Natasha Adams
A Chief People Officer’s perspective

Thinking back to nearly two years ago, when we were just starting to see the impact of the pandemic, we had no idea how much we would need to adapt and change. I am still in awe of what my brilliant colleagues achieved and the incredible women at Tesco who were so important in all aspects of our response, from quick decision-making, to serving the nation.

As the crisis emerged, we saw changes in customer behaviour before society recognised there was a pandemic. 52% of Tesco frontline are women, and every single person stepped up, putting their own fears aside to serve others. We needed to respond quickly on many levels and set our four key priorities: provide food for all, safety for everyone, support for colleagues and support for communities.

Our focus was the welfare, wellbeing and safety of our colleagues. We introduced market-leading measures in a matter of days, including paid leave for all COVID-19 related absence, the introduction of school closure leave and parental leave from the start, recognising that many of our colleagues are working parents.

We asked all our clinically vulnerable colleagues to stay at home for at least 14 weeks on full pay, ensured that any pregnant colleagues were also at home on paid absence and adapted maternity pay calculations for those already on maternity leave, to ensure no one was disadvantaged.

Despite a workforce of 300,000 colleagues nationwide, we watched absence rates increase and it became obvious we needed more colleagues to keep stores and distribution centres running. In just over two weeks, the organisation mobilised to recruit 50,000 new temporary colleagues, streamlining recruitment and training to ensure that only the vital steps were taken, and everyone was kept safe.

In addition to physical health, mental health and wellbeing of colleagues also became a top priority. The pandemic uncertainty brought greater levels of stress for many, particularly to those with caring responsibilities. We offered free access to Headspace and Silvercloud and held webinars on key topics such as grief, and working at home with caring responsibilities. And of course, we kept listening.

We are still managing the impact of the pandemic, but I feel very lucky to be surrounded by amazing women who go above and beyond every day as colleagues, friends, mothers, sisters, daughters, and partners. These women are at the heart of Tesco and we’re so grateful for that.