Why we became a real living wage and disability confident employer

By Kirsty Scott, joint managing director

Harris has always had strong values as a company: it’s what made me want to join in the first place, and it’s the reason I jumped at the chance to continue Jim’s legacy when we first started discussing his retirement strategy several years ago. 

In the months since Neil and I completed our MBO, we’ve lived by a clear rule: keep what works, and improve what doesn’t. And while it’s a cliché to say that a business feels like a family, in our case it’s really true, and Neil and I were determined that this unique atmosphere was something we wanted to keep.

At Harris, we care about each other. It’s as simple as that. Most of the new structures that Neil and I have put in place since taking over have been about preserving that supportive environment – from making sure that everyone in the team has a direct mentor, to creating space for regular check-ins, and embracing positive mental health initiatives like our stress survey and wellbeing day.

However, while our team, our clients, and suppliers, understand that Harris is a supportive, inclusive, and caring workplace, how do we make sure that the rest of the world knows it? How do we prove to our clients, suppliers, and prospective employees that we are not just talking the talk?

That’s why we have sought to achieve two separate independent accreditations in recent weeks, working toward becoming a Disability Confident Employer and a Real Living Wage Employer too. And as of this week – just in time for Real Living Wage Week – I’m proud to say that we’ve been awarded both certifications.

Both of these initiatives require us to make serious commitments about how we will take care of our team, and we feel confident that not only are we doing the right thing right now – we’ll continue to find ways to improve in the future too. 

While we were already paying all full and part time staff more than the Real Living Wage, we now have a commitment to ensure that we reassess salaries to ensure that we stay ahead of the rising cost of living for both employees and contractors.

And being certified as a Disability Confident Employer was simply a matter of assessing our existing practices to check that they aligned with government guidance – and again, we have been quietly achieving this for several years. I’d like to thank one of our newer employees, Lucy, for flagging the scheme and encouraging us to apply.

Of course, we’re not stopping there: we’re investing in people’s mental and physical health, offering free flu jabs and eye tests to the entire team, and we are set to fund mental health first aid training for two members of the team as well. 

Neil and I have undertaken management training with The World of Work programme to equip us with the knowledge we need to continue our hybrid working methods – flexibility is here to stay at Harris. And we’re maintaining the open and honest culture that is fundamental to the business and its success whilst tightening up our processes and creating room for individual people and departments to grow and develop, all with our full support.

Being a Real Living Wage Employer, and a Disability Confident Employer, doesn’t mean that we can sit back and pat ourselves on the back – but it does create some accountability that will help us to keep striving to be the best business we can be – and that’s something we think is worth committing to.

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