Essex County Council

Essex County Council

When Essex County Council (ECC) replaced its performance pay scheme with Essex Pay – a single rate system based on the job role and zones that aligned with external market rates – in 2019, it hoped it would overcome the disparity in pay and become competitive with other local authorities.

ESS also brought in a social care capability framework, which based pay for its 2,342 employees in the social care sector on professional capability. The aim was to improve retention and recognise performance by ensuring staff pay reflected their capability, providing clear progression pathways, ensuring a fair and consistent measurement of performance and supporting individual development needs.

However, a review of feedback from employees a year after launching the new pay scheme found that there was confusion between having pay grades and zones alongside a single spot salary. In addition, when ESS began its first pay benchmarking exercise in 2020 for the entire workforce on Essex Pay, it became apparent that in order to be competitive in the market for all roles, not all salaries would increase at the same rate.

This conflict between the pay schemes began to outweigh the benefits, so ESS decided to evolve Essex Pay. The council’s aim was to create a “fair and transparent pay scheme” that aligned with the market rates. To do this, it removed the pay zones concept and introduced a dynamic pay review, whereby staff salary increases only occurred when it was necessary to maintain a market fiftieth percentile in the relevant roles.

Throughout the process, ESS held live virtual events for managers and employees to communicate its rationale behind the changes; explain the impact; and help them understand why not everyone would receive a pay increase. It also engaged with trade unions in order to gain buy in and address any concerns. In March 2021, the council went on to launch Essex Pay Standards, which set out its commitment to “transparency, fairness and affordability”.

As well as pay, ESS also reviewed its recognition offer. It engaged with employees through forums and panels to understand how its people wanted to be recognised and what this should “look and feel like”. As a result a ‘recognition in the moment’ toolkit was developed to encourage not only manager-to-employee recognition, but peer-to-peer and employee-to-manager as well. This was alongside various monetary, non-financial and social awards.

Both initiatives proved to be successful for ESS. Increased awareness of the refreshed recognition process has seen a 100 per cent increase in people using it. While the evolved pay scheme not only helped address the council’s gender pay gap, it saw the number of employees on protected salaries decrease, reducing inequity.

Listening to employees and ESS’s emphasis on fairness and transparency impressed the judges. They said that “given the scope of the challenge, the complexity of the change and the subsequent positive impact for the council and its staff” made the council a worthy winner.