Star Interview
Star Interview

Emma Locke,
Human Resource Manager, Perfetti Van Melle UK

While Perfetti Van Melle might not be a household name, its products – such as the world’s first lollipop, Chupa Chups – are known and loved worldwide. The company’s Human Resource Manager, Emma Locke, talks to myGrapevine about staying agile, what HR is like in the candy business, and how her hearing loss journey has made her an even stronger advocate of inclusion…


When it comes to redesigning work, perhaps no one is as agile as HR pros who have weathered a global pandemic, a sea change to worker’s rights like we haven’t seen since the Industrial Revolution, tremendous instability in the nation’s ‘leadership team’, a war in Europe, a fuel shortage and a cost-of-living crisis (or three). To say that HRDs are exhausted is to understate the case tremendously.

While 2023 is looking to be perhaps slightly more stable than the past few years, there is still a recession on the horizon and a talent shortage to tackle. To remain agile, light on one’s feet and flexible in approach are all important features of a good HR leader. Change management skills, after all, aren’t just honed at business school, nor based on financial calculations and forecasts. They’re primarily about people, both managing them and understanding them.

Emma Locke and her team at Perfetti Van Melle, redesigning work means lots of different things: from summer hours to allow the team to enjoy more of the fine British weather, to helping employees make cross-department moves and helping to smooth that journey for them.

Emma's CV


Perfetti Van Melle UK
Human Resources Manager
Feb 2021 – Present  

Various roles, including ER / Investigations Manager
Nov 2012 – Dec 2020

HR Business Partner
Sept 2011 – Nov 2012   

Phones Intl Group
Head of Human Resources
Oct 2007 – Aug 2011  
What do you think is the biggest HR challenge in 2023’s world of work?  

The fact we are currently in a position where we potentially have four different generations of team members under one roof could be the biggest challenge. Navigating generational spread and working out how to apply things like learning development opportunities and benefits in an equitable way across those gaps can sometimes be difficult.

In addition, we all know that the division between work life and home life has been elided by the pandemic and is not likely to ever return to the way it was before – so the definition of the professional and the private space has to be renegotiated for everyone.

Some of my professional responsibility lies in helping our business leaders to realise and engage with the varied and different needs of all the people who work under them. This includes keeping up to date with and understanding different points of view and modes of expression – like TikTok, for example! That might not have been a platform I would have been as interested in if I was in a different line of work.

I also think that communicating things properly is of paramount importance. For example, with the new Menopause Policy we’ve just introduced, it was important to me to make everyone at every level of the business aware of how universal this policy is. It is not applicable only to the roughly 50% of the population with a uterus, but to everyone with a mother, a sister, a female partner, a daughter. Just because you can’t see how a policy immediately benefits you, it doesn’t mean it isn’t going to affect your life in a big way. In that respect, education is an important part of HR.


"Just because you can’t see how a policy immediately benefits you, it doesn’t mean it isn’t going to affect your life in a big way."

You have a Masters in Gender Studies and a certificate in British Sign Language – how have these informed your approach to redesigning diversity & inclusion policies and procedures?

Far more than I realise, I think. My Masters was a very blended degree – it included English literature, history, sociology and law. The latter involved research into domestic violence. The figures quoted around perpetrators and victims today are the same as they were then, nearly 20 years ago. Very little has changed in that time. 

As an employer, you have the responsibility to be vigilant about people’s behaviour. If they don’t turn up to work one day, you have to be mindful of why that might be; if there is a prolonged change in mood or demeanour, you have a duty of care to investigate what the cause of that could be. My role is to help deliver that vigilance and pastoral care, but also to help the leadership team understand the need to look after our people.

In terms of British Sign Language, I began studying it as a bilateral hearing aid wearer. Thirteen years ago, I became aware I had hearing loss, and in turn realised how much my hearing was part of my identity. It was an important part of my understanding that not everyone is the same as me, and how effective management and HR necessitates looking at the world through a different lens sometimes. One in five people are hearing impaired, while 22% of the UK population is disabled. When you think in those terms, it really brings home the fact that inclusion isn’t just a policy or procedure, but a way of living.

When I communicate with other people through sign language, it unlocks things differently. Non-verbal communication can help our understanding of one another reach a whole new level. At an event recently, a colleague of mine recently said to me as we were passing, “It is a bit noisy upstairs at the moment Emma: you might struggle a little bit”. Imparting that information was a simple act of kindness that made my working day a little bit easier, and it reminded me to always try and take an empathetic view of my colleagues and their individual needs.

Who is Perfetti Van Melle

Perfetti Van Melle began its sweet journey 120 years ago and now employs more than 17,000 people working across 38 operating companies. Its headquarters are in the Netherlands.

  • It was created in 1958 by Spanish scientist Enric Bernat.
  • Surrealist painter Salvador Dali designed the Chupa Chups logo in 1969.
  • It is the world’s first lollipop.
  • It’s name derives from the Spanish word ‘chupar’, meaning ‘to suck’.
What changes have you brought in your time in HR that you’re really proud of?  

The last few years have been challenging for all sectors, for people at every level of the business. Flexibility came to the fore for our teams during the pandemic, and the agile working processes that were instilled out of necessity have stayed, as we know now that they are what best suit our people.

