Our employee survey will now be launched on a quarterly basis (rather than yearly) and financial wellbeing will form a key part of understanding of the whole wellbeing and benefits offering.
Our studies show that 26% of employees worry about money on an ongoing basis, and 44% say that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their money situation in either the short or long term.
If you would like to learn more about how Salary Finance is helping our employer partners, like Wagamama, to build financial wellbeing programmes that meet employee needs in the post-pandemic world, get in touch with us here.