Case studies

How Tower Hamlets Homes used a new benefits platform to revitalise employee engagement

24 Jan 2019 By Eleanor Whitehouse

The arm's-length management organisation struggled to carve out its own identity after separating from the local council

The problem

It’s been a decade since the housing department of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council separated from the rest of the organisation, becoming an arm’s-length management organisation, Tower Hamlets Homes (THH), and taking with it several hundred staff via a TUPE transfer. Despite being a standalone organisation for 10 years, THH had failed to carve out its own identity. It had neglected its employee benefits offer since its detachment from the council, and the results of a staff survey in February 2018 made for sobering reading.

“Staff told us they didn’t feel recognised for the work they do, or feel that they belonged,” says Stephen Phillpott, THH’s head of people services. “Only 57 per cent of staff told us they felt proud to work for THH, and 47 per cent didn’t think the organisation cared about their wellbeing.” 

THH’s sickness absence rate was high, at almost 11 days per person per year, and its employee benefits offering was in drastic need of a refresh. “We inherited quite a good package from local government,” says Phillpott. “But we’d spent 10 years failing to make it work hard for us.”

An additional challenge was the dispersed nature of the workforce – almost half of THH’s staff work on its housing estates across the borough with no computers. “The problem was not only how they could access the platform, but also how to bring the disparate workers together and strengthen their identity,” adds Phillpott.

The solution

THH tasked engagement platform provider Reward Gateway with finding a solution that, as Phillpott puts it, “hit those multiple buttons”. By getting a cross-section of staff involved in the process right from the start, Phillpott and his team could make sure the end result was relevant and accessible to the whole workforce. “We wanted it to be owned by staff,” he says, “rather than it just coming down from the ivory tower.”

The resultant platform, dubbed THHbuzz, was launched in May 2018 and is themed around bees and honey, tying into the organisation’s existing black and yellow branding, as well as the heritage of its east London location, with ‘bees and honey’ being Cockney rhyming slang for ‘money’. The platform encompasses all new and existing employee benefits into four sections – move, munch, mind and money – and is accessible via smartphones as well as THH’s intranet.

October 2018 saw the launch of a recognition portal on THHbuzz, where staff can send digital ‘cards’ to a colleague who has exemplified one of the organisation’s values. Senior leaders are also able to flag examples of good behaviour among staff, with the addition of gift vouchers for extra reward. “It’s an holistic way of combining the peer-to-peer and top-down approaches to recognition,” says Phillpott.

The outcome

Within 12 days of the launch, 30 per cent of staff were already registered on the platform – a figure that has now risen to 68 per cent. “In a workforce as dispersed as THH’s, to get over two-thirds of staff engaging with it is brilliant,” says Phillpott. “Pay is decided nationally, so we can’t really be flexible, but it’s great to be able to help out staff financially in other ways.”

THHbuzz has already begun to make waves in staff survey results too – the number of staff who feel they receive recognition has risen by six per cent since the platform went live. “Higher engagement is also translating into a better experience for our customers,” adds Phillpott. “The organisation’s net promoter and net satisfaction scores have gone up by 5 per cent and 9 per cent respectively.”

Phillpott is also receiving anecdotal evidence that THHbuzz is indeed creating a buzz. “There’s a definite sense of what working for THH means now,” he says. “There’s an excitement around the office that just wasn’t there before.”

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