How Sharp & Channel 4 put employees at the heart of HR practice

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on how staff wellbeing has been managed and supported, but how have businesses truly put their employees at the heart?

Words by Jade Burke | Design by Matt Bonnar

Words by Jade Burke

Design byMatt Bonnar


If the global pandemic has shown us anything, it’s how employers can, if they want, evolve and adapt in order to support their staff. For example: some have introduced improved flexibility to allow working parents to juggle their home and work life, such as children’s food brand Ella’s Kitchen, while others have ramped up their efforts to tackle wellbeing remotely, such as Brewdog.

And there are many business benefits to boosting flexibility in the workplace and focusing on employee wellbeing. In fact, data from the ERS Research & Consultancy report revealed that healthy workers are more productive, as in 82% of company wellness initiatives end with sickness absence being dramatically reduced. Similarly, figures shared by CoSo Cloud found that 77% of employees felt more productive when they were allowed to work remotely – indicating the business benefits of championing this in a company.

These figures suggest how putting employees at the heart of business practice can have huge benefits on an organisation and its employees – but what initiatives have employers actually rolled out during this time? HR Grapevine has profiled some of the most impactful decisions made by employers below:

Stat One

"12% of employees want more autonomy"

O.C. Tanner
Stat Two

"Empowered employees are 67% more willing to put in extra effort on the job"


1. ‘Lockdown leave’

Throughout the pandemic, working parents have had to juggle looking after their children at home due to school closures, while also maintaining their jobs and the responsibilities that comes with the role. With this in mind, insurance business Zurich has introduced fully paid 'lockdown leave' for parents facing childcare emergencies.

The business revealed that those working in its UK arm will be offered two weeks paid leave to help balance work, childcare and other caring responsibilities. Steve Collinson, Zurich’s Head of HR, explains: “We already offer flexibility for employees who want to change their working hours or structure some days differently. But for parents trying to balance work, childcare and home schooling, this may not be enough.

“We’re helping our employees get through this crisis by offering mums and dads paid time-off so they can look after their health and their family. This is also available for anyone with other caring commitments.”

2020 data from the ONS found that of parents who were home-schooling, 34% of women said it was negatively affecting their own wellbeing, with 20% of men feeling the same. These figures indicate how far working parents have struggled with the juggling act, making Zurich’s initiative a true example of empowering staff as they can take control of their work-life balance.


2. Greater autonomy

A study shared by O.C Tanner which asked, “what would be the most important thing a manager or a company could do that would help the employee be successful,” discovered that 12% of employees want more autonomy. However, analysis from Effectory discovered that in research of over 23,000 employees, 54% of men and 66% women say they experience low to medium autonomy at work.

One business who is going out of its way to empower staff with greater autonomy is Sharp UK. Due to the increase in remote working, Donna Griffiths, HR Director at Sharp UK, tells myGrapevine Magazine that this allowed the firm to give employees control over where they work as she enthuses that “employee voice is absolutely critical”.

She explains: “A lot of people now absolutely love working from home and perhaps aren’t looking forward to coming back into the office. We recognised a number of months ago that this would be the case.” Due to this, Sharp UK has introduced a working group, where representatives go out to teams to find out what their preference would be on flexibility – empowering staff with ultimate autonomy.

“We will work and guide and steer but ultimately the employees will really give us the answer in terms of what will work for Sharp UK,” Griffiths concludes.

Stat Three

"Seven in 10 workers rank empowerment as an important element of their engagement"

Access Perks
Stat Four

"Staff who feel that their voice is heard are 4.6x more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work"


3. ‘Wellbeing Day’

To recognise the efforts of its staff throughout the coronavirus crisis, Channel 4 recently shared that it was allowing all of its employees to put their out of office on to enjoy a ‘wellbeing day’. The television network revealed the initiative on LinkedIn, where it encouraged employees to take a “much-needed break” away from their tech devices and meetings.

Writing in a post on the professional networking site, Channel 4 said: “Channel 4 is closed for a staff wellbeing day today to give our employees a much-needed break from laptops/emails/Teams/meetings/Zoom etc.”

Throughout the pandemic, employee wellbeing has been thrusted into the spotlight as studies have indicated that mental health, anxiety and burnout have all increased due to remote working. Due to this, initiatives such as Channel 4’s ‘wellbeing day’ have shown how employees can be placed at the heart of an HR practice.

Sharing her thoughts on the initiative, Nicky Ivory-Chapman, Head of Talent Management at Channel 4, took to LinkedIn writing that she was “extremely thankful for this”.