Levelling up in action
9th December 2022
Giving back starts at home for AG. The Group’s head of HR explains how – and why – the WorkFamily are supported at every point
The cost-of-living crisis is something Ambassadeurs Group (AG) takes seriously. In October its heart-of house staff – those working in the kitchen and hospitality staff – received an inflation busting pay rise. The increase took their basic pay from £9.50-an-hour to £12-an-hour, internally known as the Living Wage PLUS.
As Head of HR at the Group Simionne Marshall is heavily involved in the people-centred strategies. Listen to her podcast, where she explains why AG works so hard to ensure the WorkFamily have good working conditions as well as perks and benefits. She explains why, when it comes to giving back and building better futures, it all starts with the Group’s staff.
Listen to the podcast or read the full interview below:
Claire: This is the Ambassadeurs Group podcast, where we’re talking all things building better futures. It aims to be a celebration of innovation, industry disruption, raising standards and giving back, all of the things that help build better futures for people, the planet, members and communities, wherever they are.
In October this year, Ambassadeurs Group announced an inflation beating pay rise for its heart of house staff. It’s appropriate we’re discussing the rise today, as the Chancellor has just announced an increase in the national living wage from £9.50 an hour to £10.42 an hour, coming into effect next year. Even with this national rise, basic pay for those on the lowest rate at AG is significantly above this at £12 an hour; this is internally known as the living wage plus. On top of that there are additional benefits that boost pay even more, taking average earnings to around £15 an hour. It’s a good example of the group’s purpose, of building better futures and it shows that this really does begin at home. I’m delighted to welcome someone who really knows the depth of commitment to the WorkFamily at AG. Simionne Marshall is head of HR at the Group, which includes Les Ambassadeurs club, a members only casino and 6 Hamilton Place, the restaurant.
So, I’ve already said welcome Simionne.
Simionne: Thank you for having me.
Claire: The group lives what it says its purpose is; it gives back, it helps to build better futures, and this really does seem to start at home with the WorkFamily, which is how the staff are known. Is this a conscious strategy?
Simionne: It would be very remiss of me, if you don’t mind, just to take this opportunity to pay some homage to our CEO, Kevin McGowen. His hunger to understand the true issues of what our WorkFamily and society are facing, is what powers many of our current initiatives. Without a doubt, it is only with his and the leadership team’s support that we are provided with the tools to carry out this initiative and ensure its success.
As you know Claire, it has been our desire and philosophy to support our WorkFamily in multiple ways over the last decade, as evidence with numerous initiatives, for example the job protection schemes, supporting the WorkFamily during the lockdown period, the upskilling initiatives through the Ambassadeurs Academy and Apprenticeship Programme, our achievement awards, to only mention a few since re-opening. So, the answer to your question isn’t a simple yes, as this is the result from years of preparation, putting down the foundations to really realise these benefits for our WorkFamily.
Claire: So, we’ll turn to the broader WorkFamily a little bit later in our chat. But let’s turn specifically to the recently announced wage rise. In that wage rise, you’ve addressed the heart of house staff, and for those people listening who don’t know who the heart of house staff are, they are the people who work in hospitality across the Group. So, they are almost visible and invisible, but they are not doing the jobs that you would think about when you think about the casino, for example. We know hospitality is a sector that is feeling the cost-of-living crunch from every angle, people who work in it but also businesses that are operating in it. So, it’s brilliant that you’ve helped the staff who do such a valuable job. Can you explain a little bit about how the pay rise works?
Simionne: Alright, well we believe that responsible employers recognise that employees’ overall compensation needs to meet the real cost of living, which should be fair and liveable. It’s our belief the current Government standard for the minimum statutory wage is not enough with the rising cost. Just today, our leadership team shared statistics from the Office of National Statics, listing which household prices are growing the fastest, with gas at 128.9% up and an increase of 65.7% on electricity, and the one that really stood out for me, was a whopping 34% increase on pasta. I mean, even the bare essentials are now becoming luxury items. With all this in mind, we were very pleased and exceptionally proud to announce, as you mentioned, from October this year, all Ambassadeurs Group companies will support the real living wage initiative and are committed to increasing the lowest income bracket base salary to at least £12 per hour to immediately help the most financially vulnerable segment of our team. So, in addition to our efforts to raise standards and build better futures, we further commit to ensure that the minimum average earnings will at least be £15 per hour. So when we talk about living average earnings, we’re talking about not just your salary, but everything else involved, the tips, allowances, incentives, bonuses, things that a forwarded to us through our roles here at Ambassadeurs Group, so your overall compensation.
