Profile: Therese Procter, HR director, Tesco

One of Therese Procter’s proudest achievements as HR director of Tesco Stores was hiring the first blind graduate into the business. Procter enthusiastically shows visitors the Braille panels in the lifts and on the doors of the offices at Tesco’s head office in Welwyn Garden City.


In May this year, Procter spoke at the launch of Lancaster University’s new Centre for Organisational Health and Wellbeing at the House of Commons. Tesco is part of a board of 12 private and public companies which help to inform research by debating the big issues around organisational health and wellbeing.


How does the HR chief of the UK’s largest retailer define ‘wellbeing’? At the launch she described it as “listening to what our people tell us we can do better to improve their sense of contentment with their work life, ensuring that we do our best to deliver the improvements our people want, with the aim of making Tesco a great place to work for everyone”.


If occupational health (OH) practitioners want to take issue with this definition, then they should engage in the Centre for Organisational Health and Wellbeing’s aims, which include encouraging more collaboration between workers, health professionals and industry to underpin the efforts of employers to support employees who are ill and return them to work.


Diversifying


Tesco has been considered to be an exemplar of good HR for more than a decade, in particular offering learning development to all staff, currently 440,000 across 13 countries with an age range of 17 to 70.


In recent years the company has branched into financial services, further diversifying the workforce. There can be few companies where it is possible to download free essays from the internet about HR management strategy.


As well as training, Tesco offers flexible working policies and is known for its unusual approach to absence management, where staff are not paid for the first three days of sick leave.


Procter says that the company’s success is down to its commitment to simple values: “No-one tries harder for customers” and “Treat people how we like to be treated”.


She says there is a clear business case for investing in the health and wellbeing of staff, demonstrated in the company’s Viewpoint employee opinion survey results and in improved customer service scores.


“We know that the areas of the business where our people are the most content and satisfied with the quality of their work life usually correlate with the most impressive key performance indicators of the business,” she says.


She gives the example of a recent initiative where staff rooms were redesigned by staff after feedback on Viewpoint highlighted this as an issue. “Stores with the new design scored higher on morale and key performance indicators in customer satisfaction, and helpful and friendly staff,” she says.


Wellbeing-focused benefits include healthcare offers and discounted access to gyms and sports facilities across the UK.


In 2008, Tesco distributed a DVD and workbook as part of induction training for new recruits, encouraging them to make “a few healthy choices a day” and advising on how they can take exercise while working on checkouts. “More recently we have focused on helping our people understand how looking after their health and wellbeing does not have to be something they do outside of work,” says Procter.


However, she acknowledges that the approach must be to encourage employees to take responsibility for their own health.


“With health and wellbeing, what you can’t do is dictate to people what they should do. All you can do is give them some choices that they can make that may benefit them, and then it’s up to them if they want to take advantage of that.”


Tesco’s leadership training also includes modules on maintaining health and wellbeing, and managers are encouraged to look after their own nutrition, hydration, sleep and exercise.


The company sponsors Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life events, and encourages staff to take part. Procter herself was a talented athlete and held county records in the 800m and 1500m running events.


Procter insists that the emphasis on health and wellbeing from induction through to leadership programmes means that it is a core strategic issue at Tesco.


But a company with Tesco’s status does not escape criticism, and there is a lengthy ‘Criticism of Tesco’ page on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.


Criticised


The company’s absence policy, where staff are not paid for the first three days of absence, has been criticised for encouraging staff to come to work when they are sick. The company counters that its staff enjoy the best benefits in the retail sector.


Procter says the emphasis is on good return to work practices including management training. “We have to support managers to be able to support the staff who are absent,” she says. “And when staff are ready to return we’ve got a fairly structured programme which we call ‘Supporting Your Attendance’. And we ensure that proper support is given to employees as they return back into the business and any adjustments that need to be made can be.”


Procter says that OH practitioners play an important part, including in return to work. “Our OH and wellbeing team is seen as a key advisory role. They are very pro­active in supporting us in shaping benefits, and, of course, they’ll do all the risk assessments as you’d expect, but it’s not a back-seat role,” she says. “And if there are occasions where home visits are required, OH teams will get involved and support the teams as and when necessary.”

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