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How River Island celebrates “moments that matter”

At River Island, a British fashion retailer, they “make fashion for real people with real lives, who want to look real good." As they say, "Because life’s a celebration - let’s dress for it.”

This attitude and approach can be seen in how they treat their employees, or what they call “Islanders.” They have a focus and commitment to understanding and supporting their diverse workforce, their real people, with campaigns that celebrate and connect to have fun and bring them closer together.

One way they do this is through their employee engagement calendar, a tool used to celebrate what Glenn Grayson, People Engagement Lead at River Island calls “moments that matter.” The calendar is developed each year, with events selected based on feedback from their Islanders, internal communities, trends, business focuses, and what’s being talked about through social media.

“When we select these events to go on the calendar it’s quality over quantity, we don’t want to do things for the sake of doing them, they need to be authentic to our people and to our brand,” says Grayson.

A focus on authenticity is also important in how the campaigns for each event are run. To help them with this, they developed criteria, or what they call the four pillars, with each representing an element of the campaign. Here is a summary of each pillar along with examples from recent campaigns:

1. Treat: Each campaign includes a treat that is given away, or a chance to win a special treat.

For example, during the campaign to celebrate the Lunar New Year there was a Lucky Red Envelope giveaway, with physical ones handed out at head office, and digital envelopes provided for their retail and remote teams. Islanders had the chance to win prizes such as additional annual leave and vouchers.

2. Surprise: Each campaign has some kind of surprise, something to add excitement and make it feel like a celebration. For example, during the holiday campaign they had a weekly lucky draw where anyone who had been recognised as an ‘Incredible Islander’ could win an experience day or a £100 gift card of their choice by having their name randomly selected and surprised during a live video.

3. Challenge: Each campaign has a challenge that Islanders can get involved and stuck into, challenging themselves with competitions, activities, and prizes to be won.

For example, during the holiday season, they held a digital Supermarket Sweep, where each day Islanders were given the chance to win a shopping trip on the company at a supermarket of their choice! All they had to do was be the first Islander to guess the mystery item in the festive trolley, with clues appearing on their online communications platform.

4. Education: And finally, each campaign has an element of education so that Islanders can learn more about important topics and about each other. For example, during the Lunar New Year campaign they discussed all things associated with the festival including the countries which celebrate it, the traditions, and an insight into the zodiac and the meaning behind each animal. And during their ‘5 Days of Feel Better’ wellbeing campaign had a different educational focus each day including body positivity, coping through uncertainty, feel good finances and happiness hacks

Along with the pillars, there are other criteria that are considered and woven into how they develop and run their campaigns. Here is a summary of a few of them:

  • Inclusive - Campaigns are run in an inclusive way, ensuring that they work not just for Islanders in their head office but in their retail stores and those working remotely. This is so important so that everyone can get involved and feel a part of them.

  • Holistic - Campaigns are developed in a holistic way, looking at all aspects of the events to ensure they meet the diverse needs of their people. For example, during the holiday campaign it wasn’t just about the festivities, but it included important aspects such as dealing with the mental and financial stresses of the holiday season.

  • Practical - They select the prizes for each campaign by looking at what their people need and the situations they are in so that they’re practical and useful to them. For example, during the holiday campaign the prizes were supermarket vouchers, something very useful during the entertaining season.

Let me end by sharing three tips that Glenn was kind enough to share with me to help you as you develop and run your employee engagement calendar:

  1. Keep it authentic, doing what’s right for your people and your business. The way to do this is to listen to your people, finding out what really matters to them.

  2. Get different perspectives and opinions to help you design your campaigns. For example, someone on my team is in her early twenties, and she sees things through a completely different lens than I do. As a team we come up with the best ideas and the best campaigns.

  3. Whatever you do needs to be meaningful. It can be fun, but it needs to be meaningful fun, linking what you do to your values, your business, and as a way to educate and connect your workforce.

I hope you’ve found this blog interesting and helpful. All the best in creating your own version of an engagement calendar at your company.


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