Human resources director Jeannie Edwards explains why MWH puts so much value on respecting all its members of staff.
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We take very seriously the fact that we don’t sell widgets or cars,” says MWH human resources director Jeannie Edwards. ” We sell brain power, and in order to get more out of those brains we have to look after them, which means looking after our employees.
Edwards says the secret to ensuring people stay with the company is to respect them: “I think that is what differentiates ourselves from other companies − we genuinely respect people for what they can bring and what they can do.” As a result, retention is higher than the industry average, and even when people leave they often return.
MWH has tried to retain that investment in its employees during the recession, offering shorter working hours and sabbaticals rather than making wholesale redundancies. “People may say that in a recession it’s an employers’ market, but that’s simply not true,” says Edwards. “Good employees will always get a job no matter how bad the market is, and it’s the good employees you want to keep.”
She says it is extremely important to keep what she calls the “vital manys” happy − the 80% of staff who “don’t want to knock MD or CEO off the top”, but who “work very hard and do good work.”
“They’re not necessarily very visible, but they’re the mainstay of our business,” Edwards explains. “For them it’s not about providing wonderful courses on leadership, it’s about keeping them motivated and interested in what they are doing.”
She adds: “A common thing in our industry is that you take someone who is technically very capable, who takes on bigger and bigger projects, and before they know where they are they’re given a department to run. And suddenly they’re not managing projects, they’re managing people.
“There are people who are technically brilliant, who don’t ever want to manage people. We have a career for them, and they can get to the top without ever managing people.”
“Flexible working and flexibility in the way you employ people will become the norm”
Jeannie Edwards, human resources director
However, Edwards is predicting that the current recession will have a permanent impact on the nature of employment, both at MWH and throughout the industry. “I don’t think the employment market is going to be the same as it was three or four years ago.
“Flexible working and flexibility in the way you employ people will become the norm. I think all our competitors will be the same,” she says.
But she also believes people will enjoy a more flexible approach that means moving between sectors and changing locations as your career develops. “We will always need specialists, and I would never underestimate them, but I think engineers will find that their remit will be broader simply because of the flexibility that the economic climate is demanding,” she says.
And she wants to make that process as enjoyable as possible for MWH’s engineers. “You can be whatever you want to be and you can change your career here,” she says.
MWH: The facts and figures
Employees across the Europe-Africa region
in water − largest UK consultancy in the water sector
Consultant in UK waste sector
Offices in Europe-Africa
MWH benefits include:
- Contributory pension scheme, including life assurance
- Minimum 23 days’ holiday
- Option to buy a further five days’ holidays
- Enhanced maternity and paternity leave
- Private healthcare
- Flexible working, including part time and flexible start/finish times
- Subscription to professional institutions
- Cycle to work scheme
- Global knowledge community