Feeling supported

Claire Muir chats to Clémence O’Connor, former EA and now corporate project manager at SPIE Limited, to find out why this multi-technical services company was an Executive PA Employer of the Year nominee.

How does SPIE Limited go above and beyond to support staff?
I actually experienced this first hand when pregnant. I had a rough time but the company made sure I had a safe working environment and, when I was in and out of hospital due to complications, they let me work from home and regularly checked on me to make sure I was okay. I’ve also been supported through a surgical procedure a few years ago, due to chronic medical issues – I spoke to HR and my line manager who voiced concerns regarding my health, then they supported me and guided me through the process.  As we’re part of a wider group, we’re also given the opportunity to relocate. Many of my colleagues have come from other areas of the business – Thailand, France and Germany –because they wanted to travel and learn how people work elsewhere. In addition, we regularly take on trainees, either from other parts of SPIE or outside the company, to develop their skills and language – this is how I started with the organisation and, a few years later, I brought in a trainee to work for me through the same channel. It really feels like we’re heard and supported, which isn’t always the case in other companies.

Tell us more about how the company has helped develop your career…
I’ve been working for SPIE for more than seven years and, as I mentioned, I started as a trainee on an unpaid work placement. Straight away, they helped with accommodation and meeting people – I didn’t know anyone and my English wasn’t the strongest. As soon as I finished my studies, I was given a full-time permanent role, trained throughout and worked my way up the business. I’ve supported various board directors and I can say that my role has evolved thanks to the various training I’ve been lucky to attend and the networking channels that give me wider exposure to the entire business. This was only possible through the people-focused approach SPIE Limited embraces, allowing new ideas to blossom by giving people a voice and the right support to help them develop.

So, what else sets the company apart?
It’s very people-orientated and we have networks and events that allow us to meet our international counterparts. To bring teams together and enjoy a bit of a competition, we have a SPIE football tournament in a different country each year. We also attend an annual event in France called La Parisienne, which sees women running to raise awareness and money for Breast Cancer – another great opportunity to meet people, but to do something charitable, too.  On that note, we do a lot of internal CSR events. We have long service awards, too, and CEO lunches where employees are picked at random to share a nice meal, talk freely about the business and ask any questions they may have. This gives the CEO a great opportunity to get closer to employees; learning more about them personally and professionally. There are innovation awards where employees suggest their best ideas and the top five win vouchers on a monthly basis. Winning ideas can then be selected for the annual Innovation Award at group level. The vouchers are a token of appreciation but the main driver is to develop each innovative idea and implement it within the business – the company supports the employee who suggested it with the right guidance to make it happen. Having your voice heard, and acted upon, in such a big organisation gives you a real sense of importance.

Are there valuable training opportunities?
Yes, people are developed all the time, regardless of their role or age. We have a very strong learning and development programme made up of in-house and outsourced training, equipping employees with the tools they need and leaving them in control of their development so they can fit in study around work and family life. Our internal platform, SMILE, includes inductions, HSE training, pieces on wellbeing and achieving a good work/life balance, and we have the SPIE Talent Enhancement Programme for employees identified as talents by management – this is a 12-month initiative with various modules, like negotiation, presentation and management. Through this platform, staff interact with the directors who sponsor the modules so they get a wider exposure to the business in general and great networking opportunities across the whole business. We also have various networks and social groups, and can be set-up with mentors. There’s an interesting mentoring initiative tool; the Digital Reverse Mentoring Programme, which pairs you with a high-level member of staff to enlighten them on the digital world and the tools on offer that can help the business.

How is the work/life balance?
Flexibility in terms of working from home and general work hours are looked at on a case-by-case basis – a change of hours can be achieved for a parent who needs to balance childcare, for example. And we have great benefits – private healthcare (with a reward-based points system that encourages people to walk more and eat healthily), and reduced gym membership, for example. There’s an employee assistance programme too –it’s run externally to ensure privacy and staff can reach out for support with any issues they may have, whether mental, financial, physical or something else. You can complete your own health risk assessment through this platform and get the help you need. HSE assessments are important to ensure office space is suitable and we have regular check-ups to see our posture is correct, and whether we need assistance like back or wrist support.

What’s your office Christmas party like?
We have various parties across the divisions – from sit down meals to comedy clubs to boat parties. We try to change the format each year to mxi things up and appeal to most. This year, in addition to their main party, one office had a day where parents brought their children in for a fun afternoon with food, games and a visit from Santa – it was very popular.