[Interview] Anne-Marie Lister, Chief People Officer at Atom Bank
Ahead of The Retail Bulletin HR Summit in London, we talk to one of our headline speakers, Anne-Marie about recruiting and retaining great employees.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I am a HR, L&D and Organisation Development professional. Throughout my career, I’ve worked in ‘people’ functions and have over twenty years’ experience in each different function across HR.
I worked for Reed, the recruitment agency, when I first started out in my career. I then moved into a Learning & Development role with Bromley College, which back then, was linked to Greenwich University. I then joined a company called ACCA who are a professional body for accountants. They were a very progressive organisation… really open minded, and that’s where I started to get my teeth into organisation development.
I joined Atom in 2014, at the very beginning when the business was still just an idea, and I’ve not looked back. When I joined the team, we were just 18 people, now we are 480! I am now the Chief People Officer.
What should we know about Atom Bank?
We are a retail bank, so we help people to save, we help people to buy a house, and we help to people build their businesses. We are the first bank built for smartphone or tablet without any branches, and the first digital-only challenger bank to be granted a full UK regulatory licence.
As a digital business, did much change over the last 2/3 years?
Yes. We are not dissimilar to other organisations in that we had to switch to hybrid and remote working. And, like other businesses, we’re focused on how to build a culture when your operating model has fundamentally changed.
People do still come into the office. We’ve got an office in Durham that houses up to 400 people and then we’ve got a small office in London that people can drop into. Our busiest days tend to be Tuesday to Thursday and we’re finding that teams are coming in together on the same days to work on specific projects. This is working really well; our people and teams are adapting to a style that ensures they are most effective, and which suits them
We still run companywide meetings, but these are now a hybrid of digital and physical. For us, it’s important that we keep people connected – even if we’re not seeing each other physically.
And you have introduced a 4-day week?
Yes. As a business, we recognise that work as we know it has changed, and the patterns that served us in the past may no longer be the right fit. People are looking for something more from their roles, work practices have changed, and we felt that switching to a four-day working week could deliver a variety of benefits.
Like other organisations, during and after the Pandemic, we really tried to keep close to our people. We were getting feedback from employees that workdays were longer. Our people felt like they were never really switching off, they were always contactable, and the stress of it all was started to affect wellbeing and work life balance.
We also looked inside our business and found that our people were working longer hours and although we were doing well, the productivity wasn’t quite aligning.
We realised we needed to think differently and so took a step back and realised to continue to be productive, we needed to find efficiencies.
How did you decide on the 4-day week and why?
I had been interested in the concept of a 4-day week for some time. I’d read studies by Perpetual Guardian and looked at case studies in Iceland and the UK. The outputs of these studies showed that a 4-day week would help people to be more productive, increase wellbeing, improve work-life balance (so reduce stress!) and also reduce environmental impact.
The Chief Executive and I discussed what changes in working practice could mean for Atom and our people and we started to plan. Working with senior managers in the business, I then set about putting together a proposal and outlining how it might work. Before we decided to do anything, we wanted to really understand how the business would operate over 4 days.
We had 3 non-negotiables in terms of the pilot; 1. If the pilot was detrimental to the customer experience or customer service, we would not continue with the trial. 2. If regulation or compliance was compromised in any way, we would not continue the trail. This was especially important as we are a regulated bank. And 3. If employees were telling us that it wasn’t improving wellbeing or stress levels.
I worked closely with the different departments to put together operational plans. We carefully considered our 3 non-negotiables and risk with every scenario. We put together a solid plan and following our recommendations, we rolled out a full-scale pilot in November 2021.
So, the pilot has been a success?
Yes – we’ve been running it for 9 months now, successfully, and we are about to formally implement the four-day week.
The pilot was monitored closely to ensure we could learn from the experiences of each department and across the organisation. We tracked a lot of metrics along the way; sickness, attrition, hours worked and engagement. We’ve also tracked customer goodwill, NPS and complaints. Since November, every single organisational metric has trended positively.
The 4-day week has shown us a lot of benefits and it’s helping people learn how they best work efficiently in their day. I think it’s also made people think carefully about what’s in their weekly calendar – do I really need to be in that meeting? Has a proper agenda been set? Is this an effective use of my time?
Internal communication must be critical?
Yes, absolutely. Communicating and listening was a key part of the planning exercise. We had our heads of departments fully engaged in the pilot and were looking to understand their departmental view of the processes and procedure, but also the perspective on individual needs. We held focus groups in the last 6 weeks to get further feedback and these were the best attended focus groups we’ve ever had. Our people really saw the value in it.
Burnout and stress are at all-time highs across professions, how can HR support their employees with this?
Staying close to your people together with communication is key. I think it’s about being open and trying to meet as many needs as possible. It’s important to try and understand your workforce to provide the best level of care.
At Atom we have many ways for our people to talk, share, and feedback to the business – because every person may need or prefer something a little different.
We’ve also made a concerted effort during the pandemic to train up more mental-health first aiders. We have about 25 now from all over the organisation, and we actively promote them to all our employees.
We also offer an employee-assistance plan which comes with free counselling and £200 worth of wellbeing activities. It’s important to have a range of different things to suit different people and different needs.
Finally, a 4-day week provides our employees with more opportunities to pursue their passions, spend time with their families, and build a healthier work/life balance. We believe this is having a beneficial impact on wellbeing and happiness.