Upgrade to Chrome Upgrade to Firefox Upgrade to Internet Explorer Upgrade to Safari

3rd July 2019

Interview With Ann Pickering, Chief HR Officer & Chief of Staff, O2

Chief of HR Leading The Way For Employee Engagement


Employee turnover is one of the most common HR challenges faced by businesses today. According to Gallup, globally only 15% of employees are engaged. While companies are slowly beginning to see and understand the benefits of investing in employee engagement, there are still many organisations that aren’t on board.

But why do people leave? Studies highlight 70% of the variance in why employees quit come down to things that managers can influence. Employees want jobs that fit their lifestyle, give them opportunities for personal development, and align with their purpose. Many just want to be able to do their jobs well.

So how can leaders positively influence employee experience and engagement at work? We caught up with Ann Pickering, Chief HR Officer & Chief of Staff at O2, who tells us about her inspiration, journey and tips for approaching engagement.

Ann Pickering is a champion for employee engagement, transforming culture and has been recognised as the number one ‘HR Most Influential Practitioners‘ in the UK. Since joining O2 the company has achieved a Top 20 place three times in the ‘Sunday Times Top 100 Employers in the UK’ and 8th in the UK Best Places to Work.

Read the full interview below:


1. What inspires you?


I love to see young people grow in confidence in the workplace and achieve their full potential. Likewise, seeing the success of our Career Returners programme is fantastic. This 14-week paid programme allows people to learn new skills and adapt back to a job after an extended career break of two or more years. Watching women who have joined via O2 Career Returners subsequently being appointed into leadership roles …I get a real kick out of this.


2. What moment in your journey at O2 brings you the biggest sense of pride and achievement?


Being appointed to the Board of O2 in 2008 was a big moment for me and I’m now one of five women on the leadership team. More recently I was incredibly proud to introduce O2’s Family Leave Policy in which we increased the amount of paid paternity leave we offer our people from two to 14 weeks. This policy covers heterosexual and same-sex couples, as well as partners welcoming a baby via adoption or surrogacy. Giving all new parents the flexibility to spend more time at home when having a child is part and parcel of modern-day parenting. It was incredibly well received by our workforce and I hope this demonstrated O2’s continued commitment to creating a family friendly company.


3. Could you give us a future forecast of how you see the business changing in terms of employee engagement?


There is a much used phrase ‘Culture Trumps Strategy’… it’s a bit of corporate speak but it rings true. How employees feel about their work really does affect company performance. People want to feel they have control over their lives and this is equally important in the workplace . So ensuring your employees have a say, have fun, are respected, and have flexibility are critical. But above all else, it is about trust. No relationship can survive without trust, and it is a two-way process between employer and employee.


4. What other business leaders inspire you?


Hilary Cropper. She was the CEO of FI Group when I joined. She was a lone female in a sea of men in grey suits ….and she was magnificent!

Michelle Obama. She was so much more than the wife of the President of the United States. She understood the significance of being a woman of colour living in the White House.


5. What 3 tips do you wish someone had given to you at the start of your journey?


1. Have confidence in yourself and your capability.
2. Speak up.
3. Enjoy the journey!


Ann Pickering joined Telefonica O2 UK in 2004, was appointed to the UK Board as HR Director in 2008 and appointed CHRO & Chief of Staff in January 2018.

Prior to this Ann worked for Marks and Spencer, Fidelity and Xansa (now Steria) and is a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Personnel Development.

Ann is Chair of the Advisory Board of Sheffield University Management School where she is also Visiting Professor of HRM and Employability. She became an Advisory Board member of the Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) in 2018 and is a Trustee of ‘Step Up to Serve’ a charity established in 2013 to make social action part of life for 10-20 year olds by the year 2020.

Ann was appointed a Trustee of Breast Cancer Now in September 2017. She is married with two boys, Jack and Rory.

Follow Ann Pickering on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Thank you to Ann for sharing her story and tips. Keep an eye out for more interviews with influential HR Leaders and sign up to our mailing list for updates.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.