HR admin sliced by slimline process

The organisation

High-street food outlet Pret a Manger opened its first shop in London in 1986, selling handmade, preservative-free sandwiches. The company is made up of groups of 10 shops, called Pret Estates, which are headed by ‘imaginative’ and ‘passionate’ leaders. Pret a Manger now has 128 shops in the UK and employs 2,800 staff. It also has a growing presence in New York and Hong Kong.

The aim

The company wanted to give greater responsibility to line and regional managers, and take payroll and other departments out of the loop to make HR processes more streamlined. With a steadily growing workforce, it needed an easy-to-use system to keep track of staff at its shops and London headquarters. In particular, line managers needed access to team records to update timesheets, manage absence and input new salary details direct from the shopfloor.

The supplier

Snowdrop Systems, founded in 1991 by IT and HR specialists, is an HR and payroll software provider. Its technologies aim to help HR professionals spend more time on strategic issues and less time on admin.

The approach

Snowdrop originally implemented its Evergreen (personnel records), Fountain (training), Spring (recruitment) and U-Access (self-service HR) modules. Upgrading to its latest system, version 5.2, brought Pret a Manger’s HR function in line with new legislation and business changes from head office.

The solution

The updated system transmits all employee information between shops and departments, reducing the paper trail and time taken chasing information. An enhanced time sheet module allows line managers to record details of Pret a Manger’s incentive schemes. When a mystery shopper awards an employee an ‘outstanding’ card (a £50 retail voucher) in recognition of exceptional service, it is added to their details directly from the shopfloor. Previously, it had to go via payroll.

Line managers can now automatically adjust rates of pay if employees work bank holidays, which was formerly a manual process.
With the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act 2004, the company needed to record and track information about staff with disabilities, so the working environment could be adapted to enable them to work more effectively. These details are now available to line managers on the shopfloor, so changes can be made immediately. For example, Pret a Manger’s coffee jugs have different coloured discs to distinguish between full fat and skimmed milk. But in shops where a colour-blind barista (the person who makes the coffee) is employed, clear labels are used instead.

It also rebranded its self-service module, U-Access, as Pret People, so that it utilised its distinctive brand and felt familiar to all employees.

The bottom line

Data is now more accurate and can be used at both shop and head-office level to make informed decisions about current and future business activity. With new holiday calculations from head office, managers have instant access to each employee’s entitlement. They can also view their team’s holiday allowance as a whole, rather than individually, so that rotas and holidays can be better planned. This saves an average of one hour per shop per week.

Abbie Akinfenwa, business systems manager at Pret a Manger, believes the updated HR system is key to improving productivity at shop level.

“Upgrading our current system means HR administration is simpler and quicker to complete,” she says. “If line managers can update employee details without having to involve payroll or head office, tasks get done in half the time so staff can focus on customer service,” Akinfenwa adds.

Products and services

– Parallax software A refined version of Parallax behaviour profiling software is being launched by Longbridge International. Parallax uses a questionnaire to map behaviour in a way that reveals and predicts an individual’s behaviour patterns. It includes applications in recruitment and selection, 360-degree feedback and mentoring.

– Workbrain Corporation Workbrain Corporation is introducing a workforce planning application aimed at the retail industry. Called Workbrain for Retail, it has been developed in collaboration with some of the world’s largest retailers and allows users to plan, deploy, manage and measure the workforce from a single computer platform. 

Gadget of the month: Flybook notebook computer

What is it? An ‘office in your pocket’ and a ‘go-anywhere, do-anything computer’ are phrases that have been used to describe this natty notebook computer from Italian company Holbe Dialogue Europe. It features a keyboard and a touch-sensitive screen that lets you write on it with ‘electronic ink’, and converts handwriting to text.

What will it let me do? Everything a standard laptop can. Its beauty lies in its size: at 235x155x31mm, it claims to be the smallest notebook in the world, and it only weighs 1.2kg. But it offers plenty of functionality: a speedy 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, 40Gb hard disk, wireless connectivity (including Bluetooth), and it comes loaded with Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition as a standard package.
how much does it cost? We found it at £1,399.95 at online retailer

Where can i find out more? At, where you see it in its various colours: platinum, black, yellow, red, dark blue or white.

Research snapshot

The increase in outsourcing, along with the use of mobile technologies, brings a new security threat that senior managers and executives cannot afford to overlook, says Henley Management Centre. It is not the technology’s ability to keep information secure that poses the threat, but people.

As a warning, the college cites a story in the national press in which a technical trainer in India sold credit card and password details to a reporter.

“Although there are cutting-edge technical and business processes in some outsourced call centres, behaviours must also be examined,” says Professor Jean-Noel Ezingeard, professor of management studies at Henley Management College.

In its report, A model of information assurance benefits, Henley reveals that less than half (47%) of boards take responsibility for information security, and 53% devolve the responsibility to lower levels.

Currently, top managers often see information security as a defensive strategy. Henley wants to get across the message that when aligned with business strategy, it gives companies a competitive edge.


– Asda has completed the roll-out of a Kronos Workforce Central system at all of its UK distribution centres. The web-based system interfaces directly with the retailer’s HR and payroll system and enables it to manage employees’ time and attendance, leave and Working Time Directive compliance.

– Peterborough City Council is implementing a 250,000 HR and payroll package, which it estimates will pay for itself in improvements to efficiency and effectiveness over the next five years. The ResourceLink system from Northgate HR will replace a Rebus software OpenDoor package.

Data mine: Employment studies

– Institute for employment studies Influential, not-for-profit organisation that has been around since 1969. It undertakes research and consultancy for a wide range of UK and international organisations and policy bodies and you can read summaries of its research on its site.

National Centre for Social Research An independent social research institute which has tracked and analysed the changing labour market over the past 25 years. Many of the centre’s publications can be downloaded for free.

Warwick Institute for Employment Research Warwick University has one of the leading European centres of research on the labour market. Its work includes comparative European research on employment and training. From the website you can click through to dedicated sites for its various research projects.

Work Foundation Needs no introduction to Personnel Today readers and a first port of call for anyone looking for employment studies and research. Some of its latest downloadable publications include An Empirical Test of Competing Theories of the Long Hours Culture and An Agenda for Work: The Work Foundation’s Challenge to Policy Makers.

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