How we supported a district council’s People Team to improve in-house ER capability and prioritise employee welfare via rich data and legal expertise

Case Study: Epping Forest District Council

How we supported a district council’s People Team to improve in-house ER capability and prioritise employee welfare via rich data and legal expertise

Epping Forest District Council caters for residents, businesses and visitors to the district – a 94% green belt area that is minutes away from Epping Forest, Lee Valley Park, Stansted Airport and the Olympic White Water Centre, to name a few. Alongside operating depots, sports and leisure centres, housing schemes and hostels, the Council punches above its weight by empowering individuals, promoting community self-care, working in collaboration with likeminded partners – to remove barriers and achieve together – and tackle inequalities through active engagement. It has also signed up to the Epping Forest Business Charter to continually make vital and sustainable improvements to the district. Dedicated to enhancing inclusivity and accessibility provision within the locality, the Council launched its Livewell Campaign in 2018 – a decade-long initiative to challenge how the district can decrease child poverty and unemployment, improve life expectancy, mental health and more. As a major employer – and with almost 600 employees working directly or through contracted services – the Council’s people team specifically has a laser-beam focus on how its highly skilled and forward-thinking workforce can help to further enhance wellbeing, company culture, and learning and development.

About Epping Forest District Council

  • Landlord to around 6,500 tenants and rents shops and business units from trading estates
  • Approximately half of its 123,900 residents live in 5% of the area of the district
  • 131 square miles of the Epping Forest District is green and rural

The Challenge

Although a small group, Epping Forest District Council’s People Team continues to remain ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding both the community’s needs and the in-house workforce’s requirements as they tackle intense workloads and time pressures.

To help the Council navigate complex employee relations (ER) matters, there was a reliance on in-house solicitor support, rather than that from specialist employment lawyers. This meant having to wait for advice from their own in-house legal team, who were dealing with a wide range of other legal matters.

The People Team needed more specialist employment law advice to enhance the organisation’s skillset and increase wellbeing. The team also needed to be able to access to factual, rich data to identify specific employee trends, and needed to access on-demand advice and assistance quickly and easily, to be as effective as possible.

Without an intuitive ER case management tool in place, colleagues were also having to manage mounting caseloads via spreadsheets and manually-intensive processes which subsequently became unfit-for-purpose for the forward-thinking workforce.

Additionally, the People Team wanted a greater selection of relevant letter templates and policy documents, to swiftly download and tailor this content, save vital time and improve efficiency. The outsourced online HR resources solution in place was largely inconsistent in terms of the level of support it could provide.

The organisation’s strategic need to ensure its People Team was completely equipped with the right tools to carry out their responsibilities more effectively and efficiently, the group identified the need for a collaborative partner who could bolster its legal expertise internally, streamline ER caseloads and operations, and provide commercially focused legal assistance in real-time.

The Solution

The people team met with esphr to understand how it could help the team to handle and manage complex ER matters and upskill themselves via intuitive technology, specialist HR support and personalised employment law advice. The partnership ‘fit’ was a vital piece of the jigsaw puzzle for the organisation and, having discovered esphr was a likeminded and like-valued collaborator, the business was brought in to “take the pain away”.

Alongside same-day, commercial-astute guidance from dedicated expert legal advisors from ESP Law, the people team has integrated esphr’s market-leading ER case management platform, MyHRCases, to provide real-time visibility of ER matters – eradicating the need for traditional and difficult-to-manage HR spreadsheets. Colleagues’ workloads have subsequently benefited from the ease in which they can progress cases, store and transfer confidential documents securely, and escalate complex cases to the legal team – all in just a few clicks.

Furthermore, the Software-as-a-Service solution’s reporting functionality enables the people team to make more sense of its own data and helps leaders to better understand internal capacity and manage resources. As a result of real-time visibility, employee welfare is even more of a priority as employee trends can now be analysed in granular detail and actioned effectively – at the earliest opportunity.

Having outgrown its existing online HR resources provider, the team now uses esphr’s online platform which provides them with hundreds of compliance and best practice documents and precedents, as well as learning and development tools. Engaging blog updates and customer email comms are also helping to provide greater insight, assisting the team’s in-house research on people, culture, and industry trends.

esphr is revolutionary in its support of our in-house People Team, the advice has always felt really commercial, and we get a wider perspective than we might via the more ‘traditional’ lawyers that local authorities typically use. I have been in HR for 23 years and it is easy to forget ourselves when prioritising personal development. esphr does not just offer an employee relations case management tool and specialist legal support, the organisation works with us to continually upskill colleagues.

With esphr’s help, our colleagues feel confident when managing complex ER matters and know when to escalate incidents to our dedicated advisors who are truly an extension of our team.

The legal team are really friendly, and you are matched with specific lawyers who meet your unique needs – providing a truly personalised experience. It feels like a genuine, collaborative approach when we work together because there is always someone on hand to help and provide commercially astute decisions. At other local authorities you tend to have to wait a few days for advice, but with esphr you can get a same-day response. I was extremely passionate about bringing the team in because it would make a meaningful difference.

Our people team is not transactional, it is forward-thinking and, with esphr’s support, we are becoming better coaches and enablers within our organisation. We know we are not employment lawyers and so esphr takes the pain of complex legislation and processes away.

Joanne Budden

People, Culture, Employee Wellbeing and Internal Comms Service Manager, Epping Forest District Council

How we supported a district council’s People Team to improve in-house ER capability and prioritise employee welfare via rich data and legal expertise