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Interview with Santander's Damien Shieber on how his team is responding to the COVID-19 situation

Damien Shieber, is the Head of Culture and Inclusion at Santander – he leads the culture strategy to align with Santander’s purpose, values and behaviours across their 23,500 colleagues in the UK. Damien and his team are responsible for cultural direction, employee wellbeing, inclusion and diversity, people insight and employee engagement. 


  • How have you and your team been responding to the COVID-19 situation?

 At pace – due to the nature of our roles, our senior leaders are looking to me and my team to understand the cultural challenges our colleagues may be facing at this time and to either highlight what support mechanisms we already have in place that will help, or to develop additional resources to address any challenges unique to this situation.  With the situation evolving daily, keeping colleagues informed and updated with the latest guidance and support has been of paramount importance.  


  • So what do you recognise as being the main challenges working remotely and how have you and your team been addressing them?

 It is important to remember that whilst some colleagues may thrive in this remote working environment, it is important that we do not take a “one size fits all” approach.  We have in place a suite of communications, guidance documents, toolkits and access to learning (delivered virtually) on several topics that we identified as particular challenges.  We continue to be practical, flexible and sensitive to individual colleague situations putting in place practical support to adjust to new working patterns.



First and foremost is to support and protect our colleagues physical and psychological wellbeing alongside taking steps for those colleagues who are most vulnerable.  These are unprecedented times.  Not only may some colleagues be working remotely for the first time, for those who have worked flexibly before, this is nothing like they would have experienced.   


We already had in place wellbeing support for all our colleagues - providing support across four pillars: Physical, Mental, Financial and Social– so we have increased the promotion of our ‘Wellbeing Hub’ in all our communications, which has many tools and tips to help us look after our wellbeing.  Our main focus has been on ‘looking after your mental wellbeing when working from home’, and we have added the facility for a live text chat coaching service with qualified psychologists to our existing wellbeing app.  We have signposted webinars, tea and talks and we encourage our colleagues to share their stories on how they are coping through our active Mental Wellbeing people network.  



In addition to providing colleagues with guidance on how to approach working from home from a physical perspective (dedicated breaks, start/stop times, set up a space to work, etc) we also recognise that colleagues need to have numerous communication channels.  Our learning and development team have provided guides and training materials on a multitude of tools that can be used to stay connected.


Even before the Coronavirus, one of the main psychological risks to remote working is social isolation – this is intensified by the situation we now find ourselves in, not only remote from colleagues but also from friends, family and wider society.  As well as encouraging our line managers and teams to stay regularly connected, and to keep part of their discussion ‘social’, we also recognise that the ‘social glue’ of our organisation is the day-to-day connections our colleagues have in their usual workplace – those people they sit next to, meet in the corridor, have lunch with.  We are encouraging our colleagues to continue those social interactions using our workplace technology.


Now is an important time to give colleagues a way to express their wellbeing needs and concerns.  We have developed an employee continuous listening insight survey. The survey is ‘always on’ with 5 questions and colleagues have the opportunity to leave qualitative comments. The survey results are being reviewed weekly. We recognise that explicit and fast follow-up on this employee feedback will reassure colleagues at a time when they most need reassurance.    


Parents and Carers

With school closures and the vulnerable self-isolating, we recognise that colleagues might be balancing work with their parent and caring responsibilities so we have collated or developed materials available to support them and their dependants:  including support to help them talk to their children about coronavirus; things to do with children during the working day or at the weekend; advice for carers including making contingency arrangements should they or the person they care for have to self-isolate. 


Inclusion and diversity

It is important not to forget about inclusion when developing our support for our colleagues. For many, home is a safe haven, something that is appreciated more in these unsettling times. However, for some people across the UK, this will not be the case.  There will be some colleagues who will equate coming to work as their safe space, where they feel they can escape from a challenging home life; or are able to bring their whole selves to work and not hide their sexual identity.  We have highlighted where those colleagues can get support should they need it.  


For colleagues who have an addiction or are living with someone with an addiction, anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic may have an impact.  Again, we have highlighted where support can be found.  


Due to the lockdown, religious buildings and places of worship are now closed and we understand that for many of our colleagues, with the upcoming special religious celebrations (Passover, Easter, Ramadan) approaching, colleagues may be feeling anxious about not being able to observe their regular rituals. So as people turn to their faith as a reassuring presence during a time of uncertainty, we provided some resources for them to reach their faith communities.


  • How are your LGBT+ network’s members communicating? Have they replaced their physical meetings? What is the plan to make sure their actions are still visible and ensuring your colleagues know they can still get support and join? 

 Throughout this, all our people networks are aware that they are instrumental in ensuring our colleagues feel connected and to continue that sense of belonging.  


Our Embrace (LGBT+ and allies) network are regularly posting to their community site, sharing top tips and articles they have seen that can support the community – from parenting to LGBT+ isolation. They are hosting virtual ‘tea and talks’ – where members can connect to each other and discuss what is on their mind.  And most importantly they are sharing what they are hearing from our colleagues with our I&D team so that we can provide further support if needed.  



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