An Interview with Sue Ryder, Retail Employer of the Year
We speak to Katy Faulkner, Head of Retail Operations at Sue Ryder, about their Retail Employer of the Year award at this year’s inaugural People in Retail Awards.
“Your people are your greatest asset, and when you empower them to be their authentic selves and contribute to your organisation’s goals, great things happen”.
Sue Ryder’s remarkable achievement reflects a remarkable alignment of values, resources, and innovation to drive both employee engagement and commercial success.
The judging panel felt that Sue Ryder’s commitment to investing in its people and nurturing a collaborative culture stood out as a beacon of excellence. This award acknowledges their dedication to creating an unparalleled retail journey for customers, and we’re delighted to delve into their insights with Katy Faulkner, who will share more about their values, achievements, and inclusive practices.
Charity retail is indispensable to the UK’s economic and retail landscape, contributing not only financially but also by fostering community connections, promoting sustainability, and supporting employment and volunteering opportunities.
Katy, congratulations on your recent win at the People in Retail Awards. It’s a remarkable achievement. How does it feel to be recognised?
Thank you so much! We are absolutely thrilled to bits to have been recognised among mainstream retailers. It goes to show that a charity like Sue Ryder can stay focused on its true purpose, which for us is being there for more people and delivering more care, while maintaining a successful retail operation with a turnover of over £50 million a year. It’s all about putting people at the heart of what we do, and that’s something we’re incredibly proud of.
Can you tell us more about the values that drive Sue Ryder?
Our values at Sue Ryder are to be supportive, impactful, and connected. We believe that every member of our team can make an impact in their own way, whether they’re a nurse in one of our hospices, a bereavement counsellor, or one of our shop colleagues. We’re all making a positive impact in various aspects of our work. Additionally, we support each other and work collaboratively, both internally and externally, to achieve our goals. Our behaviours are closely aligned with these values, and they play a significant role in our performance reviews.
You recently increased wages by 12%. Could you talk us through the motivation and impact of that?
We have around 400 stores, and at any given time, we employ approximately 800 staff. It’s worth mentioning that our vacancies are at a record low, and we also have around 6,000 volunteers working in our retail operations. These volunteers play a crucial role in our organisation, and many of them transition into paid roles within Sue Ryder.
The decision to increase our salary costs by 12% was motivated by our desire to compete effectively in the retail job market. We understand that our employees, whether they come through the volunteering route or not, have choices when it comes to employment. By offering competitive salaries, we ensure that we can attract and retain the best talent.
What sets us apart is that we combine the commerciality of working for a retailer with the added purpose of supporting our charity’s services. Our shop managers, for example, have the autonomy to run their own shop floors and windows, making their roles both challenging and fulfilling.
Can you share more about how you champion inclusivity and diversity within Sue Ryder, especially in your retail stores?
Inclusivity and diversity are at the heart of our organisation, and we really work hard to make every member of our team feel valued and supported. We have four network groups, including the People of Disabilities network, which I co-chair. These groups play a vital role in shaping our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives. It’s important to note that our commitment to EDI extends across the entire charity, including our retail stores.
We introduced the use of Inclusion Passports, a document designed to help staff thrive at work. These passports allow colleagues to capture what helps them perform best, feel included, and get the support and adjustments they need when working or volunteering at Sue Ryder. The Inclusion Passport enables colleagues to manage workplace challenges, such as health conditions or caregiving responsibilities, while reducing the need for repeated conversations and arrangements when changing managers.
In 2023, we launched our Rainbow Badge initiative which creates a safe space for people in the LGBTQ+ community to discuss their identities with team members across the organisation, building a more open and supportive work environment. Anyone wearing this badge would have undergone additional training.
How do you ensure that the values and EDI initiatives are effectively communicated to your teams, especially in your numerous retail locations?
Communicating across busy dispersed retail teams can be a challenge, but it’s one we take on eagerly. We make sure to share information electronically, provide paper copies of important materials, and include these topics in our team meetings. For instance, the Inclusion Passport, which has been a key tool for promoting equity, is now a compulsory part of our performance reviews. It’s also about creating safe spaces for our team members to have open and honest conversations.
Finally, what advice would you give to other retailers looking to replicate Sue Ryder’s success in creating a people-focused and values-driven organisation?
I would say, start from the bottom and go upwards. The key to our success lies in listening to our people and allowing them to shape our initiatives. Start with a desire for equity, not just equality, and be prepared to ask the difficult questions. Listen to your teams, understand their needs, and be willing to make changes even if it means being uncomfortable at times.
Your people are your greatest asset, and when you empower them to be their authentic selves and contribute to your organisation’s goals, great things happen.
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