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Managing with integrity

Gillian We see ourselves as a progressive business, but we can always do better, so we recently embarked on an independent environment and social governance (ESG) review, and the results have been illuminating, says Act-Clean director, Gillian Thomson.

An ESG review is more than a box-ticking exercise – it is absolutely the sensible thing to do. But the outcomes of it will make a real difference, not only to our business, our team, and our clients, but to our world too.

As a management team, we are determined that we don’t end up with a nice, shiny folder that we laminate and stick on a shelf somewhere. We want to live this; we want it to be a part of our DNA – and we think a lot of it already is – but overall, we want to challenge ourselves to be better so that we’re strengthening the societies in which we live and improving our environment.

This approach has never been more important than it is today. What we’ve learnt in recent years, partly from Covid, is that we need to be kinder; we need to ask ourselves what can be done, however simple, to enhance someone’s life, to enhance the community, to enhance the future, and to enhance our industry. And we need to ask ourselves how can we challenge ourselves to continually set the bar higher and higher? It’s about frequently holding a mirror up to our business. After all, a lot of what constitutes ESG is, of course, just about being a good human being. 

But the ESG review has brought to the fore a lot of the good things we already do for our people. That’s not to say that we’ve always got things right, but what smart people do is find smarter people to help them be better, to challenge, to improve, not to be complacent and to recognise that the ever-changing nature and competitive nature of the workplace means these things matter. We believe that if we look after our people then we can all be at our best, and this, in turn, brings alignment with our clients – our incredible, industry-leading clients – and from that focus on our people, business growth and profit inevitably follow. 

However, we are not a business with the resources of multinationals and do what we can within that context. We are all are very aware of the issues with the planet, and it weighs heavily on us as individuals, so we pool our ideas and make the decisions within our power that will impact the immediate safety of our people and the future of our planet.

Here’s just some of things we’re proud of:

  • Often, we’re the first to give hope to people who have made the very challenging decision to leave their own country – we can be the first step in a fresh start for both the individual and their families. This gives us new channels of recruitment, new insight into why and how people found us, and it also creates opportunity for growth for both the team member and the business. From a personal point of view, my first job was cleaning holiday chalets and from starting there, I have grown and progressed through our industry and am now able to help offer that to others.
  • Some of the people who work for us as a kitchen porter or cleaner are highly educated and, in their country of origin, they had careers. We have a huge amount of respect for people who take on an entry-level position as a starting point in their new country – because they must – but also for the reason that they want to make this change and make a success of themselves and their families. Many in our team have been working with us for some time, some of them years, they love their job and know the important role they play. But, of course, we fully acknowledge that a lot of people are using these jobs as a steppingstone. Even so, they appreciate these jobs knowing it’s such an important first stage of their journey in their new country of choice.
  • Arriving in a new country with no idea how things work, it’s essential that people have access to funds to start to build their new life. And what’s the point of working if you can’t access your pay? So, we help people to be paid quickly – provide them with what they need to set up a bank account, take away the mystery and help expedite them in their progress.
  • In my opinion, one of the worst things a business can do is to mess up a team member’s pay. I’m sure most of our team work to live, rather than the other way around, which is why this so important to us. And if you thought someone didn’t care enough to get your pay right, could you really be confident about other ways in which they might look after you?  It’s just so basic and a simple sign of common courtesy and respect. Money can be quite a difficult subject for people to bring to their employer, so getting it right takes away any embarrassment or issues. I’m proud to say it’s a real focus for our business.

In every interaction, we are trying to bring to light how important being a good person is – for the individual, for Act-Clean as a team, for the business, and, also, for the client!  We want it to be more apparent that not only do we say these things, but we believe in these things, and we live them. If we find a client is not respecting our team or not in line with our values, we’ll stand up for our people, and we’ll stand up to our clients if we need to. One of our values is that we say how it really is even if that’s hard to do, so we’re very open and straightforward and that helps us find a place of mutual respect and cooperation with our clients.

George (our operations director, Georgina Board) and I are looking at how we can simplify the process for team members to join and how to break the necessary training down into sections using our values, rather than being dry and all about what we must do. Clearly health and safety are important, but how we think and behave as people is equally as valuable, and we feel this change will adjust mindsets to formulate integrity. When it comes to onboarding, we try to make sure that everything we do is regularly checked against our ESG policy, that we cross reference our values, and we encourage employees to feedback on how we’re doing in that regard and, of course, how we could do better.

Gillian Thomson was speaking to Amanda Afiya.