Culture and Covid-19 – How pets at home prioritised culture to navigate the challenges of the pandemic

Modern team meeting, group work and social distancing, coronavirus, returning to the office

Article by Louise Stonier, Chief People and Culture Officer, Pets at Home

The Pets at Home culture is unique and embodies the values of kindness, trust and respect that underpin our purpose and helps to shape the way that we do business.

We have always placed culture at the heart of what we do and it is what guided us through the pandemic and enabled us to emerge from it stronger and better placed to care for the nations’ loved pets.

Our ambition is to create one inclusive culture for all and to put in place measures that enable our people to achieve their full potential and individual goals.

To fulfil this ambition we recognise that our business must be in touch with what matters most to us and that our colleagues, partners and customers can trust us to take the right decisions for the right reasons.

It was from this unique standpoint that we were able to adapt and develop our culture throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Providing meaningful support for our People

The past 18 months have been incredibly tough and many of our colleagues faced personal challenges, so we understood the importance of ensuring they felt supported by the business and comfortable to share their concerns.
It’s simply not enough to claim a culture of kindness without tangible and meaningful actions behind it, so we worked hard to provide reassurances and demonstrate that we would support our colleagues during such an uncertain and worrying time.

We were also acutely aware that colleagues were going above and beyond to care for customers and their pets, and we understood the importance of recognising and rewarding their incredible efforts.

As leaders of the business it was our duty to introduce measures to ensure that colleagues felt safe, were being looked after from a mental wellbeing standpoint and had access to financial support.

To address these issues we prioritised our people and always put the care and health and safety of our colleagues, customers and their pets first.

As an essential retailer, some of our colleagues were unable to work from home, so we listened to the fears of those who felt unsafe and chose to exceed the official government guidelines and protect a wider group of vulnerable and shielding colleagues, whilst still providing full pay.

We introduced wellbeing days to counter the stress and anxiety brought about by the pandemic and provided ‘thank you’ payments for our exceptional colleagues who went above and beyond. We also enhanced our Colleague Hardship Fund to £1million to help any colleagues in financial difficulty.

Providing these reassurances and creating a safe and supportive working environment resulted in a strong sense of pride amongst our teams, along with high levels of commitment and motivation driven by a unified belief in our shared values.

Communication is key

It might seem obvious that communication is key, but it is never more critical than in times of uncertainty.

Throughout the pandemic we significantly increased the volume of colleague communications with daily leader-led video updates from myself and our CEO, alongside helpful government guidance ‘translation’ – breaking down official updates into what it actually meant for our teams.

However, it’s not enough for communication to be one sided and so we took the opportunity to ask our colleagues how they were feeling and what was most important to them from a mental wellbeing standpoint. To do this we adapted our annual WeCARE survey to highlight areas that we could improve and used this information to provide our colleagues with any additional support they needed.

Understanding our purpose through Our Better World Pledge

Our Better World Pledge is our social purpose strategy which sits firmly at the heart of our culture. It focuses on the three areas that mean the most to us – pets, people and the planet.
We are proud of the steps that we are taking together as a company and Our Better World Pledge helps to provide a framework to accelerate our ambitious commitment to become the most responsible pet care business in the world.

Throughout the pandemic we maintained a strong focus on Our Better World Pledge and this helped guide our decision making and brought us closer together as a group. It has been wonderful to see such high levels of engagement across all parts of the business with colleagues working together towards a clearly defined purpose.

Looking forward

As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, we have already begun to incorporate learnings from the past 18 months into our future plans.

Our culture remains one with kindness at its core but it now has a greater focus on learning and development. For example, we have recently introduced dedicated one to one training programmes to address reoccurring issues that were impacting on colleagues’ mental wellbeing – such as managing conflict.

We’ve also introduced our Modern Ways of Working project which seeks to address how our culture will evolve as we respond to digital enhancements and remote working trends.

We have been fortunate to have had such engaged colleagues and partners throughout the pandemic who have enabled us to continue providing essential help and support to pets and their owners. This level of engagement and commitment comes from having a strong company culture which runs throughout the whole Group and unites our colleagues together with a shared purpose.

Louise StonierAbout the author

Louise joined Pets at Home in 2004 as Head of Legal and Company Secretary, and was promoted to Group Legal Director and Company Secretary in 2008. She became Chief People and Legal Officer in 2017 as well as continuing in the role of Company Secretary until 2019 when she became Group Chief People and Culture Officer reflecting the broadening of Louise’s role to incorporate the Group’s social purpose strategy. Louise is also the Chair and Trustee of the Pets at Home Foundation.

Louise graduated from Nottingham University with an LLB (Hons) and joined CMS Cameron McKenna as a trainee solicitor. After qualifying as a corporate solicitor in 1999, Louise moved to DLA Piper LLP as an associate in the Corporate Team.

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