HarperCollins goes digital in reward and benefits

HarperCollins is embracing the digital age as a publisher and in its approach to reward and benefits

As the book publishing industry moves into the digitised space, HarperCollins’ director of people, John Athanasiou, is helping to ensure the firm’s benefits, communications and working patterns are aligned with this shift.

Athanasiou is well equipped to oversee this change, thanks to seven years at Warner Music UK, latterly as head of HR, where he had a front-row seat for the music industry’s move into digital.

“Music was the first media to go through digital transformation and books are probably the last to go through it,” he says. “In the past four years, we have made sure we have got a really clear people strategy to have the best talent to compete and survive in this ever-changing digital landscape.”

HarperCollins’ training and development programme has supported this strategy, with course content including digital development, editorial and business skills, and information technology. Athanasiou says: “It covers everything from soft skills to technical skills, as well as digital development, which every publisher is crying out for.”

As one of a number of organisations owned by News Corporation, the publishing firm is also leveraging its sister relationships to further develop employees’ skills. Athanasiou adds: “The whole purpose is to collaborate. If you sit in a training room with someone from television production, newspapers, film and book publishing, ultimately you learn more. They all have similar challenges, but slight nuances, so they are really learning a lot from each other and more about other parts of the multimedia market.”

Bonus strategy

Underpinning HarperCollins’ drive for performance is its bonus strategy. Athanasiou says: “When I joined, the first thing I looked at was the bonus plan and how we could link it into driving performance for the organisation. It pays for itself because when employees start hitting profit, we can afford to pay out the bonuses.”

Various bonus schemes are available to staff, categorised by personal objectives and divisional and company-wide targets.

The Top Hat scheme, introduced three years ago, awards editorial staff bonuses for introducing successful books to the organisation. This is paid out over three years, with 40% paid in year one and 30% in each of years two and three. “It is almost like a long-term incentive plan,” says Athanasiou.

The Creative Leaders scheme, also introduced three years ago, is for divisional publishers, who qualify for a discretionary bonus if they hit their profit and loss target, and an additional 15% if they beat it by 25%. Athanasiou says: “They can then get 15% more than their target bonus, so if they are on 30% bonus, they can then go away with 45%.” However, for the scheme to pay out, the UK and US businesses must also hit their targets.

For the first time in 11 years, HarperCollins was named Publisher of the Year in The Bookseller Industry Awards this year, which Athanasiou attributes to the success of the bonus schemes, as well as the training and development opportunities across the business. “Our divisions are really delivering,” he says. “We have the biggest fiction brand at the moment, which is Game of Thrones. We have a great sales team and great editors. The culture has changed.

Three years ago we would fight to acquire authors, but now authors and agents are coming straight to us.”

The Harpers awards

HarperCollins hosts its own awards, The Harpers, to recognise and reward employee excellence. Award categories range from ‘Best book jacket of the year’ to ‘Best team of the year’. The annual event is hosted in two locations, London and Glasgow, and features a speech by HarperCollins’ UK chief executive and publisher, Victoria Barnsley, a financial update and then the awards ceremony, hosted by an author, followed by a drinks reception. Prizes include a free lunch out for the best team of the year and extra holiday for other winners.

By way of a thank-you for its Bookseller Industry Award, HarperCollins gave each of its employees an extra day’s holiday this year. It is also offering an extra day over Christmas, which increases employees’ annual holiday allowance to 28 days. Staff can also buy and sell up to five days’ holiday under the organisation’s flexible benefits scheme.

The scheme offers employees a range of flexible working opportunities, including part-time and flexible hours. Athanasiou says: “Work-life balance is becoming more and more important to people. Pay packets are important, but we can really retain people through the way we flex their work, because they have to enjoy the whole 360 degrees of their lives.”

HarperCollins is implementing flexible working during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The company has given line managers guidelines on how to manage staff during this period, including an assessment of employees’ working needs. Athanasiou says: “About 10% of the population need to work from home. About 30-35% say they may need to flex their hours. We will have our office open 24/5, so people will have lots of options over the Olympics.”

A television screen was set up in the atrium for the Euro 2012 football championships and more screens will be brought in for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as part of Athanasiou’s commitment to help employees enjoy a healthy work-life balance.

This follows HarperCollins’ first health and wellbeing week at the end of January, which featured sessions on healthy eating, physiotherapy, and free yoga and pilates classes made available at its on-site squash courts at head office in Hammersmith, west London.

