Lily’s Kitchen serves up a suite of benefits to support employee wellbeing

From happiness packages to an employee assistance programme, Lily’s Kitchen has made innovative changes to its benefits package in 2020 in order to support the wellbeing of its employees.

Georgina Cameron, HR director, explains: “I think there has been far more emphasis in the last six months on employee wellbeing, safety and flexibility; being able to put the kind of meaningful support framework in place where everybody feels that they are cared for, supported and looked after, is becoming a huge factor for employers.”

The pet food organisation has always placed a focus on looking after its employees, but the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has put this more under the spotlight. Lily’s Kitchen has always offered its 60-strong workforce flexible-working options, including part time and flexi-time working, and working from home, but the lockdown that was put in place in March 2020 meant that all employees had to quickly transition to home working. “Even as lockdown has eased, there’s no pressure to return to the office,” says Cameron. “It’s very much about keeping staff safe, and their families feeling safe and secure as well. We are central London-based, so everybody is very dependent on public transport and that’s not a risk that we felt the team needed to take as lockdown eased, and still is the case.”

Home working, of course, has bought its own challenges for many organisations across the country, but for Lily’s Kitchen, its prior flexible-working arrangements meant that it had the IT infrastructure already in place to support this. “On top of that though, we’ve been able to send out IT equipment such as additional monitors, docking stations, laptop stands, mice, keyboards, potentially upgraded broadband connections [and] desk chairs,” says Cameron. “So ultimately, [employees] can set up an office from home where they can, and not just work off a tiny laptop.”

Sustainable home working

Lily’s Kitchen is a certified B Corporation business, which means that it has to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, and it has to balance purpose and profit. Cameron explains what that means in the working environment: “In the office, we’ve always tried to pride ourselves on doing everything on a green and sustainable basis. So we’ve also sent out guidelines on how the team can actually adopt that as much as they can at home, and put in some of the things that we already had in place in the office and translate them to their home environment.”

The employer is encouraging its employees to have a green home office set up, which could include looking at their use of electricity and potentially changing energy supplier if there is a more sustainable one out there, recycling batteries, as well as looking at what they can do to take a notch down on their temperature control as the colder months draw closer, and align that with exercising in order to build up the body temperature.

Mental wellbeing support

During the lockdown, Lily’s Kitchen quickly recognised the importance of offering further support for employees’ mental wellbeing. Through regular communication, it made sure employees were given information, hints and tips about how they can keep safe and healthy. “That might be things like acts of kindness, particularly when there were shortages of things in the early days of lockdown; the value of exercise; links to potential podcasts or online exercise opportunities; guidance on how best to sleep; switching off and not having blue screens, etcetera,” says Cameron. “For me, it was about making sure that they were able to find that work-life balance, because it’s incredibly hard when you are in an office at home to shut that down, and then take your downtime. It was just about finding ways that [employees] could switch off and step away from work.”

The organisation also has a mental health first aider who has been sending out communications and positive quotes to uplift the workforce. It introduced an employee assistance programme in April, which offers employees confidential telephone support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Employees were also sent happiness packages, which were surprise boxes filled with chocolate, to help motivate them and to say, ‘well done, keep smiling, everyone’s doing a fantastic job pulling together’. “The happiness packages are probably one of the things that have got the biggest response in terms of thanks and smiles,” says Cameron. “We’ve even, as lockdown eased, had the odd team meeting in a park, socially distanced, so [employees] can actually have some face time, making sure that the teams are doing non-work coffee and catch ups, virtual drinks, and things like that. And if an individual is struggling from a mental welfare point of view, then we will pick up with them, from a people perspective, but also from a team leader perspective, and also just from a colleague perspective, because it’s such a close-knit environment.”

Lily’s Kitchen also introduced paid-time off for dependants in line with the start of the lockdown in March. “For our team that were caring or parents, and equally having to look at home-schooling, or support for preschool children, and then balance that with work, it was, and still can be, an incredibly stressful time, so we looked at how we could support that with some paid time off,” explains Cameron. “As soon as we were locked down and all working from home, we put that in place. They can have up to 10 days, paid time off, and in whatever way they want to work that. We’ve done a huge amount to make people feel the best they can in very topsy turvy times.”

