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How can you create a workplace that ignites passion and purpose in your employees while encouraging creativity and innovation? Karen Bowes, HR director at Capital One, reveals to Katie Richard how their wellbeing programmes have helped them become a Great Place to Work award winner.

How many people do you manage and who do you report to?

I have 31 people on my team. They cover HR, internal communications, CSR and workplace solutions. I report to international managing director Chris Newkirk, who looks after business in the UK and Canada. I also report to senior vice president Alison Keller, who is global HRD for Capital One’s card division and is based in the US.

What are your current responsibilities?

I lead our people strategy for the UK business. In HR, we impact people’s lives every day and exist to create the environment we need to drive continued business success. Our holistic people approach invests in and connects the full employee life cycle, from attraction, hiring, and development through to health and wellbeing. Our approach is enabled by our policies; the way we communicate, our benefits and our workplace. I also lead our CSR agenda, which is focused on utilising the skills of our employees to support our communities on a national scale.

Capital One won the Great Place to Work® ‘best workplaces’ award for 2013. What makes Capital One a great place to work?

We have an overwhelming sense of purpose based around our vision to ‘make lives better’, which is directed towards our customers. We want our employees to understand and connect with customers, and to find a way to make their lives better in every interaction, every day.

We treat employees the way we want them to treat customers; happy employees makes happy customers, which makes for a profitable and sustainable business. This model involves the working environment of our employees, their rewards and benefits package, the visibility and accessibility of our leadership, the quality of our people management, and the overall trust we have in our employees to do their job – we try to strip out barriers and hierarchy.

How do you empower your leaders and create trust between them and your employees?

We’re currently undertaking a leadership investment programme aimed at developing our employees into the types of leaders we think are essential. We encourage our leaders to inspire a common vision, lead from the heart, and enable their teams to be the best. Often, leaders are very good at engaging the head (logical and analytical), but we want our leaders to go beyond that. Balancing emotional connection with business credibility creates trust.

Our leaders also model how we do things. They sit out on the floor with their teams, are present and visible, join in our fun and community events, blog regularly, and invite comment from across the business.

What are your wellbeing initiatives?

Health and wellbeing is hugely important for our employee demographic since many of them are between 25 and 45. Keeping fit, eating well, understanding their finances, and making good choices are key concerns for our employees.

In addition to our on-site gym and restaurant, we invest in innovation. For example, we created an internal event where employees can check their BMI; they can also get involved in our men’s or women’s health week. We also try to link in with the emotional health of our employees through parenting workshops or preventative action to help people deal with stress using mindfulness, meditation and yoga.

How did you decide which initiatives would benefit your employees the most?

We analysed our employee demographic and what was really important to them and the business. Our customer contact agents have one of our hardest jobs as they can face challenging calls throughout the day. The role these people play is so important to us since they are the ones talking to our customers. Given this, we invest in their resilience through a programme that looks after their wellbeing, empowers the team, and creates manager excellence.

I’m a great believer in the power of people management and leadership. I want our employees to be engaged in our vision and our reason for being, and the biggest connection to that is having great people management and visible leadership.

In what way has your fully equipped music room, garden room, snow room complete with an igloo, light house and beach huts helped to boost your team’s creativity, morale and productivity?

It’s about using your building cleverly. Taking people away from desks, stripping out barriers like hierarchy, and getting people to work together helps cut through issues.

The other part is the science of natural collision – having a coffee area where people can come together and have good conversations, for example. Your best ideas will not arise from just looking at your inbox on your laptop; instead, you need a working environment that encourages people to do things differently. That’s when ideas are generated.

Why is innovation important to you and how do you use innovation to grow the business?

If you don’t create a way to innovate, you risk doing the same old thing repeatedly, eventually losing touch with what customers really want. All businesses will face disruption. If we don’t dedicate time to innovation, how can we adapt and meet the needs of our customers?

What are you top tips to other HR professionals looking to create wellbeing programmes?

Know your audience. There are 101 things you can do, but if you really want to get return on investment, then you need something that is broad and holistic, but focused on your audience.

About Capital One

Capital One is a top 10 UK credit card provider based in Nottingham with around 1,000 employees. They are a subsidiary of US-based Fortune 500 company Capital One Financial Corporation, and have outsource centres in India and the Philippines.

Website: http://www.capitalone.co.uk

Written by Katie Richard, online content editor, Changeboard

Katie Richard, online content editor, Changeboard

Online content editor for Changeboard; Canadian in London; lover of books, magazines & design.

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