Looking at research, leading companies are moving beyond statutory minimum wage to ensure their workers are paid enough to achieve financial security. However, too many businesses still see living wages as a challenge rather than an opportunity. So, these first steps are one way for the Ambassadeurs Group to change the narrative, wages are within the power of the businesses to adjust, so therefore, our wage review is only the first phase with a deeper reveal of our overall compensation package, which will include further award recognition programmes, benefits and wellness initiatives.
Claire: It’s quite amazing, I mean you can understand why you’re a company and a Group that retains staff for a really long time. I know lots of the team have been with you for many years and you have the best staff, I mean I’m sure you’d say that. So, if we broaden it out a little bit, you’ve looked specifically in this wage rise at the heart of house staff, but you’ve touched on the other things that all staff get, and I think the one thing I’ve been struck by are the big initiatives that the Group does, like the summer of sharing. So again, would you just explain a little bit about how those work?
Simionne: Yeah, great. Well, I think as recently described, these activities are helping levelling up the agenda, which is a central part of the strategy that is shaped around giving back. So, the pay rise will be boosted by additional benefits, as you were mentioning Summer of Sharing, which delivered £300,000 in contributions to good cause focused on educational groups and then there was a further £300,000 contributions which went to the WorkFamily, which is incredible, absolutely incredible, and we were able to share that with the WorkFamily by providing £1,000 award, which is what we called it. So other initiatives, was also the Safer Gambling Month, where the WorkFamily had the opportunity to help the company achieve its target of £500,000 in Safer Gambling donations by members, with these contributions really making a difference to the Safer Gambling research, education and treatment initiatives that we support. And again, through that there was money contributed the WorkFamily part of which we were able to share £500 to each of the staff, and if you add this all up, it really does make a change to our WorkFamily’s lives and their families. So, it has that lovely ripple effect, doesn’t it.
Claire: It’s amazing, and I’m going to use one of the phrases that your CEO Kevin uses about initiatives like the Summer of Sharing, which is it’s a win win situation, because you’re helping the WorkFamily, helping good causes and members are very engaged with the initiatives, so they feel good about contributing and donating to great causes. But its about more than money, of course, and you’ve touched on this, and the environment that people work in here at Ambassadeurs Group. There are a couple of examples I know we’ve discussed before about how you’ve support the WorkFamily, for example during furlough, when people were able to pivot their careers within the Group, or get new skills. So again, would you just give a bit of an example about other areas that you really help the WorkFamily in.
Simionne: Yes Claire, as you mentioned, Covid actually changed the world of not just the Les A Club and the pre-Covid, as we always refer to it, WorkFamily. So, it was actually fantastic that we were able to provide opportunities beyond on, just what we were talking about, the monetary value here. We were allowing people the opportunity to pivot their career, as you said, through development, but also through all the diverse businesses that we are now operating and industries we are now operating in. For example, we are now in the online business, on our e-commerce side, on our travel and leisure side, opportunities we probably wouldn’t have been able to give anybody prior to Covid. And how fantastic is that, to put that forward. I mean, we touched on very briefly about the Ambassadeurs Academy, that’s just another avenue of helping people to develop personally, it’s a big thing, it’s not just about your career, it’s also about personal development, and so we just hope to add to our little bucket of tools and opportunities that we can provide the WorkFamily.
Claire: So, we’re coming to the end of our chat. You’ll hate this question, but I’m going to ask it. As the head of HR, you must get to hear and see feedback from the WorkFamily, how would you sum up the culture, and I suppose I look at it and the fact that you call it a WorkFamily suggests that it’s a very warm, positive place to be, what is it that you see about the culture?
Simionne: Yeah, I’d hope the same. But this is very much a subjective topic, isn’t it. I’m quite confident that should you ask 100 of our WorkFamily the same question, you’d probably get 100 different answers. However, personally, I would hope that their experience of our WorkFamily is one of collaboration, inclusiveness, it’s rewarding and supportive. Where we place our WorkFamily at the heart of what we do, the term, rightfully as you say, WorkFamily is lived and experienced to the point that is the only way we really refer to the collective group, and we are really looking forward to bringing in new people into our fold and hoping that they can enrich this experience for the rest of us.
Claire: Brilliant, this has been a really nice, uplifting and inspirational chat, so thank you very much.
Simionne: Thank you for having me.