The Organic Agency: an SME that knows how to attract and retain staff

Benedetta Doro looks at the SME The Organic Agency and its family-friendly policies, flexibility and focus on employee wellbeing.

SME or Small and medium-sized enterprises smartphone web business - the organic agency

 

How can smaller employers develop and retain a competitive edge amid Covid uncertainty and skills shortages?

One firm which has been successful at attracting new staff and keeping those it has is The Organic Agency, a small company with its headquarters in Exeter. It focuses on helping brands use digital technology to better connect with their audiences.

Before the pandemic it had a team of 22, but now the digital agency has a team of between 30 and 35 employees due to the support it provides to its employees – something that has seen it voted one of the best small and medium enterprise (SME) to work for in the UK by Great Places to Work.

Flexibility at The Organic Agency 

Despite some of the challenges that can arise from being a small company,  The Organic Agency has benefited from an ability to make rapid changes to enhance or add new policies.

Being part of a smaller team also means being able to coordinate everyone’s work better into a collective schedule which allows for greater flexibility. 

Even before the pandemic the team considered the ‘typical’ Monday to Friday 9 til 5 in the office outdated and old fashioned. 

Ben Bushby, Head of People and Culture at The Organic Agency, says: “The way we look at flexibility is that you build work around your life, you don’t build your life around work, so everybody has completely different commitments within the business.”

He adds: “Flexibility for me is I can pick my daughter up from nursery early three or four days a week. I can start a little bit earlier in the morning, I take an hour and a half or two-hour lunch break most days to go to the gym. It’s really about making work work for you.”

This view is strongly encouraged by the senior management team too. Promoting a good work-life balance from the top level of an organisation sets the tone and encourages employees to follow. 

After the dropping of restrictions, the agency adopted a hybrid model, asking employees to be in the office on Mondays and Fridays between 10am and 3pm to allow people enough time in the mornings and afternoons in case they had childcare commitments or had to travel into work.

Other family friendly policies 

One of the big focuses of the company as a whole is promoting inclusion and diversity, so in November 2020 they decided to create an enhanced maternity leave policy. 

Until then they had the statutory maternity pay in place. Bushby explains: “The lowest amount you receive is 10 weeks on full pay and it scales upwards depending on how long you have worked with the business.” 

They have also enhanced their adoption and return to work after parental leave policies. “It is really important that people still feel like they’re still moving forward, which is really important for the business too,” says Bushby. 

He adds: “We have taken a separate chunk of our training budget and assigned it to people returning to work after parental leave so they can continue to progress and develop their career without feeling hindered.”

Another issue they have been looking at is menopause, recognising that it can be a challenging time and raising awareness and finding the best support to put in place for those going through it.  

Working for a company that allows flexibility around working hours and location is already a great help for employees with childcare responsibilities. However, The Organic Agency also has a specific childcare leave policy for unforeseen circumstances when children are unwell and are either sent home from school or are not able to go. The company recognises that it can take some time to get childcare help and their leave policy means employees are paid for the time they need to take off to make arrangements. 

The agency also recognises the importance of acknowledging people’s families, which is why they are often involved in the company’s social activities. This helps employee engagement and lets people now that the company not only cares for them but also for their family. 

Employees’ wellbeing and Covid-19

At the heart of The Organic Agency is employee wellbeing, which is something that Ben Scoggins, the CEO, is very passionate about.

Everybody in the business has a wellbeing allowance every month and the company asks them to spend it on something linked to physical exercise, due to the link between keeping physically active and positive mental wellbeing. “Lots of people spend it on gym memberships, some people spend it on petrol money to go surfing, some people spend it on mindfulness or meditation classes, some on therapy, and others on National Trust memberships,” says Bushby. 

To support employee mental wellbeing, the company also partners with Spill, a wellbeing platform, which is integrated in their communication system Slack. The platform provides readily available therapists, wellbeing consultants and psychologists as well as many tools, workshops, videos and information that people can easily access. 

One of their employees also runs mindfulness and meditation sessions internally. And to make sure that everyone is involved and feels part of the team they also do weekly breakfasts together on Mondays and drinks on Fridays, as well as many other social activities. 

When the pandemic hit and lockdowns were imposed, Bushby’s role was particularly significant in making sure that everyone was coping well. He held regular check-ins with individuals, signposting those who were potentially struggling to  more support and professional help if needed. 

As a business, Bushby says the team talk very openly about mental health and wellbeing and that was emphasised during their team meetings on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during lockdown where they promoted self care activities.  

“There was a team focus on it, especially from senior management and myself,  just driving it forwards and working out what more we could and should be doing,” says Bushby. “We had a very open communication with the team, asking for feedback through surveys and one to one questions to establish what more they felt we could be doing to support them and we constantly looked to develop that.”

All of these positive enhancements and changes within the company have been beneficial for the business too, with 2021 being the lowest year for staff turnover amid skills shortages and fears of the Great Resignation elsewhere. 

Bushby says: “It benefits us in lots of ways, for one, ensuring all of our people are looked after and feeling cared for definitely helps with staff retention and staff morale and it helps if people are enjoying what they’re doing, if they feel in a good frame of mind then they’re also more productive.”

“Everything that we’re doing to look after our staff benefits our people massively internally, but also the awareness of what we do and how we look after people definitely helps attract the right people and it also helps with client attraction, as well as potential new business opportunities.”





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