British Library modernises reward despite public sector pay restraint

Once burdened with an archaic pay structure, the British Library can now give anyone a run for their money with its new, modern approach to total reward. Unlike many other parts of the public sector, the British Library’s pay policies had remained largely untouched for many years. Yet change was inevitable. Web search engines have revolutionised the way we expect to obtain information which has resulted in major challenges for the Library.

People want to access information via the internet, and guaranteed access to digital material in the long term is vital for the future of UK research programmes. These factors have required the British Library to digitise much of its collection material and to play a leading role in defining and creating a digital research information infrastructure - the e-infrastructure.

This change programme began to be implemented across the organisation in 2003. Mary Canavan, the new HR director, and her team wanted to modernise pay and conditions to better support the Library’s strategic goals - a difficult task in a climate of public sector wage restraint where the Treasury was determined to keep annual pay increases at or below 3%.

Canavan knew the task ahead was a tough one. She needed to meet the heightened expectations of the British Library board, obtain support from the sponsoring department (the Department of Culture, Media and Sport), persuade the Treasury to approve the package, obtain the agreement of the trade unions to the introduction of some form of performance pay and, most importantly, communicate the message to staff that the revamp was to their advantage.

Despite the challenges of tight budgets, the HR team made total reward their focus and tackled it head on. Pay spines have been shortened, the principle of performance pay and bonuses has been agreed with the unions and implemented and the range of benefits has been improved. In addition, a performance management system strongly biased towards learning and development has been introduced and the scope of recognition has increased.