Insight into the life and career of Carol Smith

The regular Q&A feature that makes senior HR professionals perspire.
Wed 31st May 2017

Carol Smith is Head of HR at the award-winning, a leading UK ecommerce provider of gifts and experiences. With over 20 years in HR, and having worked at a range of organisations from major corporate employers such as Philips and American Express to the smaller and entrepreneurial Buyagift, she has a unique perspective on how to promote a positive workplace culture.

How can today’s HR professionals optimise their career success?

Career success for an HR professional often comes down to how happy your workforce is, and the route to a happy workforce is understanding it. Make sure you know how employees from across the organisation actually feel, rather than how everyone presumes they feel. In a company like Buyagift, it’s much easier to engage with people directly to find out what is making them happy and, more importantly, what is making them unhappy.

Larger organisations benefit less from this direct communications channel, so you tend to rely on other tools such as employee surveys. However, make sure surveys are engaging, and also relevant to the organisation and its people. A faceless, off-the-shelf survey can sometimes do more damage than good, as employees simply see it as a box-ticking exercise.

What’s the biggest challenge for employers today, and how can HR professionals address it?

Like all companies, Buyagift needs to attract the best possible talent, and this is becoming harder with the prospect of ‘full employment’ in the UK. Nowadays, employers need to be more innovative about how they recruit employees, such as apprenticeships, and even incentivising people to move from one discipline to another.

Employees are also becoming more selective about who they work for, and we’re even starting to see more employer review sites where current and former employees can comment on what it’s like to work there. This links closely to how you retain talent as well. A positive culture turns employees into ambassadors, which can help to attract others. Incidentally, Buyagift’s mission tagline is “amazing people”, which describes the moment that one of our customers opens their surprise. We like to apply this to our workforce as well, both in terms of making them feel good about working here, and also attracting and retaining the best talent.

The UK has some interesting times ahead. What should HR professionals be doing?

This links to my earlier point about attracting talent through innovation, particularly in the wake of Brexit. As a UK-based employer, Buyagift runs the risk of losing a large pool of candidates as immigration laws change. However, there are many other factors that are going to impact on organisations over the next five years as the United Kingdom enters a new era. Organisations are going to need to adapt quickly, so make sure you stay informed about what is happening and the likely impacts, and make decisions accordingly.

What’s your top tip for promoting a strong workforce culture?

Buyagift is all about happiness. Our offering is designed to bring happiness to customers, and we also try to bring that happiness to employees through our culture. Happiness tends to promote wellbeing, and this all has extremely positive benefits for our business.

Promoting happiness takes many forms, such as encouraging employees to leave on time so they can maintain a good work-life balance. Let’s face it, most things that evoke happiness occur outside work!

We also try to create impromptu happiness moments. For example, it was International Happiness Day recently, and we asked people to share what makes them happy, which was also a great exercise for getting employees to know more about each other.

What’s a simple modernisation that could make a huge difference to an organisation?

Take advantage of the modern approach to employee surveys, as they are significantly more valuable than they used to be. At Buyagift, it used to take about two months to get usable results from our surveys. New technology gives us instant analysis, so we’re getting results in real time. Combining that with a strong level of face-to-face engagement gives you the ability to capitalise on opportunities and react quickly to issues.


If you would like more information or advice relating to this article or an Employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Chris Cook on 01727 798098.

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