Lockdown. There is nothing like a global pandemic to turn everything upside down and make you realise just how much you take for granted. Nearly two years on I still remember the anxiety of the unknown, and I felt like I wanted to stop the world and get off. In those first few months I craved my friends, family and my ordinary routine which had always seemed so mundane.  

I was also ‘surviving’ in a new job, and I found out quite quickly that my face didn’t fit. The values I held so dear did not align with that of the company I worked for. My values of fairness, accountability and integrity were tested to their limits, and I found it difficult to navigate through my working day without feeling that I was losing a sense of my own identity and beliefs. It got me thinking about the importance of shared values to achieve true employee engagement and sense of belonging.  

You don’t always realise how unhappy you’ve been until you’re back in a positive place. The lightbulb moment for me came whilst reading Freedom to be Happy: A Business Case for Happiness‘ by Matt Phelan. Phelan, who created The Happiness Index, states that for employees to be happy and engaged at work, they need to have autonomy, feel valued and aligned with the company’s direction and purpose. It stands to reason that the happier you are, the more productive and efficient you will be. Conversely, Phelan states, if employees aren’t thriving at work, you create a workforce of ‘competing’ silos who are ‘unfocussed’ and in ‘survival’ mode.  

In October 2020, I was lucky enough to be welcomed back to C21. Growing through the ranks from Receptionist to my current role as Traffic Co-ordinator, I have lived the C21 ethos for years, and the knowledge I have learnt, and the experience gained, have served me enormously no matter what I have turned my hand to. So, whilst I learnt that this isn’t always appreciated, it is what I value and just because someone else’s values are different from mine, doesn’t mean I have to compromise.  

The easing of lockdown in May 2021 coincided with the completion of our newly refurbished offices, and a team Away Day which we held at our home in Altrincham. Not only was it the first time in over a year that we had all been in a room together, for some it was the first time they had met any of the team in person. It was a wonderful day and a much-needed tonic for us all. It was a great opportunity to celebrate the wins of the last 12 months, think about our future growth, whilst exploring our unified purpose and values.  

How do you see me?  

Whilst discussing in groups the palpable and guiding principles that seem innate in us all, we made time to speak positively about each other and the traits that lend themselves so well to C21. As humans, we are wired to see the negative in any situation and about ourselves. For every pitch win we should celebrate, we naturally focus on the ones we didn’t get. Hearing compliments can feel uncomfortable, but it is so important we listen to them. Being part of a value-based culture means accepting and knowing what you bring to the table and letting go of the imposter syndrome that can so often hold you back.   

Becoming employee-owned  

In June of last year, C21 became an employee-owned company. Seemingly, this was a huge step but in reality was a natural and obvious progression for our team who live and breathe our company values each day. Operationally, there is not much difference in the day-to-day running of C21 and, when I was asked to be the employee representative on the Trust’s board, I began to overthink what my role would be in bringing people together.  

Reflecting on the activities of the past few months, I realised that we were employee-owned long before the ink was dry on the paperwork. Because being value driven and having a unified purpose isn’t forced or something you set a reminder for; we know what we expect of ourselves, each other and of what we can deliver for our clients. What employee ownership does is embed our values deeper into our everyday practices to improve efficiencies and collaboration and help our clients to shine brighter every day.   

The past two years have made me be grateful for things that have made a positive difference in my life. Never underestimate the little things like being asked your opinion or being told you have done a good job. I am lucky enough to have been supported through some of the most difficult periods of my life and count my colleagues as close friends and confidantes. I am proud of the work we do and our work ethic. Most of all, I am appreciative of being happy at work and being part of a team that has my back.   

To quote Marcus Rashford after England’s defeat in the Euro 2021 final, “…This summer has been one of the best camps I’ve experienced, and you’ve all played a role in that. A brotherhood has been built that is unbreakable. Your success is my success. Your failures are mine”.  

They succeed together and they fail together because their values are aligned, and their team ethos is strong. As we start our journey into an employee-owned company, I couldn’t be prouder of Team C21, what we have achieved so far and as we grow together in this brand-new era.