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Being Proud: Changing for the better through choppy waters

Mon 1 May 2023

In the first article in our series – Being Proud: Changing for the better through choppy waters - Lisa Spraggs, Human Resources Manager UK & Ireland, discusses how Santen has become an even greater place to work, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing expansion into the over-the-counter (OTC) medicines market. 

If the last few years have taught us anything, change comes whether unexpected or planned. It can arrive as a deluge (such as covid) or an initially barely detectable drip drip that, before you’ve even got your wellies on, is now a river sweeping you along. Whichever direction it comes from, it has deep consequences for company culture, its talent pool and, ultimately, its reputation.  

Some organisations try to fight it, fruitlessly attempting to stem the flow as with Dyson’s attempts to stop remote working, and some are simply left behind like beached boats when the tide turns like the Blackberrys and Blockbusters of the world. Faced with the aftermath of the pandemic’s tsunami of change and an ongoing expansion into the market of over-the-counter medicines, at Santen UK we knew we wanted to not just weather these potentially choppy waters, but to successfully navigate them to become an even better place to work. 

Our approach 
Change isn’t easy for companies but especially for the individuals who make up the organisation. Just ask anyone who finds themselves for the umpteenth time speaking on mute during a Teams or Zoom call. If this is you, it may be comforting to know that it’s really biology’s fault and not your memory. You see, habits are so deeply engrained that changing them literally requires breaking old neural pathways and forging new ones. That’s why taking a human-centric approach to organisation change is critical. It’s our job to recognise the individual’s effort and make it easier for them. In my experience, this comes down to five elements:

This is something we can’t get enough of – it’s built into our working practices, not as an afterthought but as a building block as intrinsic to a project as the budget or timeline. Of course, people only share feedback if they know you’ll listen respectfully and do something about it (see my points below about culture!). For example, following the survey results from our last Great Place to Work assessment, we increased bonuses and made them fairer across the organisation, and increased headcount in departments which reported workload pinch points. We’ve also added to the ways people can share feedback. Responding to remote working which has decreased opportunities for face-to-face and spontaneous conversations, we’ve introduced a dedicated Teams ‘feedback’ channel and an additional performance and development review mid-way through the year. This supports the multiplicity of traditional feedback avenues, from surveys to Town Hall Q&As. 

Clear and compassionate communication 
Remote working is now a way of life, and we’ve embraced it. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its pitfalls. Staff told us that they missed informal coffee catchups which helped them get to know colleagues as human beings with unique interests and priorities. This is, admittedly, hard to replicate digitally, but we can at least go some way to help. We introduced an open ‘Cultural Significance Calendar’ where anyone can add milestones and photos for dates of personal and cultural significance. I love this and have learned so much about my colleagues and cultural events I wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise, such as Eid, Chanukah and even Siblings Appreciation Day – an event where we exchanged sweets and bracelets to celebrate our brothers and sisters. 

We believe that this calendar has led to Santen UK being an even more inclusive and supportive company.

Positive culture 
Another common pitfall of remote working is the blurring of work-life boundaries, so we took this opportunity to implement flexible working hours and a compressed work week. Not only as a direct reaction to avoid burnout and end presenteeism, but to futureproof the organisation and better suit every individual at Santen – from school run and carer commitments, to menopause friendly hours, to those simply wanting to fit in a passion such as the morning run. This was possible because of our culture of trust, allowing line managers and employees to organise themselves according to their own needs, and a culture which celebrates our people for the unique and brilliant beings that they are. This has been one of my favourite policies to work on because it takes so many forms and it’s exciting to embrace a forward-thinking work style. 

We’ve also updated performance reviews to be structured around company values. This ensures that how we achieve our goals is as important as what we achieve. Within the process, teams set their own group success goals, encouraging collaboration, and breaking down any silos – something that’s increasingly important as we expand. 

Strong leadership 
Our human-centric approach is a priority for our leadership team. Indeed, our leadership recognise that achieving our 2021/22 Great Place to Work accolade is not enough in itself. We aren’t complacent. The award’s stringent review process helps us take stock of where we need to improve. 

Already, we know sustainability will be a focus for us this year. While we’ve come so far, installing electric chargers, converting office supplies to recyclable ones, and introducing electric hybrid cars, we can and must go further. This is, of course, about operating ethically but also something that’s important to our employees - and so twice as important to us. Personally, this makes me very excited: working on this has opened my eyes to a whole new area of exciting possibilities for the UK and the company as a whole and shows Santen’s long-term commitment to its people. 

Investing resource
Successful change requires sustained investment of resource to embed in new working practices. That means time, budget and people. A great example of this is our wellbeing days. These are fun workshops like cooking, yoga, Pilates, coaching and listening to interesting guest speakers, that help us connect and relax. Importantly, we hold these during working hours to make them accessible, showing that we value our people’s personal time and are prepared to invest in them. Similarly, we also give all employees ‘Find Your Flow’ time which is four hours a week at the same time for everyone to focus on development, to spend however they like. And, during our EMEA staff conference, we carved out a time in the normally packed agenda purely for fun which, again, shows that we really appreciate our staff time and wellbeing. 


By putting our people first, we’ve been able to not just maintain our working culture through the trials of the pandemic and our recent OTC expansion, but positively change for the better. That saw us become a Great Place to Work in 2021/22 and Best Place to Work in April 2022/23, and since then we’ve become an even greater place to work, increasing our overall performance from 80% to 88%.1,2 I’m particularly proud that we consistently score over 90% for advocacy and pride because, at Santen, we find meaning and purpose in our work together, helping improve people’s lives through eyecare.2   


1.    Great Place to Work assessment, 2021/22
2.    Great Place to Work assessment, 2022/23


Date of preparation: May 2023            Job Code:  NP-SANTEN-UK-0102