Peel Ports Group puts staff at heart of reward strategy

Since 2011, Peel Ports Group has been evolving its compensation and benefits package to attract and retain staff, with a particular focus on its pension and flexible benefits offering.

Peel Ports

The organisation is currently creating a deep-water terminal for containers, Liverpool 2, which will result in an expanded workforce. An additional 480 roles will be created, along with around 5,000 additional supply jobs in the north west of England.

Due to open at the end of 2015, Liverpool 2 is a £300m infrastructure, which will mean the rest of the Peel Ports Group will rely on the ports part of the business to deliver even more than it does already.

Increased focus on pensions

Part of the organsation’s benefits evolution is an increased focus on pensions provision, leading to a revamped and streamlined provision and communication strategy to enable it to meet legislative requirements such as auto-enrolment and this year’s pension freedoms.

Almost all (90%) of its employees are in its defined contribution (DC) pension scheme, due in part to the benefits team focusing its attention on its pension-based benefits. Peel Ports held compulsory presentations for its workforce in the run up to auto-enrolment, put up posters and sent out newsletters and booklets to give employees more information. 

It further encourages employees to save for their retirement with the increased employer contributions it introduced in January 2014, which rose from between 3% and 6%, to between 4% and 10%. The minimum employee contribution rate is currently set at 4%, before increasing to 5-10% from 2016. The combined average pension contribution is between 14% and 15%. The organisation also received the Pension Quality Mark Plus in November 2014 for its low charges of 0.35%, quality of governance and ongoing communication.

The organisation’s focus on pensions was also recognised with the award for ’Best DC pensions change’ at the Employee Benefits Awards 2015.

Combining benefits

Peel Ports Group’s workplace benefits are not all pension focused. It aims to bring its benefits together as one effective unit, and also blend it with the overall business strategy. Howard Sloane, group HR director at Peel Ports Group, believes that combining the port’s business strategy with its benefits strategy is the best thing for both the organisation and its workforce. “Our HR strategy was formed on the back of our reward and benefits delivery as a five-year plan; it’s easy enough to put the two together,” he explains.

“What’s important is that the HR strategy works in conjunction with, not against the business strategy. We’ve looked at what the business objectives were for the next five years and designed an attractive benefits strategy around that.”

In line with this, Peel Ports has enhanced its flexible benefits package to appeal to as many workers as possible, and align with the business’ aims. It added green cars and holiday trading to its flexible benefits package during its scheme election window in May, to create a more tax-efficient offering.

The organisation also offers a home technology benefit where its 1,100 staff can select any iPad model between the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 range and pay for it over 12 months directly from their salary. This is also one of its most popular benefits, with 10% of employees taking it up. “Adapting our benefits package has really helped us get closer to knowing our staff and what they want. It was a really big, tough change between 2013 and 2014,” says Sloane.

Almost all (98.5%) of Peel Ports Group’s workers stay with the firm for at least 12 months, an improvement on previous turnover rates. According to Sloane, this is due to a changed company culture and mindset. 

Reducing staff absences

It is clear that Peel Ports’ staff are at the centre of its business and reward strategies. In its meeting rooms, there are pictures on the walls with motivating messages such as: ’Be the change you want to see in the world’, ’If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you’, and ’Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try’. Sloane says: “It really feels like a very large family-run business. Everything we do is very people-focused.”

Reducing sickness absence rates has also been a focus for the organisation. Sloane explains: “Those [employees] on long-term sick [leave] are not our priority in terms of monitoring. This is why we have an electronic system where line managers will get an instant notification about their employee. After three of these messages, the situation will escalate into a conversation about the employee’s attendance; it’s short-term absences that hurt the business and other employees the most.”

The organisation is focusing on becoming an employer of choice and sends its new recruits hand-signed cards to welcome them to the business. It is also aiming to demonstrate a more discernible employer presence and support, for example, by sending cards to staff on their birthday and work anniversary.

In addition, its benefits and HR brand, HR Connect, aims to personalise, as well as digitise its workplace benefits service. It also has a call centre-style assistance programme to help staff with any queries about their benefits.

For Sloane, the next steps are to continue to develop a benefits strategy that supports the business. “We can’t [implement] everything straight away and give and give to our workforce,” he says. ”But we do have a package that’s really forward thinking and innovative. We’re definitely growing towards world class, but equally, we’re not rushing. Benefits, and a well-thought out strategy for them, is vital to a business, particularly one that is going through a period of significant growth and change.”

Career history:

Howard Sloane

Howard Sloane has been group HR director at Peel Ports since 2011. His previous roles include head of people and culture, UK and Ireland at energy firm Vestas, HR manager at engineering support services firm Babcock International Group, and HR manager at global logistical organisation TDG.

Sloane joined Peel Ports to act as the driving force behind the HR and benefits revamp. He says: “I’m blessed to have found such a talented and dedicated team of HR practitioners who have worked so hard to achieve the HR strategy and vision that I set out.”

Peel Ports Group at a glance:

The Peel Group was founded in 1920, and was formerly known as Peel Holdings. The group operates in industry sectors including media, transportation, ports and property.

Peel Ports currently has around 1,100 workers serving seven ports: Port of Liverpool, Manchester Ship Canal, Medway Ports, Port of Heysham, Clydeport, Marine Terminal Dublin, Victoria Terminal 3 Belfast. 

Business objectives impacting benefits:

  • Managing new staff and their benefits brought into the business through the new Liverpool 2 terminal.
  • Continuing to align its benefits strategy with its business strategy.
  • To make the organisation more attractive to potential new recruits.

The benefits:


  • Stakeholder pension scheme available for all UK employees.
  • Minimum employee contribution set at 4%, with matching employer contributions of between 4% and 10%.

Health and wellbeing:

  • Private medical insurance (PMI) available for all senior managers and executives.
  • Health cash plan available to all staff as a core benefit.
  • Eye care plan.
  • Employee assistance programme (EAP).

Group risk:

  • Critical illness insurance (part of flexible benefits package).
  • Life assurance (part of core package).
  • Personal accident insurance available through the health cash plan as an employer-funded benefit.

Staff travel:

Family friendly benefits:

  • Maternity leave on full pay for the first six weeks, and half pay for 7-39 weeks.
  • Return-to-work bonus of 20% of an employee’s salary after at least three months of maternity leave.


  • 25 days as standard in addition to statutory bank and public holidays.
  • Holiday trading.