Nationwide Building Society

Shortlisted team for DfEE Award for Age Diversity: Personnel Today Awards 2000

The success of the Nationwide Building Society’s work on promoting age diversity is clearly down to teamwork. Initiatives have been put into practice through the work of the equal opportunities team, the employee relations team, pensions and the employee rewards team. Ensuring all these various parts of the organisation’s HR function were consciously promoting age diversity has had a great impact on the make-up of the society’s employees.

The initiative was introduced to meet a number of issues which had arisen within Nationwide. To begin with, fall out from the merger with Anglia Building Society had impacted on the business and meant that large numbers of younger employees had been recruited.

This younger age range had brought with it, perhaps predictably, high staff turnover levels in some areas of the business. The company decided to take positive action and create more stability in its workforce by creating more mixed aged teams. Advertisements would be targeted to attract a wider age range and the removal of age bars was brought in as part of the company’s equal opportunities policy.

In addition, Nationwide developed a telephone interviewing technique which would be used to initially recruit customer advisers in the retail branch network. Through this method, the interviewee could concentrate on the skills criteria required for such a position without making assumptions based on the candidate’s appearance or qualifications. A number of "knockout questions" were included, covering areas such as availability and security and these were used to sift out candidates who were unsuitable for the job from the start. Candidates who passed this interview were then contacted by an interviewer trained in selection procedures who would see if the candidate’s personal profile matched the specified criteria for the position. If so, a face to face interview was arranged with the appropriate line manager.

Promoting age diversity has been made the responsibility of the equal opportunities team, and doing this has meant the society has been able to monitor the effectiveness of their age diversity programme. Further areas of HR policy have been redesigned to recognise the different life stage of employees and to promote a good work/life balance for every individual.

The employee relations team, working closely with the Nationwide group staff union has also developed proposals for recruiting and retaining older workers and the pensions team is currently developing new guidelines to implement flexible retirement. The society has introduced length of service awards at 10-, 20-, 30- and 40 years and since, according to its own research, the average length of service for employees over 50 is 19 years these awards clearly favour the older age groups.

Age diversity has been embedded into the society and is a key performance indicator for the personnel and development division. The age diverse workforce effectively reflects the diversity of the organisation’s customer base, and with recruitment costs running at between £5,000 and £8,000 per employee, the initiative has had a substantial financial benefit through reduced staff turnover.

Company fact file

Team Nationwide Building Society corporate personnel team

Team leader Denise Walker, head of corporate personnel

Number in HR team 6 in the immediate team

Number of employees responsible for 13,800

Main achievements In March 2000, 22 per cent of employees were under 25 and 8.6 per cent were aged 50 and over – compared to only 1.3 per cent in the late 80s. Eight per cent of employees recruited within the past five years are aged 50 and over, while the age range for branch managers and financial consultants is 21-61 years.

Priorities for next 12 months To design and implement a flexible retirement package, promoting this issue both internally and externally.

Judges’ comments "Nationwide Building Society has been successfully experimenting with age diversity policies since 1991 and has pioneered new forms of recruitment in order to deliver its objective of an age diverse workforce. In doing so it can point to substantive achievements and innovations in the field of age diversity"

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