Co-operative Healthcare has plenty of reasons to feel proud as an employer. The Midlands-based company came third in C+D’s Best Places to Work 2015. And, of all five companies that participated, it came out top for pay and benefits.
It’s clear to see why the company performed so well on this measure. Not only does it offer dividends on profits, but it also rewards staff who have who have stayed for many years with vouchers, certificates and a visit from the senior management team.
But the Co-operative Healthcare’s chief executive officer Adrian Wilkinson is keen to stress these aren’t the only benefits it offers – employees have a “real sense of ownership” due to the company’s co-operative status.
An open culture
This concept of ownership is backed up by the company’s policies. For example, every employee gets a vote on important matters, such as appointing directors. This means that, at its annual general meeting, every member of staff – whether a dispensing assistant or board member – has an equal say.
For Mr Wilkinson, this is all part of the company’s overriding values of democracy, openness, quality and social responsibility. “We engage with our colleagues really heavily against each of those four key areas,” he says.
As a demonstration of the company’s commitment to openness, Mr Wilkinson cites the ‘colleague council’. Any member of staff can put themselves forward to sit on the council, which represents employees and can question him on all aspects of the business, from training to work environments.
“We try not to take ourselves too seriously. We have ‘meet the team’ social events where we just say, come and meet us for a drink”
“I have to respond to it formally, I have to consider their opinions. I think just breaking down those barriers is key,” Mr Wilkinson says.
Because this goal is so key to Co-operative Healthcare, it focuses on making the working environment “relaxed” and “social”, with senior management often making sure they are around for post-work drinks.
“We try not to take ourselves too seriously. We have ‘meet the team’ social events where we just say, come and meet us for a drink,” Mr Wilkinson says.
But don’t just take his word for it – support dispenser Charlotte Merrick says its values are the reason why she has been with the company since her school days.
“The values that they stand for [are] quite different to other businesses, they’re very open with what goes on in the company,” she tells C+D. “You don’t feel like you’re kept in the dark about anything.”
The chance for personal development has also helped Ms Merrick settle down: the company has a “never say no” attitude to training. Whether it’s a specific requirement for their healthcare role or a course to help them get into management, staff need only to ask for training and it will be provided.
Co-operative Healthcare also has some innovative ways of maintaining morale outside the workplace. These include Birthday Hour – an initiative that gives staff a free hour to do what they want on their birthday – and three paid days for all employees to do community work, or more if they wish.
Ms Merrick is particularly passionate about the ability to do community work, which she “loves”. She took 12 full days off last year to work in a local school, which were all paid for by Co-operative Healthcare. She is free to be flexible and – if she is not needed in a pharmacy – she can decide to go and teach the children at the last minute.
“We have a social responsibility team that looks after [us],we go out to schools and give [young people] interview training and CV writing, to help them in the future,” she says.
This ethos seems to have put the business in good stead. As Mr Wilkinson says: “We’re a really successful business and successful in hard times.”