Interview with Karen Gaynor, head of reward, Siemens UK and north-west Europe

Karen Gaynor, head of reward at Siemens UK and north-west Europe, has been with the technology organisation for most of her career, working her way across, and learning about, its various businesses through its employees.

Her previous roles have been in HR operations, but she moved to reward in 2009. “I was interested in, and got offered the opportunity, of head of reward after having done quite a lot of reward work in one of my business partner roles,” says Gaynor.

“It was different, but I was keen to find something from a central perspective that allowed me to cover all the UK. Starting with HR and hearing directly from employees, their perceptions and attitudes to initiatives and programmes, has really set me up well.”

Siemens UK has 13,000 employees, which is a significant change for Gaynor after looking after divisions with a few thousand staff. “The organisation is so diverse,” she says. “Some businesses can afford reward and be fairly generous while others are fairly cost-focused. I thought it would be interesting coming into a role where I had to find the solution that fits all that different range.”

Drawing on this experience, Gaynor will speak at Employee Benefits Live on 25 September about diverse workforces and finding appropriate methods to adopt a multimedia communications approach on a small budget.

The first area she tackled as head of reward was Siemens’ eco-friendly company car scheme in 2011. “We established that, although there were some cost savings, the employee perception of the scheme was so poor that it was worth transitioning to a traditional contract-hire scheme,” she says. “That was a major success.”

Total reward

Another significant achievement was the creation of the organisation’s employer value proposition (EVP), a transparent way for staff to see their total reward package. “It is more high level and not as granular as a personalised total reward statement,” says Gaynor.

“But it is used in all of our navigation tools, so individuals can see in one place everything that is on offer, including training and development, health and safety, and career opportunities. It is a lot more holistic than just reward.”

The EVP was launched in the UK in March 2012 and has been trialled in Poland and the Netherlands. Gaynor adds: “We’ve got global interest in it, so it looks like it will be applied in a lot more countries.”

Siemens UK also completed its pensions auto-enrolment staging on 1 May 2013 and 98% of its employees are now enrolled in its trust-based defined contribution scheme.

“Now we have to be thinking about our contribution structure by 2018,” says Gaynor. “We’ve already started some benchmarking. We are trying to find out how we transition to that so it doesn’t just look like the government has forced us to do something, but it fits with our message of encouraging better contribution rates from employees and the initiatives that we have already run with great success.”

Gaynor is looking into a range of other benefits to introduce across Siemens, but says it is important to ensure any new offering is of value to staff.

“One of my philosophies is that if we wait until we hear about the demand, it will take us 12 months to do the business case, another year of implementation, and it’s too late,” she says. “We have got to try to anticipate what our employees need, whether that is Generation X and Y, or regional differences, whatever that might be, because our workforce is so diverse.”

Curriculum vitae: Karen Gaynor

  • 2009- present head of reward, Siemens UK and north-west Europe
  • 2008-2009 HR director, Siemens, partnering Siemens healthcare operations division
  • 2005-2008 HR manager, Siemens Magnet Technology
  • 2004-2005 senior HR adviser – projects, Siemens Energy Services
  • 2002-2004 senior HR business partner, Siemens Energy Services
  • 2000-2002 personnel officer, Siemens Communications


What is your favourite benefit?

Flexible benefits, because they have so much breadth. I also think there is a lot more potential in shares that we haven’t realised. One of the things we’ve been looking at is how to tax-optimise our share scheme. It is about trying to find the bridge between the global scheme and the UK tax requirements. I think there is a lot of potential for the share scheme to be a great reward, but I don’t think it’s entirely there yet.

What are your career goals?

I could go in a couple of directions: back to a senior HR director role and bring some of that reward experience back into generalist HR again, or alternatively a global role in the compensation and benefits arena at Siemens. I am involved in some of the global projects to some extent now, so that would be a natural progression for me.

What are your hobbies?

I am very active. I enjoy cycling. Recently I’ve done a 50-mile bike event to try to challenge myself. My big love is horse riding. And I have a dog, George the working cocker spaniel, who also keeps me active and entertained.