Interview with Bruce Sayers, head of reward and recognition at DHL Express

Bruce Sayers, head of reward and recognition at DHL†Express, believes strongly in using data to manage reward, particularly in a difficult economic climate

Not many benefits professionals can say they developed their expertise in reward while representing employees as a senior trade union rep. But that is how Bruce Sayers, head of reward and recognition at DHL Express, discovered his aptitude for compensation and benefits. Having previously worked as an insurance surveyor at Royal Insurance, he got his first taste of pay and benefits issues while on secondment with the trade union MSF (now part of Unite) for seven years.

When the secondment ended just before Royal Insurance merged with Sun Alliance in 1996, Sayers returned to work as a reward and policy consultant for one of the organisation’s insurance divisions.

“I am not sure if it was something I was particularly looking to do, but it did build on the knowledge and experience I’d gained in those years doing the trade union role,” he says. “Because of the role I had done in terms of representing employees within Royal Insurance, I had built up quite a lot of HR and reward experience because that involved negotiating pay deals, and so on.”

Since entering the reward profession, Sayers has not looked back, moving on to roles with organisations such as National Grid Wireless and, most recently, DHL Express.

During his time in the industry, he has seen the function’s remit undergo a significant change. “It has become more strategic in its approach,” he says. “Over the years, it has changed from being something that managed the administration behind policies to something that is expected to lead change in a strategic direction.

“I think also it is now more about the development of initiatives that benefit the business as a whole. I think that happens a lot more frequently, in my experience, than it ever did in the past.”

Sayers believes this has come about because of the increasing pace of business, which has resulted in the need for employers to continuously review and evolve policies, making changes where necessary. This is particularly pertinent in the current economic climate, he says.

“One of the biggest challenges is maintaining the reward agenda in a very difficult economic environment. It is trying to ensure employees value the organisation for which they are working, not just from a monetary point of view.”

Whatever reward strategy employers put in place, Sayers believes it should be tailored to suit their business. “You very much have to understand the business to be able to come up with the right solution for that business and its employees,” he says. “It is about keeping close to the business, making sure you understand what its needs are and really understanding the business itself.”

Sayers is also a strong believer in the importance of employers making use of available data to help make decisions and manage what is happening around reward. “You must try to instil in an organisation the importance of data quality because it makes life a lot easier within the reward function if that is a general standard that is achieved,” he explains.

When it comes to his own priorities, Sayers is currently working on developing the culture within DHL Express. “We’re aiming to create a culture of appreciation and pride across the business,” he says. “While you can put in a lot of systems and processes for that, it’s also about engendering the right management culture. That is one of our biggest challenges in the current economic climate.”

Curriculum Vitae†

2007-present head of reward and recognition, DHL Express
2004-2007 reward and policy manager, National Grid Wireless
2001-2003 reward and policy development manager, Sequence UK
1996-2001 reward and policy consultant, Royal & SunAlliance Insurance
1989-1996 seconded official of MSF Union, Royal Insurance
1980-1989 risk surveyor and regional risk surveyor, Royal Insurance†


What is your favourite benefit? If I am looking at this question from the point of view of offering a perk to employees, then anything that is tax-efficient. If I can avoid people paying some tax for a benefit, then I think that is a good thing. From a personal point of view, health screening is one of the important benefits for me. I think that, as a male, it is something I probably wouldn’t go out and do unless it was provided for me. I think that is a very significant benefit.

What is your career ambition? Career-wise, it is to maximise my potential. I don’t want to finish my working life feeling as though I could have done more or achieved more. What that actually means, you only really know when you end your working life. That, for me, is important.

Who has inspired you throughout your career? I am quite lucky in that I think there are a number of people I have worked with that I have been able to take something from and recognise it in terms of where I am today, and in terms of what I do. I wouldn’t say there is one specific person, but I have had a number of people that I consider to be role models for various reasons.