Community efforts

As part of its community efforts, the publisher offers employees volunteering opportunities through the charity Volunteer Reading Help. In addition, its employees are undertaking a range of activities, including spelling competitions, marathons and pub quizzes, to raise £10,000 for the charity, which HarperCollins has pledged to match. Athanasiou says: “It links in nicely to our business because it supports kids who are struggling to read and gives them access to literacy.”

These initiatives are communicated to staff through a variety of channels. The organisation’s intranet page is the first point of contact for most employees. There they will find an internal Twitter account known as Witter, three daily articles linked to HarperCollins, the publishing industry or benefits promotion, plus a link to the benefits on offer. Also, posters are placed around the office, from the lifts to the toilets to the subsidised on-site canteen.

Athanasiou says: “We use every bit of space available to us to promote our development, recruitment and benefits to staff. That way we get passive interest, which is really quite important.”

HarperCollins’ employee forum is another communication tool within the business, comprising a representative from each major division. The forum meets quarterly and then the representatives are responsible for communicating the discussed information to the rest of the workforce.

“Collaboration is a big part of what we do,” says Athanasiou. “We do an annual people survey as well. Results have been going up in every category over the past three years.”

Collaboration is also at the heart of HarperCollins’ new digital-savvy culture. The aim, says Athanasiou, is to make employees feel a real purpose and passion for the organisation. “We go out to educate people, we want to have the best content, it is about enriching people’s lives, and I think people want to be part of an organisation that is more than just about financial gain,” he says.

“You can turn an organisation around when you have the right people. To have the right people, you have to have the right people strategy, including benefits and pay. It is the whole piece of attraction and retention.”


HarperCollins at a glance

With a history that stretches back nearly 200 years, HarperCollins publishes a range of content, from contemporary fiction to digital hymnbooks.

Glasgow-based William Collins and Sons was founded in 1819 and published bibles, atlases and dictionaries, later including classic authors such as HG Wells, Agatha Christie, JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.

The original HarperBrothers company was established in New York in 1817. Harper and Row, as it was known after a 1962 merger with Row, Peterson and Company, was acquired by News Corporation in 1987. The worldwide group, known as Harper and Row in the US and Collins in the UK, was formed after News Corporation acquired William Collins in 1990. It has been known as HarperCollins since 2007.With offices in Australia, Canada, China, India, the UK and the US, HarperCollins boasts annual global revenues of over $1 billion (£643.5 million).

HarperCollins UK publishes about 800 books each year and employs some 900 people, split between its head office in London, a distribution centre in Glasgow and a small office of 15 staff in Holmfirth, Scotland.

The benefits at HarperCollins

Pension scheme

A defined benefit (DB) scheme was closed to new entrants 10 years ago. About 250 of 900 employees are still accruing benefits from the scheme.

A group personal pension (GPP) plan was introduced as a replacement for the DB scheme. It matches the majority of employee contributions up to 6%, but a small percentage of senior staff receive a 9% match. Plans for auto-enrolment are under way, with HarperCollins aiming for an October 2013 staging date.

Private medical insurance

The scheme is offered to all staff as a single-person benefit, while senior staff can include their families. Staff can increase their level of cover through the flexible benefits scheme.

Income protection

All staff are covered at four-times basic salary as members of the pension plan. Non-members get one-time basic salary, but can increase this through flex.

Flexible benefits scheme

Holiday buy and sell up to five days a year, critical illness insurance, health screening, health cash plan, dental insurance, childcare vouchers, travel insurance and payroll giving.

Performance-related bonus schemes

Include the Top Hat and Creative Leaders schemes.

Company car

Available to senior staff and other staff on a job -need basis.

Flexible working opportunities

Include part-time and flexible hours.

Other benefits

Bikes-for-work, employee discount scheme, digital device scheme, subsidised canteen, fitness classes.


Employee case study: Work-life balance important at HarperCollins

Alison Ruane, associate publisher, children’s division at HarperCollins, works with her publisher to implement the commercial strategy of taking books to market. She joined HarperCollins as a marketing director in 2005 and moved to her current role in July 2011.

She particularly likes HarperCollins’ approach to employee wellbeing. “The benefits really recognise work-life balance, getting as much value as possible out of time at work and time at home,” she says.

Ruane is enrolled in HarperCollins’ defined contribution (DC) pension scheme, with the publisher matching contributions up to 6%. She also uses the Bupa health cash plan. “I ran the London marathon last year and I could have the physiotherapy I needed,” she says.

Ruane also appreciates HarperCollins’ focus on training and development, which includes courses ranging from digital marketing through to career development.


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