An entrepreneur, investor, and mentor, Haylee Benton is the owner of The Silver Fern Group, a portfolio of hair and beauty businesses, and the founder of PamperPad, the TripAdvisor of salons in the UK. Here, she talks to Timely about managing employee engagement during, and after, the COVID-19 pandemic.

How big is your team?

There are 58 people across the different businesses, in four locations; three in the UK and one in New Zealand.  The majority of staff are therapists and stylists, but we also have a team of employees who do back-end business roles such as marketing and accounting. There’s a wealth of people in different positions, but they are all united. Everyone is on the same page, and we all have the same goal.

How do you keep your employees engaged?

We’ve worked really hard to harness a culture of wellness.  Employees will only care about a business that cares about them. When you make the wellbeing of your team a priority, employee engagement is a natural follow-on. 

How have you stayed connected to your staff during the pandemic?

We knew that, as a team, we needed to stay connected.  And we knew that we needed to find a way to maintain a level of employee engagement, without making people feel under pressure to think about work while they were trying to navigate through a global pandemic. We realised that we could still do remote training, and that we could still focus on making people feel better within themselves. 

At the start of the national lockdowns, we began using the team messaging platform Slack. It kept everyone connected and prevented employees from feeling disengaged.  I wanted to use something other than WhatsApp so that work communications are separate to people’s personal messages.   It’s much better for staff wellbeing that we don’t bother them when they don’t want to be bothered, but that they can check it any time.

What is Slack used for?

It’s a bit like having a company Facebook group or chatroom.  You can access Slack both online and via an app, and your Slack ‘channel’, can be divided up into smaller channels for different subjects, different groups, different teams, different interests.  

Haylee with her management team

The type of content that we post on Slack during lockdown is a bit different to the type of content that it’s used for when salons are open.  It’s very chatty, much like the conversations you’d have when you are together as a team in the salon.  It’s important to remember that, in ‘normal’ times, your team spends a huge amount of time together, and that this time is spent talking about lots of different things; not just about work.  That type of communication, and the comradery, is really missed when salons are closed.  Replicating it, at least to a certain extent, on Slack, will help to keep your team stay connected and engaged.  

What is your top tip for keeping staff engaged when they return to work after lockdown?

Be prepared for potential shifts in your employees’ priorities and thinking.  Just as business owners have been reflecting on things, so have employees.  Your staff have had a whole year to think about what it is they want from work and to set their own goals.  Now it’s going to be up to you, the salon owner, to help your staff achieve their goals.   If you don’t at least try to do that, then there is a good chance that they will look for an employer who will.   

Involve your employees in the conversations about how you see your business moving forward in the six months, 12 months, two years.  Ask them how they see their role in things, and if they’d like that role to change.  Your employees need to know that the business has a real sense of purpose, and to feel that their goals align with this.  The whole team needs to be able to work very closely together in order to make sure that everybody comes out of things in the happiest possible way.