Private education organisation Explore Learning takes employee feedback on board when fine-tuning its benefits strategy.
Its expanding benefits package includes a health and wellbeing toolkit, enhanced maternity pay, a maternity package which includes its tailormade Mum’s the Word scheme, and the option to buy or sell holiday. In April, Explore Learning will also launch an employee assistance programme (EAP) following employee feedback collated from its regular surveys and polls.
The EAP, which is designed to assist employees with issues such as financial or emotional problems, will be available to employees based at its 137 centres and head office.
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Sian Robbins, HR manager at Explore Learning, says: “The employees’ voice is really important; we want our strategy to mirror what employees are telling us that they want. We’ve noticed in the last few years there’s been more of a cry for wellbeing support and we are introducing an EAP that we think is going to be big. Employees are telling us they want support for issues going on at work and outside of work as well. Wellbeing is really important to us.”
Equipping employees with health and wellbeing tools
Not only is the organisation launching its first EAP, Explore Learning is continuously looking at health and wellbeing initiatives that will support its employees. In 2016, the organisation appointed an employee wellbeing committee, which comprises five members selected from across the business, including regional managers, a training manager and performance directors, who meet regularly to discuss new ways of improving the health and wellbeing of their colleagues.
One of the successful projects the committee has developed to date is a toolkit. This contains everything from books on how to achieve mindfulness at work, to tools to deal with more serious issues such as mental illness including guides from charity Mind. Employees can also listen to wellbeing podcasts, find a list of recommended apps to improve mental wellbeing, such as Headspace, find information on where to go when times get tough, and read books on healthy eating and financial wellbeing.
“If you’ve got a certain problem, [the toolkit] contains information to direct people to the right place, for example to certain charities like Mind,” explains Robbins. “There are videos that people can access, it contains everything that our committee and the HR department feel employees will want to see and could potentially get some use out of.”
The organisation also champions wellbeing ambassadors. Later this year, a number of its centre managers will spread the wellbeing message in their regions, updating teams on developments and new initiatives, as well as training up a number of regional managers on mental illness and how to promote wellbeing across the organisation.
Establishing a strong company culture
As well as its strong employee interaction with its wellbeing strategy, the organisation has aligned its overall benefits strategy with its organisational culture, and tries to make it fun as well as practical.
Explore Learning placed second in the Sunday Times’ Best Big Companies 2018 list. The organisation’s exciting culture is one of the reasons behind its high ranking, says Robbins.
“Coming number two in the Sunday Times Best Big Companies  to work for is a wow moment,” she says. “We’ve grown so much, we’re such a big organisation now and this is new to us, which is great. We’ve also won a Glassdoor Employee Choice Award. It’s testament that we have a [benefits] package that works. Retention is improving and, being a young organisation, it’s really important. We want employees to join and stay, we don’t want them to go anywhere so it’s definitely helped to improve that.”
Every year, Explore Learning holds a three-day event, Explore Fest, in Hampshire. The event kicks off with a barbecue and live entertainment, employees dress in fancy dress for the night, before sleeping in tepees. The next day, employees take part in the annual health and wellbeing day, which forms part of the summer conference with activities ranging from free Pilates classes, art classes and games. On day three, employees embark on a training day where they can develop and hone their skills by attending a series of training workshops ranging from building your Explore Centre and resilience training, to how to become a sales superstar.
Explore Learning also hosts an annual black tie event, the Recognition Awards Dinner (the RADs), attended by 550 employees. Regional managers nominate employee from the centres who deserve recognition, with head office employees judging and awarding the overall winners.
“These events have helped to define our culture and really connected everyone,” explains Robbins. “It’s really good for staff morale. The chief executive officer gives a speech, gets employees excited about the coming year and, ultimately, employees feel really valued and looked after. Having a family feel to [the events] is really important in our organisation’s culture.[…] The most important part of the strategy is that [the ideas come from the employees], represent our culture and [employees are] able to have fun as well.”
Incentivising and rewarding staff
Rewarding employees does not end there. Explore Learning incentivises its employees in all of its centres to hit monthly centre performance targets. If targets are met, an employee can potentially earn an additional £4,400 each year, increasing to £7,480 once they become a centre director.
