Ipsos boss takes aim at hybrid working culture

The UK head of the research organisation discusses workplace culture, helping staff through the cost-of-living crisis and her priorities for the CEO role

Between the looming recession, an ousted Prime Minister, a Conservative leadership contest and the tail end of a pandemic, it’s been a busy period for market research multinational Ipsos. But, for its UK CEO Kelly Beaver, there couldn’t have been a better time to start. 

“In some ways, it’s been a brilliant year to take over the reins because it’s allowed me to do more than some CEOs do in 10 years,” says Beaver, who began the role in November 2021. “From the economic and then also the political context, it’s been a really interesting time.” 

Beaver is an economist by trade. She thinks being data-literate has helped in her new role. “Having a good understanding of data, evidence and how to weigh up different sources does help me now as CEO,” she says.

In her first external review with her leadership team, Beaver was informed that her pace of working was “relentless”. However, she has no plans to slow down. “You set the tone, you cannot be complacent,” Beaver says. “While we are one of the strongest research businesses in the country, you only maintain that by being constantly ahead; you can’t relax into the status quo.” 

Cultural problem

This quest for constant improvement extends to her attitude towards hybrid working. Recently, Beaver has felt the company culture is “being eroded” due to a lack of time spent together in the office or in front of clients.

This has been a particular problem with Ipsos’ more recent joiners. Beaver hosts lunches with the company’s graduates and was shocked to find that many haven’t presented to clients in their first 12 months and were still only coming in once a week, despite reporting feeling lonely at work.

“That’s development that’s being stunted as well as the cultural norms of the organisation,” she says. “I’m very worried about it and I am determined to try something new.”

I will get them back a couple of days a week, come hell or high water

This something new will involve a shift from looking at hybrid from the employee perspective, to taking more of the business considerations into account. “There needs to be a balance,” Beaver says. “It’s not all about the worker having a work/life balance.”

Previously, people at the organisation were asked to come in two days a week – one compulsory day and one day of their choosing. But after analysing the figures, she found that people were only coming in 1.4 days a week on average. 

In a change of tack, Beaver will now ask staff to have “informed conversations” with their line manager about the business requirements and their individual needs to “find something that works for both sides”.

While previous efforts to encourage people back to its Thomas More Square headquarters involved company socials and in-person training, Beaver is “past incentivising it now”, she says. “I will get them back a couple of days a week, come hell or high water,” she adds.

Cost-of-living concerns

The other pressing concern for the Ipsos boss is inflation and its impact on her employees. “The biggest thing on my mind at the minute is the cost of living and what I can do to help staff on lower salaries get through what is a high inflationary period,” Beaver says. “It looks like if we don’t take serious measures between now and next year, our staff will really struggle.” 

Although she is reluctant to contribute to wage inflation, Beaver is exploring other ways to assist Ipsos’ 2,000 UK-based employees though the harsh economic climate. The company already offers a range of financial benefits for staff, including beneficial loans; these will be repackaged to ensure everyone is aware of the support that is available.

In addition, Beaver hopes to be able to offer all staff below associate director level a voucher which can be used at a range of outlets from Amazon to Tesco and Asda. She claims this “will allow them to spend that voucher on the necessities and to help offset some of the costs of higher energy bills”, which are set to go up by 80% in October

I have to balance meeting our targets and giving to our staff

While the amount staff will be offered is yet to be confirmed, Beaver is currently modelling three £100 vouchers over the winter months. “I have to balance meeting our targets and giving to our staff,” she adds. “I’m having to trade this off and I’ll make a final call in the next couple of weeks.” 

The importance of pay is also rippling through to recruitment. While flexibility and the opportunity to work from home were priorities for new recruits in the immediate post-pandemic environment, Beaver has noticed that pay has overtaken this as the main concern at interview stage.

“The work/life balance side of things is being mentioned too, but I’m not seeing it as the dominant issue anymore,” Beaver says. “The biggest piece is about the price that you’re willing to pay for talent, and that will only become more important. These work/life balance concerns are never going to go away, but it’s not going to be at the same extreme that we’re seeing today.”

Progressive policies

Attrition rates were exceptionally low during the height of the Covid pandemic but are now at a similar level to 2018/19. Looking beyond remuneration, Beaver believes that Ipsos’ workplace policies have been key for attraction and retention. “As an employer, if you can support your people through key life moments, that can pay dividends in terms of talent attraction and retention,” she says. “I have an ambition for us to be the most supportive employer in the industry.” 

As part of this effort, Ipsos has introduced a range of progressive workplace policies, including shared parental leave and paid leave for pregnancy loss, fertility treatment and issues related to the menopause. Access to paid leave in each of these scenarios is available to all staff, regardless of their length of service.

Enacting these policies is a “never-ending process”, according to Beaver but they are also some of her proudest achievements since assuming the CEO role. “As a female looking forward and seeing that we’ve got things like menopause policies in place is really reassuring,” she adds. “It means you can champion these policies in a very authentic way.”

I have an ambition for us to be the most supportive employer in the industry

Beaver is the first female CEO of a major UK research agency. Although she doesn’t think much about the gender difference between herself and her counterparts in the industry, she does claim a sense of responsibility. “I know it makes a difference to the women coming up through the business and the wider industry,” Beaver adds. “The day I got this role, I was inundated with little cards from women across the business congratulating me.”

One of Beaver’s priorities for the year ahead is to address the company’s gender and ethnicity pay gaps. She has described some of the gaps she inherited as “horrific”. According to Ipsos’ most recent pay gap reporting, the average difference in pay between genders was 16.6% in favour of male employees. Despite having a more diverse workforce than the UK working population at large (77% white and 23% ethnic minority), salaries tend to favour white employees, with an ethnicity pay gap of 18.2%.

“The last pay gap I had to stand in front of was not my pay gap,” Beaver adds. “This next one is mine, because the actions I take will start to feed through… I’d be fairly disappointed if it didn’t improve.”

Although Ipsos has a range of diversity and inclusion groups, sponsorship schemes and mentorship programmes, there is only one element that is going to make the biggest difference to the company’s pay gaps. “The things that make the difference are those pivotal moments when you’re doing pay reviews, bonuses and share allocation,” Beaver says “That’s the thing that matters and those are the times that you have to intervene.”

Looking to the future, Beaver’s priority is “to make sure we have a sustainable, profitable organisation, where people want to come and work and which makes a positive contribution to society”. The actions taken in her first 10 months have set the tone for what’s to come.