DS Smith puts employee health at the heart of its business

DS Smith 1

Corrugated and plastics packaging manufacturer DS Smith believes that investing in its employees is as vital to the business as innovations in equipment. With more than 3,000 employees in its UK packaging division, the organisation recognises that in order to be a preferred partner of choice among its customers, it has to support its employees from a personal perspective, as well as a professional one. Sonia Card, head of HR, UK packaging, says: “DS Smith is a traditional manufacturing business that is growing at quite a rate. [It’s] always valued employees and that’s the essence of what it is, irrespective of size, so in terms of benefits, it is anything that can help our people deliver the best at work.”

Healthy outlook

Health and safety is an important priority, and, in recent years, DS Smith has placed a greater focus on the health of employees. In 2013, the organisation began working with the charity Heart Research UK, and introduced health checks for all employees in the UK, which gave them the opportunity to have their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body mass index checked.

Since then, it has implemented further health initiatives. “Sites really embraced the initiative, and they’ve organised football tournaments; there’s now a DS Smith Cup,” explains Card. “There are things such as cycle-to-work days, slimming clubs, and walking clubs.”

Each DS Smith site in the UK works with the charity on various health initiatives as part of the Healthy Heart scheme. Each site works to achieve bronze, silver or gold status based on how they have encouraged employees to look after their hearts. All sites have achieved the bronze status, and more than half have achieved silver. Some of the initiatives implemented across various sites include free fruit and bottles of water for employees, smoking-cessation sessions and healthier food choices in on-site cafeterias.

Employee recognition

DS Smith also works closely with its employee forum, which includes representatives from each site and an elected chairperson. When its 2014 employee survey revealed that the organisation did not recognise employees as well as it could, Card worked with the employee forum to design a recognition scheme.

“There was no set scale of what that should look like, it evolved from discussions,” she explains. “It’s a three-tier scheme that goes from a simple thank-you card to a £25 reward voucher, then out of all the reward vouchers we issue throughout the year, we pick out four to receive a superstar reward voucher. The employee forum works with us to find who is going to receive those based on the reason they received the £25 reward voucher.”

The Spontaneous Thanks and Reward Scheme (Stars), which is provided by Red Letter Days for Business, is intended to provide instant recognition to employees that demonstrate the organisation’s values in their behaviour, and to encourage recognition of exemplary behaviour. It offers peer-to-peer recognition because anyone can award a ‘thank you’ to a colleague.

Sharesave scheme

However, one of the most popular benefits among staff is the employee sharesave scheme, which was launched in 2011. Upon its first launch, take-up was over 40%, and when it relaunched in 2014, 60% of the workforce joined the scheme. The scheme has now relaunched for 2016. Card says: “The whole thought process behind that is trying to get our employees to invest in the business, and own part of where they work.

“As well as giving people ownership of the business, it also incentivises them. If the organisation grows and becomes more profitable and successful, the share price goes up and that then gives [employees] the opportunity at the end of the sharesave period to make a bit of money.”


DS Smith operates a shared service centre through which its benefits are administered via outsourced providers. It works with its providers to make sure that its package is competitive. “The bigger the organisation is getting, the more important it is that we are competitive in terms of the benefits that we offer,” says Card.

The organisation uses a variety of communication methods to inform staff about their benefits. This includes its intranet site, newsletters from the chief executive of the packaging division, emails, noticeboards and staff briefings, as well as post to employees’ home addresses.

It also utilises its employee forum to gauge staff feedback, as well as its engagement surveys. “In the last survey, 80% of staff found that benefits met their needs,” says Card. “In the next survey, we’d like to see that increase, and will work with the forum to see what else we can do to provide more benefits.”

A future goal for DS Smith is to continue to promote the Healthy Hearts campaign in order to gain gold accreditation and the Healthy Heart Mark for the organisation. Its overall objective is to be accredited as an employer that values its workforce and makes positive contributions to the health and wellbeing of its employees.

At a glance

Corrugated and plastics packaging manufacturer DS Smith operates in over 36 countries and employs around 26,000 members of staff. It has four divisions: packaging, recycling, paper and plastics. Its UK packaging division employs more than 3,000 employees across multiple sites. Its product range includes retail-ready packaging, transit cases, consumer units, and heavy-duty packaging for industry.

Business objectives

  • To continue to work in partnership with customers from the very early stages of product development, to delivering real benefits to them, where they become a preferred partner of choice.
  • Continued investment in innovation: investing heavily in plants, equipment, employees and also in new digital print capabilities.

Sonia CardCareer history

Sonia Card, head of HR for DS Smith UK packaging division, joined the organisation in 2013. She has previously held head of HR roles in the construction and logistics industries. Her role at DS Smith is to support the packaging division from a strategic and operational perspective.

Card has a particular focus on employee engagement and developing talent through the organisation. “There seems to be a theme for me in that I always get involved in employee engagement programmes, employee forums, being the conduit between management and employees, and opening up lines of communication,” she says.

Benefits available at DS Smith


  • Defined contribution money purchase scheme open to all employees. Contributions payable via salary sacrifice.

Healthcare and wellbeing

  • Employee assistance programme (EAP).
  • Healthy Hearts programme.

Group risk

  • Group income protection and life assurance for members of the standard section of  the pension scheme.

Share scheme

Staff travel

Family friendly

Voluntary benefits

  • Voluntary benefits scheme.
  • Bikes-for-work scheme.


  • Canteen or catering is available at all sites.

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  • 25 days’ holiday, plus bank holidays.

Reward and recognition

  • Spontaneous Thanks and Reward Scheme (Stars).