Alongside this, every quarter Explore Learning rewards the top three performing centres win a team trip abroad. The travel-related competition has seen winning employees travel to destinations such as Miami, New York and Marrakesh.
Employees can also take an additional day’s annual leave per year to volunteer at a charity of their choice. Historically, employees could take a day’s holiday to work for a organisation-nominated charity but employees felt this was not flexible enough.
“We’ve always worked with a charity and we have done volunteering for that particular charity but we didn’t pay people for that time off and the feedback was ‘it’s great we’re running races for this charity but we want you to be contributing more’,” says Robbins. “Now, [employees can take] one volunteer day off per year which employees can use for any charity they want and we pay them to take the day off, whereas before they had to take it as holiday.”
One of the biggest challenges for HR team is how it can incorporate flexible working into its business model. For employees who work at head office, this can be quite straightforward, however, employees who work in its centres are required to work specific hours within client-facing roles.
“I think we have to be quite clever, how we support them, it’s the biggest challenge [because] employees want flexibility these days,” explains Robbins. “In a retail business or a membership business, we have to be there to support the needs of our members which is challenging because [our employees] run these centres and they have to be there for certain hours because members expect them to be. This is why we’ve [introduced a new benefit] this year where employees can buy or sell holiday so there’s a lot more flexibility.”
Explore Learning establishes which benefits are working well and which benefits are not by sending out surveys to its employees. The organisation sends out an extensive survey annually, as well as holding focus groups throughout the year. It also sends a further two smaller surveys out during the year. All employees, no matter what their position within the organisation, are encouraged to participate
The organisation uses its intranet site, Bubble, to deliver information for new starters, including access to a welcome pack, with the system being a go-to for all other employees. Bubble, is not only an oracle for new starters, it is the one place where all employees can find all the information that they need about the organisation’s procedures, as well as its benefits, says Robbins. “It’s a personalised system, where employees need to log in. We’re not at the stage of offering a flexible reward system yet, but that’s the plan for the future.”
Explore Learning actively requests employees feedback on what works and what does not. “We always ask all of our leavers through a leavers survey and in our engagement survey,” explains Robbins. “We do poll surveys on benefits and receive really good feedback on the whole. Employees are happy coming up with new ideas of what they want.”
This month (April 2018), the organisation will roll out a new HR system, Select HR, provided by Access, which will enable the HR team to send out more frequent communications.
As Explore Learning expands its benefits and reward strategy into the future, therefore, employees are sure to remain at the heart of it.
Explore Learning at a glance
Explore Learning provides tuition for children from the age of five to 14 to help them reach their potential in maths and English. Founder and chief executive officer, Bill Mills, set up the first centre in 2001 to help parents who could not afford to pay for private tuition for their children.There are now 137 centres country-wide.
Typical job roles include assistant director, centre director, regional manager and tutor. Explore Learning has approximately 3,300 employees across its centres and in its head office, with an average age of 22, due to the large number of students working as tutors. Employees have an average tenure of two-and-a-half years, with a gender split of 78% female and 22% male.
- To continue to engage staff so they are motivated to give the best possible service to members.
- To open 10 new centres in 2018.
- To refit existing centres to create fun, interactive learning environments that align with its new brand.
- To continue to be an employer of choice.
Sian Robbins, HR manager, joined Explore Learning in 2006 as part of the organisation’s graduate scheme. Robbins’ first role saw her begin her career path as assistant director for one of the organisation’s Bristol centres, before being promoted to centre director. In 2012, Robbins was promoted to her current role of HR manager and is now located at Explore Learning’s head office in Guildford.
Robbins cites her greatest achievement in her current role as the creation of the employee voice platform ‘You spoke, we listened, let’s act’, which she set up as a tool for employees to communicate with senior management.
Robbins says: “I started setting up yearly focus groups combined with an employee engagement survey and communicated with employees via chat. ‘You spoke, we listened, let’s act’ forms our business decision for the following year. All the feedback goes to our senior management team, then they’ll report back on the business decisions taking into account all of employees’ suggestions.”