Star Interview
Star Interview

Helen Coyle,
Head of Reward, DFS

For Helen Coyle, Head of Reward at DFS, reward and recognition programmes provide an opportunity to improve workplace culture and boost employee engagement…


Reward and recognition are areas of HR’s remit that, in the past, have perhaps been viewed as a ‘nice-to-have’ rather than a necessity. Yet, in the modern workplace, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Recognising employees and showing appreciation for their hard work can boost employee wellbeing and improve productivity. In fact, Deloitte data has revealed that organisations in which recognition occurs have 14% better employee engagement, productivity and customer service than those without.

DFS is one employer who appears to be familiar with the benefits of a good reward and recognition programme. Known for selling beds, sofas and mattresses, the retailer seems to place high importance on staff recognition. In an exclusive interview with  myGrapevine magazine, Helen Coyle, Head of Reward at DFS, explained why reward and recognition are important to her, and the keys to creating a great reward strategy.

Coyle has led the reward team for more than one year now and has played a key role in supporting all things relating to reward – from annual pay reviews, to wellbeing and recognition. Below, she reveals the ins and outs of her role at DFS, how she is striving to appreciate staff, and reflects on the key objectives during her time at the furniture retailer.

Helen's CV


Head of Reward
Sep 2021 – Present 
Senior Reward Partner
Mar 2020 – Aug 2021

Senior Reward & Benefits Partner
Jul 2015 – Mar 2020
Commercial Accountant – Wilko.com
Sept 2014 – Jun 2015
Commercial Accountant – Inventory
Sept 2013 – Aug 2014 
Commercial Accountant – Retail
Jan 2012 – Aug 2013 

Manager – Global Employer Services
Oct 2007 – Jan 2012  

Graduate Tax Assistant
Aug 2005 – Sep 2007 
Why is reward and recognition important to you?  

It provides the opportunity to define the workplace culture, improve colleague engagement, support a positive working environment and, ultimately, contribute to the overall success of the business. 


"No two days are ever the same"

Can you tell me about your role at DFS?

I lead the reward team here at DFS. We support the business with all things reward, from cyclical activity, such as the annual pay review and share schemes, through to wellbeing and recognition, and everything in between. As a listed company there’s also an element of corporate reward governance, so no two days are ever the same, which keeps it really interesting. 

We also have a key role in ensuring our Employee Value Proposition is strong which helps us to attract and retain the best talent, as well as motivating our colleagues to keep our values of ‘aim high, be real and think customer’ front of mind.

Getting to know Helen

What are the most defining moments in your career?

A stand-out moment would have to be qualifying as a chartered accountant. Although it isn’t the typical route into the reward profession, the training and experience I gained during that time gave me some invaluable skills that I still use on a daily basis. Of course, it goes without saying becoming the Head of Reward at DFS would be another.

What have been your key achievements in your time at DFS?

The reward team has achieved a lot over the past few years, but there are a couple of recent achievements that stand out for me.

The first is having the opportunity to be involved in creating and delivering our first wellbeing strategy. Following the pandemic, the importance of wellbeing and the value our colleagues place on it, has never been greater. It's brilliant to be part of a business where the leadership team views it as a key priority.

Our ambition is to support our colleagues to live happy, healthy lives at every stage and our offering is anchored around three pillars: Mind, Body and Life. As a result, we’ve moved our wellbeing offering on significantly in the last 18 months, but it’s an ever-evolving area and means that we need to keep focused on how we can best support colleagues.

The second is the launch of our reward branding ‘Your Deal’ which is our new simple approach to communicating with colleagues about their reward package. The branding has given us some great foundations to engage with our colleagues about our current offer but also to anchor further additions.

What do you think are the keys to a great reward strategy? 

Firstly, it needs to be aligned to what the company values are and what the business is trying to achieve.  

Secondly, for it to have longevity, it’s got to balance competitiveness with affordability.

Lastly, but by no means least, for a reward strategy to be successful it must be supported by a clear engagement plan. Employees must have a clear line of sight between their performance and how they will be rewarded for it.


"We also have a peer-to-peer recognition scheme that’s wrapped around our values"

What are you doing to ensure that people feel recognised for their efforts?

We’ve got an amazing set of colleagues, many of which have been with us for a long time, so we want to really recognise those long service milestones.  

On top of this, we also have a peer-to-peer recognition scheme that’s wrapped around our values. Culturally, we place a big importance on taking the time out to say a simple ‘thank you’ - we believe there’s real currency in saying thanks.

We’re not resting on our laurels though; we have plans to further strengthen our recognition programme and we’re currently seeking input from colleagues to understand what they’d like to see in the future. 


"We believe there’s real currency in saying thanks"

How do reward and recognition interplay? Do you think the two are synonymous? 

Whilst there is commonality, I think it’s right to distinguish between the two.

Some rewards are transactional - for example, the salary you get paid - so it doesn’t necessarily strengthen the emotional contract between an employer and employee.

Whereas, a successful recognition scheme has the ability to do just that. Recognition should be about those moments that matter in a colleague’s life at home and at work, in ways that go beyond a monetary value and really build that connection.

How important is reward and recognition to attracting and retaining talent?

While I think they play a key role, they need to be balanced with a number of other important factors such as flexibility and credibility on things like sustainability and diversity. The pandemic has made people re-evaluate their priorities when it comes to who they want to work for, or why they want to stay with their existing employer. Those businesses that continue to adapt their proposition to reflect this will be the most successful in the war for talent.

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