6

Star Interview

From the myGrapevine community


Gavin Smith,
People Director
at Brompton Bicycle


Bicycles can be effective tools for promoting physical and mental wellbeing, but what about the health of those who make them? In this myGrapevine magazine exclusive, the firm’s people director reveals how Brompton kept the wheels from falling off their own employees’ wellbeing....

Words by Kieran Howells

In the throes of the pandemic, employee wellbeing has been a significant concern for HR. Several factors may be at play here. For some, the blurring of home and working life has taken its toll. For others, the move to remote working may have brought about negative changes. For others, simply the physical and mental weight of the pandemic has led to anxiety and stress. Yet regardless of the cause, innumerable data points have alluded to a steep decline in wellbeing during this time.

A prime example of such data recently came from the Royal Society for Public Health, which found that 67% of workers felt isolated and disconnected from their colleagues over the past 18 months. A further 56% stated that they found it hard to disconnect from their work, whilst 44% no longer feel secure in their jobs. As such, HR’s role in improving professional life for employees hasn’t just been a priority in keeping people working, but actively improving people’s overall health and wellbeing.

One company that has taken the initiative to improve the wellbeing of its employees in this time is the cycling behemoth Brompton Bicycle. The firm may be known as a quintessentially British cycling company – dominating the commuter market with their stylish folding bikes – yet supporting its growth as one of the most successful British bicycle brands on the market is an HR function burgeoning with agility and wellbeing know-how.

To find out how the past year’s disruption has affected his company, how he overcame challenges to company culture, and what role bicycles had to play in increasing wellbeing, myGrapevine magazine caught up with Gavin Smith, People Director at Brompton Bicycle.

CV of
Gavin Smith

Experience

People Director at Brompton Bicycle

July 2017 – present

Head of Human Resources at Victim Support

December 2015 – June 2017

Interim HR Manager at Generator Hostels

May 2015 – July 2015

Head of HR at Avanta

November 2012 – April 2015

Education

University of Leicester, Law of Employee Relations, Employment Law

2004 – 2009

Q

With such a broad range of talent and functions within the business, how do you ascertain the overall wellbeing of staff?


A

We do have a broad range of talent within Brompton. We have people in our factory creating the bikes, we have service providers in our head office and of course many employees working in our high street shops. To ensure that all workers receive the attention that they need, we do a lot in terms of touchpoints with our people. Staff get monthly one-to-ones, we do regular pulse surveys, we have an online engagement platform, we listen to what they have to say. We also do a lot of signposting, so people know exactly where to go to get the help or advice that they need. As a result, last year, we got the Best Place to Work accreditation.



“We do a lot of signposting, so people know exactly where to go to get the help or advice that they need. As a result, last year, we got the Best Place to Work accreditation”

Q

What does Brompton do to promote good mental health and wellbeing?


A

Ensuring our line managers are well-prepared to cater to the needs of staff is a big part of our management training. We give specific training in recognising the signs of poor wellbeing, so that they can identify it in their teams and help to support those with mental health issues. We also have an open access course that anyone can log onto and attend to learn more about health and wellbeing. We also work with Mind, who support us in our strategy and offer help to our staff who need it. I also think that our in-house support networks play a big part in our wellbeing strategy – ensuring that there is a safe space to talk about your wellbeing, whether that may be LGBT+ issues, parenting or diversity.

Quickfire Questions


Do Brompton’s employees get to take advantage of the bikes?

For the last four years, we’ve done regular rides; ‘Ride to Richmond’ or ‘Ride to Hyde Park’, which run throughout summer. Those have been very well received – around 50 people take part each time.

How does Brompton communicate across territories?

When we set up our internal comms channels, we ensured that we were able to broadcast ‘all hands’ meetings in real time across the globe – this means that people in all territories can ask questions and be involved.

Does Brompton promote cycling to work as a mental and physical health benefit?

Yes absolutely, we have a fleet of bikes that our workers are able to borrow to commute, or just to use in their own time. In the pandemic, when public transport has been a subject of anxiety, we ensured that workers could use our bikes for longer periods. That’s been a big success, usage significantly increased.

Q

Can you tell us more about your internal worker-led groups and communities?


A

We’ve spent this year building our communities around BAME representation and Pride communities; we have communities called ‘Women at Brompton’, ‘Ability at Brompton’ and ‘Parents at Brompton’. These are internal nurturing communities that are constantly communicating and developing different workshops and activities. Often, different groups will ask to speak at townhalls and present to the whole company – so they always have a platform to promote positive change.



Q

Did coronavirus change the way the company communicated, and did this impact culture?


A

Actually, we were digital-centric communicators before the pandemic hit. We found that people based on different sites were not aware of what was happening elsewhere, so we made a conscious decision that it would benefit our culture if all communications, unless they were business critical, should go through our shared comms platform. So, when the pandemic hit, everyone was already very used to communicating this way and we were able to seamlessly keep that community heart as a central point. We have a very transparent culture, and our people know that on top of work and social chats, any important information will be clearly laid out on that platform, making it easier to know what’s happening in the company.

"We’ve spent the past year building nurturing communities that are constantly communicating and developing different workshops and activities..."

Q

As a business that operated throughout the entirety of the pandemic, how did you address the logistics of taking wellbeing into account?


A

As a primarily manufacturing business, early on we made the decision to stay open, which meant that we quickly had to work out the logistics of physical and mental wellbeing. In a way, we’re a year ahead of many businesses who are having to figure out how to make workplaces a safe and welcoming environment. On top of health and safety, each week, we’ve had each head of department take part in what we’ve called ‘welfare meetings’. We needed to make sure everyone in the company had a chance to talk about how they were feeling. From that, we had three key routes to helping those who were struggling; through our own employee assistance programme, through our partnership with Mind, or through our occupational health programme. They’re three very different routes, but having all three meant that we could, and can continue, to make a difference straight away.

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