Four-legged wellbeing support

The benefits strategy at Lily’s Kitchen not only serves to reward, recognise and engage employees, but is also focused around employer brand, and employee wellbeing and support. In this respect, one of the most popular polices at the organisation is bring-your-dog-to-work. There are few rules to the policy; employees are able to bring their dogs in at any time. The most they have had in the office at any one time has been nine dogs, says Cameron. The dogs’ welfare is important: no-one is allowed to feed them without the owner’s permission, and the pets must be well-behaved, socialised and house-trained.

“It aligns with who we are as a business, and the fact that Lily’s is set up to provide proper food for pets, but more than that, they are actually part of our families, so, therefore, why wouldn’t we have them come into work as well? It’s the heart of what we’re all about,” says Cameron.

The pets have also proved to be a huge asset in supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of staff. “They are renowned to be a huge therapy; if anybody is having a busy day or a tough day, being able to stroke a dog or throw a ball around with them, or for the smaller ones, pick them up and have a cuddle, is just amazing,” Cameron explains. “There are so many benefits as well as being able to play and have a bit of relaxation, it gets the team out and about as well. Quite often we’ll have walking meetings with the dogs. And teams will get together and go out at lunch breaks and just do dog walking.”

Just before lockdown, Lily’s Kitchen moved offices and a requirement of the new office fit out was to put dog flaps into meeting room doors, so that the pets can join everyone in their meetings.

Benefits communication

As a small organisation, Lily’s Kitchen takes on the administration and communication in-house for the majority of its benefits. As a very close-knit team of 60, it uses every opportunity to talk about its reward package, says Cameron. “We’ve got a mixture of policy and guideline documents that talk through the benefits and how they work, and on top of that, I will email out communications to the team on what benefits are available, and any updates. We also have monthly huddles where, when we are in the office, we gather the [employees] together and we all have a cup of coffee, a piece of cake, and give them an update on the business. We’ve kept those going remotely through [Microsoft] Teams.”

As part of its B Corporation accreditation, Lily’s Kitchen has B Corp champions within each team to ensure it is closely adhering to the certification standards. These team members help to shape the kind of benefits that Lily’s Kitchen might introduce.  “We will have discussions about potential benefits, what might be good to put in place, what the team is ideally looking for,” explains Cameron. “Our policy and our strategy is very closely aligned with the fact that we are a B Corp. Part of that is very much about being successful, but also using that success to be a force for good. We look at external stakeholders, our community, our environment, but a big part of that is also looking internally at our employee welfare and benefits. There’s a big alignment for us in being a B Corp-accredited company.”

At a glance

Lily’s Kitchen produces natural, proper food for pets, made with ingredients such as fresh meat, fruit, vegetables, herbs and botanicals.

Roles at the organisation span sales, supply chain, customer care, marketing, new product development, and office support functions such as accounts, HR, operations or office management, and senior leadership.

Lily’s Kitchen has 60 employees, of which 70% are female and 30% are male. Just over half (58%) of employees are aged 25 to 34, 28% aged 35 to 44, 3% aged 45 to 54, and 2% aged 18 to 24. The average length of service is 2.2 years.

Business objects that impact on employee benefits

To focus on providing benefits that support individuals with flexible-working practices and/or working from home, and benefits that fully align with its B Corporation credentials.

Career history

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Georgina Cameron, HR director, joined Lily’s Kitchen in 2015. She has seen the organisation grow from 25 to 60 employees. “When I joined, it had never had any sort of people or HR support before, so it was a completely blank canvas and allowed us to do some real blue-sky thinking in terms of what [benefits] we wanted to put in place, and what made us unique to be Lily’s Kitchen,” she says.

Cameron’s background is in fashion and retail-orientated busiensses. Prior to joining Lily’s Kitchen, she held HR positions in Arcadia Group, Habitat and Hunter Boot.