At Perfetti Van Melle UK we are keen to allow individuals the space to work as they want, making things as fair and equitable as possible – from our older employees to recent graduates in their first professional roles; from team members who are parenting young children to single or child-free employees.

Everyone in the business recently received an additional £1500, both to celebrate their hard work in helping to reach our recent sales milestone, and in acknowledgement that during a cost-of-living crisis, cash is probably going to be more beneficial than, for example, vouchers. We are always looking at smaller ways to help, too – be that reducing the cost of the annual management charge for pensions or a discounted rate on the gym membership offered through our benefits package.

We have also implemented summer and winter hours, which allows the team to compress the working week according to the needs of their personal lives – for example, taking Friday afternoons off each week or a full Friday every other week. I was proud to spearhead the bolstering of all our parental policy pay packages recently, which includes an increase to the resources available on maternity, paternity, shared parental and adoption leave.

We are cognisant of the fact that as a small organisation, the support required may not always be within our scope. In these instances, we will always go above and beyond to deliver, which occasionally requires paying to engage a third party with a specialist skill set. For example, one of our employees is soon returning to the workplace after taking maternity leave, and we worked with Bright Horizons to offer ‘return to work’ coaching tailored to her in order to ease the transition.


Did you know?

"Bilateral hearing impairment affects not only Locke, but approximately one in every five adults in the UK. According to hearing loss resource Hear-It, “A bilateral hearing loss is a hearing loss in both ears. It can have different degrees: mild, moderate, severe or profound. The bilateral hearing impairment may be caused by factors in the outer, middle or inner ear or a combination of these areas.” To understand how you can help your hearing impaired colleagues, check out this helpful guide from the Royal National Institute for Deaf People."

What excites you most about HR?

I think my favourite thing about HR is if the need arises to make a change or offer a solution, within reason – I can! I always try to do things as swiftly as possible and be agile in responding to whatever is going on in the business at the time. HR can sometimes be one of the quickest functions in an organisation to be able to make a meaningful difference to employees’ lives.

I also enjoy seeing the effect that even the smallest things we do can have – like supplying every member of the team with a wellbeing box on World Mental Health Day or sending out books such as Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez and Legacy by James Kerr to help bolster our D&I journey. These personal touches can sometimes be the things that speak to people the most.

Early on in my career (before I worked at Perfetti Van Melle, I must stress!), someone said to me “Emma, you’re there to serve the needs of the business. The needs of the team are less important.” What I would say to that person now is that I think a good HR professional meets the business interests and the needs of its employees on an equal footing – you have to do both in order to do the job well. 

I can help my employer improve their image and reputation while also helping individuals with their talent development and career progression – the two objectives work in harmony rather than opposition. Supportive, progressive HR gives employees the chance to shape their work and in turn, to be the best they can be in their role.

Some of my most rewarding work at Perfetti Van Melle has been facilitating cross-functional moves within teams – for example, from supply chain to marketing. Recognising that people’s needs and passions evolve alongside their career helps with talent retention.

My guiding motivation is always to help the business recognise that its team members make the company what it is.


"My role is to help deliver that vigilance and pastoral care."

What are your top three tips for HR newbies?  

I sort of ‘fell’ into HR and didn’t have any mentors in the industry, so tips for new starters are close to my heart!

1. My first piece of advice would be: get to know people and the work that they do - both your team members in HR and the people you are working with and for. I worked in shipping for a time, working alongside ex-sailors and naval architects. I have worked for the NHS, worked at Thames Water, worked for BP. I wasn’t expected to perform surgery, unplug a drain, or build an oil rig – but showing an interest and involvement in people’s work, even if you don’t have technical understanding, goes a long way.

2. Secondly, I am a big advocate of meticulous record-keeping. Write things down, take notes – you can never have too many notes! It will help you when having the difficult conversations that can occur every once in a while to be able to handle them with diplomacy, sensitivity – and to be armed with robust information that you trust.

3. Lastly, I would say lead by example. Because HR is always in the spotlight, I am mindful that if I make a mistake, that can sometimes be perceived as being not just wrong but ‘super wrong’! But remember too that you are a human being, you can mess up, as long as you learn from it, apologise and fix it. Keep it real, be a human ‘human resources’ person. No façade, no game face. Authenticity is really important in a role like this.

"Supportive, progressive HR gives employees the chance to shape their work."

What’s the best work event you’ve ever helped put together?  

I’ve never put a holiday party together per se, but a real event-planning highlight of my career was the recent Perfetti Van Melle trip to Brighton to celebrate reaching our landmark of £100m in sales.

Almost the whole of the UK business attended the two-day trip, which was fantastic for employee engagement. Through committee planning groups, I got the chance to collaborate with colleagues who I wouldn’t normally work with as closely in my day-to-day, which was very rewarding.

I had a ball picking the theme, designing party invites and choosing colour schemes. It was an action-packed few days, featuring live band karaoke (if you’ve never done it, I highly recommend it), a trip up the BA i360, a barbeque, a morning on the pier, and fish and chips on the beach.

We were fortunate to also have a wonderfully moving and inspirational talk from 7/7 bombing survivor Martine Wright. What better way to mark being a brilliant place to work than celebrating the collective efforts of your peers on a wonderful holiday with all of your colleagues!

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