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River Island talks reward

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The reward function within any organisation is of vital importance, without it companies will lose their greatest asset… their people. Emily Sexton-Brown speaks to Sabrina Mir, reward manager for River Island.

Tell me about your organisation, number of employees, locations and history...

River Island has a vibrant history and tells a story of true entrepreneurship. The business was started in 1948 from a single shop selling knitting wool and grew into the high street fashion empire we are today. With over 350 stores and 10,000 employees across the UK, Ireland and internationally.



Can you tell me what you do day to day?

One of the things I love most about my job is the variety it brings. After a morning coffee, my day will generally consist of some form of forecasting and analysis (Excel quickly becomes your best friend), followed by stakeholder meetings and working on key projects for the year. 


How is the reward function at River Island is perceived, and why?

The reward function is still in its infancy at River Island. Prior to me joining the business over a year and a half ago, employee reward consisted of historical benefit schemes and not much awareness of what we offered. Over the past year, reward has really done a U-turn and we’ve been able to introduce some great things into the business that really tie in with our overall engagement strategy. I believe these enhancements are steadily improving the perception of reward, but we still have some work to do.

How do you ensure people are engaged?

Engagement is definitely a priority on our people agenda. A lot of what we do as a HR function is geared towards the attraction, engagement and retention of key talent who are really going to drive our business forward. We’ve introduced ‘Summer Fridays’ throughout the Summer months, during which our head office employees are able to leave the office at 3.30pm every Friday. We’ve made enhancements to our employee discount scheme for retail, introduced volunteering days and are also working on a number of other initiatives for next year.

What do you believe is the future of reward at River Island?

With the reward function being so new I think we have a huge opportunity to do some great things going forward. We’ll be looking at expanding our reward offering, giving our employees more choice and flexibility, focusing on health and well-being and most importantly, listening to what our employees want. My vision for reward at River Island is that it’s intrinsically linked to our core values. I want all our employees to really understand and value their rewards and be recognised for the brilliant work they’re doing.

What would you personally change?

We need to grow reward at River Island. I’m currently in a stand-alone role. I’m currently in a stand-alone role, so you can imagine the challenges that often come with that, especially when reward and engagement continue to play a pivotal role in our people strategy.

"I’m passionate about taking on projects that have the potential to really make a difference for our employees."

Biggest challenges facing reward professionals right now?

I think many reward professionals are finding the government led initiatives a challenge at the moment. The National Living Wage (NLW) coming into force in April 2016 is the start of a much larger concern on how we want to shape the future of our pay structures. For some, wage rates and pay bands currently include a number of differentials including age, region, experience, seniority etc. Not only do we need to consider these differentials, but also think about what impact this has on other areas of the business. It’s a big piece of work to ensure we get this right and are set up for future success. 


How would you advise others to overcome these challenges?

My advice would be to think about this as a long-term pay strategy. In the past some businesses have increased rates of pay annually along with the changes to National Minimum Wage (NMW). There will still be those that take the same approach to the NLW, but this is an opportunity to plan ahead. My proposal for addressing this will be to keep pay structures simple, fair, agile and as transparent as possible.

How do you engage the reward strategy with the overall business?

Involve them in the process early on. Make sure they understand why we are proposing to take these measures, what positive impact this will have on their area of the business and what will happen if we do nothing. I always find case studies and market data valuable when presenting a proposal. The business likes to see how we are being competitive and industry leading in our approach to reward.

What is it about your role that you are most passionate about?

Problem solving. I’m passionate about taking on projects that have the potential to really make a difference for our employees. I love being able to identify an issue or something that isn’t working as effectively as it could be, make improvements to it, or give it a complete makeover. 

Thank God for spreadsheets!

Emily  Sexton-Brown

By Emily Sexton-Brown

Emily is the commissioning editor at Changeboard

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