The challenges of 2020 placed the focus on inclusion for many businesses. KFC took the opportunity to listen to its employees and responded with a menu of family-friendly policies and renewed flexibility.
The double shock in 2020 of the pandemic and death of George Floyd led countless organisations to reflect on their workplace culture. Restaurant chain KFC was no exception, with Neil Piper, chief people officer, describing it as a “catalyst” to investigate what inclusion and belonging really meant to employees.
“It felt as though we were all put in a cage. There was a pivot in the world of work, and we needed to think about how we set people up at an individual level that makes them feel safe, particularly when many of them felt set adrift,” he explains. “Our strength is our culture, but having an engaging culture doesn’t always mean it’s inclusive.”
The company decided to take a ‘Listen – learn – act – amplify’ approach to its diversity and inclusion strategy. It collected data from employees and held stakeholder interviews in early lockdown to work out how it could support them going forward. From this it created a series of personas that would help build up a picture of who it was serving.
“Our strength is our culture, but having an engaging culture doesn’t always mean it’s inclusive” – Neil Piper, chief people officer, KFC
“A lot of people on the leadership team had similar living environments so it was easy to assume everyone was in the same boat,” he adds. “But some of our employees were feeling trapped, sometimes living, sleeping and working in one bedroom. Or they were in a dual worker household with their kids at home. We spent a long time listening to the colour around people’s experiences.”
Head office employees who had become used to working remotely were keen for KFC to ensure that flexible working benefits would stick around. As the company began mapping out how it might return to offices, it decided to “partially formalise” flexible working policies rather than create individual arrangements for everyone.
But the key policy outcome from its research with employees was a new suite of parental benefits. Its new policy gives employees access to parental, shared parental or adoption leave, with six months of leave at full pay, regardless of whether they work in head office or restaurants.
Diversity and inclusion
“The employee proposition is very different at head office compared to restaurants, and having this benefit soon became the talk of the town,” adds Piper. The policy has drawn attention from workers at competitor chains, boosting recruitment.
Piper describes KFC’s approach as “treating time as a unique benefit”, whether that’s feeling able to take more time off with a new baby or to work flexibly during the day. This was partly driven by a recognition during successive lockdowns that people were working longer days and their work-life balance was beginning to blur.
“This was uncomfortable for us and not in the spirit of work-life balance,” he says. “So we’ve introduced ‘virtual commuting’ blocks where managers cannot impose meetings at certain times, and 25- and 55-minute Teams meetings so people have downtime before the next one.”
Time to switch off
These small changes will continue as more people return to physical offices, and the company also encourages leaders to “leave loudly”, making it clear if they need to leave early so others feel comfortable doing so if they need to. “There’s a ripple effect that’s not inclusive if you say one thing and leaders are doing the opposite, organising 7pm quizzes or not taking time off as a badge of honour,” he adds.
In response to this, KFC partnered with Sanctus, a wellbeing provider that offers virtual coaching sessions as well as the opportunity for employees to write down any frustrations or concerns into an anonymous journal. This meant the company had a source of data on how employees were feeling, particularly during the tough winter lockdown in early 2021. Employees themselves were signposted to support if needed.
On a wider inclusion basis, employee affinity groups have played an important role in cementing employees’ sense of belonging at KFC. “These had been more informal in the past but there’s now a dual-lane commitment to policy, commitments and action as well as a key role in the company’s engagement agenda,” Piper explains. “There’s a halo effect for the organisation in terms of inclusion whether you’re in a group or an ally – it all feels good.”
A listening tool from Peakon called Include helps to empower managers at the company to embed inclusion into their everyday work, for example through blind recruitment processes or challenging agencies to provide more diverse shortlists of candidates when hiring. The platform also raises concepts such as conscious inclusion, understanding privilege and recognising neurodiversity.
Taking action on inclusion during the pandemic means the company is less at risk of the impact of the so-called ‘great resignation’ and widely reported skills shortages as things begin to return to normal, Piper believes. Helping employees to understand potential career paths both in and outside the company – perhaps counterintuitively – is a useful retention tool.”
“Our role is to be meaning makers, because that’s how we get the best from employees while they’re here,” he concludes. “We’ve not felt the great resignation in a damaging way because we’ve had conversations early on with key talent. People don’t assume their job is the same as it was before, and know they can find satisfaction.”