A living wage and a virtuous circle

24th February 2021

Gemma Quirke
Chief Operating Officer at Wilson James


As of next month, the National Living Wage will increase by 2.2 per cent from £8.72 to £8.91, and the scheme will be extended to 23 and 24-year-olds for the first time. On the back of this positive move, it’s perhaps a good time to look back and consider this development within the broader context of employee engagement, motivation and inclusion – a subject that I am passionate about, and in which Wilson James is an industry leader.

While the role of technology during the pandemic has been much talked about, one of the stand-out lessons from 2020 for me was the vital role that people played – in particular, key workers such as security personnel, whose dedication has seen them hard at work on the frontline throughout the pandemic. I have been reminded of the great value that well-supported, well-trained and well-paid people create, and how our clients prize the contributions they make.

For this value to be created, industry must firstly invest in its people. Central to this investment is, of course, the payment of a decent wage. I am proud that, as a Living Wage recognised service provider, every single one of Wilson James’ bids incorporates the Living Wage.

Doing so is not only the right thing to do in isolation, but represents a responsible course of action from a wider, inclusion point of view. Proper remuneration sits alongside a wide range of measures that build professionalism, resilience and self-respect among employees. These include training and skills development, wellness initiatives and empowering individuals to identify opportunities to add value to the client.

As a privately owned organisation, Wilson James has been free to place employees’ and clients’ needs at its centre. The result is a culture that has provided resilience and strength during the pandemic, allowing people to continue to support clients under great pressure. Yet this focus also places our company at the vanguard of growing debates around the function of a business: is its purpose shareholder reward alone, or a more sustainable combination of profit, people and contribution to society? I know from what clients, employees and partners tell me that it is the latter, and I am proud that Wilson James has taken a commanding position within the industry on a topic that is rightly gathering so much attention.

Of course, some of the organisations we talk to have yet to see the value of paying a Living Wage. Luckily, the fact that we very much work with clients in a true partnership allows us to initiate and continue conversations about why paying staff a proper wage is not only the right thing to do – but the smart thing to do. We explain why paying the Living Wage is the starting point for a journey where well-paid individuals are better motivated, fully empowered, and willing to go the extra mile to provide a highly professional service to clients. This in turn builds trust and mutual opportunity, and this virtuous circle benefits everyone it touches – employees, service provider and client alike.

One of the ways we empower employees is by getting them involved in Service Design, where we encourage clients to think about the outcome of the service we provide, rather than see it solely in terms of the input, or resources needed. This requires a deep understanding of the risks clients face, how their sites are used and navigated, and how their people and assets are best protected – insight that our employees at a client site are uniquely placed to provide.

And while technology has an increasingly vital role to play, as the establishment of our dedicated technology business division proves, people on the ground are already using technology to work smarter and provide greater value. They are using patrolling and incident management systems, for example, and the data these systems create allows us to identify opportunities to add efficiency by better responding to client needs. Ultimately, of course, this points to why clients call upon a security provider like Wilson James: expertise. For what is the point of bringing people onto your site if not to bring skills and experience?

Wilson James’ focus on people is also reflected in client retention: as we deliver a more valuable service, we find that clients extend and expand our contracts as the partnership deepens. Even the very fact that clients are willing to develop deep working relationships tells me we are going down the right path and that our culture is one that resonates widely.

Proof, if it is needed, that doing the right thing is also doing the smart thing.