Showcasing a great workplace for women: Principality Building Society

We speak to Principality Building Society about the policies and practices that earned it top place in Best Workplaces for Women 2022.

An office space


Principality Building Society (PBS) is Wales’ largest building society and the sixth largest in the UK. It was voted the UK’s Best Workplace for Women 2022 in the Great Place to Work ranking, as a result of its flexible culture and forward thinking policies.

Flexible working – leading the way

The building society recently transformed its Head Office to support a fully hybrid way of working. Its people are now able to choose how, when and where they work .

Marie Haggett, the company’s Employee Relations Policy and Projects Manager, explains that employees were working flexibly even before Covid, but home working was limited. Customer contact teams were heavily office-based – but that has all changed. Employees can now work flexibly from day one.

“We realised nothing had gone horribly wrong from working from home during the first part of Covid, and that refurbishing the office was an opportunity to move to a fully hybrid way of working,” says Marie.

Listening to employee views

PBS commissioned an extensive staff survey on its plans for the refurbishment. Today, its 800 fixed desks have been replaced with more collaborative space, fewer formal meeting rooms and more quiet spaces. A quiet floor provides multi-faith rooms and wellbeing rooms with no cameras or computers. The floor is used for focused work, with a neutral, calm colour scheme and plenty of greenery.

All managers have had training related to hybrid and flexible working. They explored how to adopt a flexible mindset based on trust, different ways of working and how to talk to people about what works best for them.

The training also explored proximity bias and the dangers of blurring the line between work and home life. Each team negotiates the flexible working approaches that suit their individuals best. A further survey is underway to allow the business to understand how the hybrid model is working in practice.

In the retail business, PBS has introduced more flexible working over the last year. In the past, employees had to cover Saturday working, but the company has since brought in Saturday-only workers to help those employees who find Saturdays a challenge.

The number of part-time positions available has been boosted in response to demand. A careful study of footfall and calls at different branches helped PBS make sure it is staffed at the right level. Marie says: “It was a massive piece of work to get the resource in the right places, but everyone has got what they wanted.”

Gender equality and career pathways

The company, 60% of whose workers are female, has also done a lot of work to improve its gender pay gap. Two of its six executive leaders are female, including the CEO. However, PBS recognises there is more work to be done in succession planning.

PBS looked at its career pathways, acknowledging that some people don’t want to progress – or may not want to right now. By creating different tiers of senior consultants in the retail network, people can focus on aspects of the job to further their careers at the pace they want.

“People now feel comfortable saying they don’t want to do a particular course to take them up to the next level,” says Marie. She adds that they can always change their mind if their circumstances change.

Inclusive policies

PBS is enhancing its family friendly policies to be launched next year. In 2020 it developed a menopause policy, backed with a menopause champion, which has been well received and encourages women and men to talk openly about the menopause.
Other policies include five days’ paid carers leave, a daily wellbeing hour and a ‘rejuvenate’ day on the eighth of every month, where people can focus on catching up without the pressure of having to attend meetings.

These policies have contributed to PBS’ high employee engagement scores. A recent survey found that 93% of staff say management trusts people to do a good job without watching over their shoulders. Over 800 of its 1,100 staff completed a recent survey on financial wellbeing.

Mental health support

On wellbeing, the company provides an employee assistance programme and mental health advocate. Mental health has been a big issue in recent years and senior leaders have spoken openly about the struggles they have faced.

PBS also has an opt in/opt out private medical scheme. Members can get help quickly and self-refer. The company is also currently in the process of getting mental health support training for managers.

PBS also holds regular lunch and learn sessions, including one from The Jordan Legacy CIC on suicide, attended by 72 colleagues. The session included useful information for supporting people in the workplace.

Helping colleagues thrive

Employees can also access a financial support fund for interest-free loans which they pay back gradually through their salary. To support employees with the rising cost of living, PBS also gave everyone a one-off payment of £1,000 in June and managing inflation remains high on the executive agenda.

In making its submission to Great Place to Work, Lorna Kerr, former Chief People Officer, stated: “We are big enough to have large ambition, but small enough to value, respect and engage everyone as an individual. Although we have been established for over 150 years, we pride ourselves on our progressive environment, which encourages our colleagues to thrive. We are currently on an exciting transformative journey, with a strong vision of a brighter future with continued growth.”

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