Maura Jackson, CEO of Bolton Young Persons Housing Scheme talks to reward about how to keep staff happy, engaged and rewarded - even in a charity.

Maura Jackson2

Despite being in the business of supporting people and good causes, the Third Sector continues to battle misconceptions that charity work is voluntary and therefore ‘free’. In a high stress industry where payment for difficult work is often in kind, one charity has gone above and beyond other organisations to ensure its workers remain happy, engaged and rewarded.

It takes a certain kind of individual to work within charity. Passionate and purpose-driven, often such people relinquish more lucrative career opportunities within the private sector to pursue a vocation that ‘gives something back’. Maura Jackson, CEO of Bolton Young Persons Housing Scheme speaks to Reward. She says: “I would say that 99% of the people who work here are motivated by the young people and the fact that they want to help young people make progress and move on. Most of the staff that work here to give back, nobody comes here for the money so we’ve got to create options that motivate them.”

Bolton Young Persons Housing Scheme (BYPHS) benefits package includes a wide range: from the ‘basic’ to the more innovative. They have a transparent pay ingrained structure and although BYPHS are not the highest payers, they are by no means the lowest. Jackson adds: “Alongside that, our contracts include flexible working, good levels of annual leave, fitness policies, and all those factors that underpin the work that we’re doing. We also offer induction and two weeks training so anybody that starts gets the two week induction.” But it doesn’t stop there. BYPHS also offer individual training if staff want to do a specific training like leadership and management to help with their own personal development.

The charity are keen on verbally thanking their staff and also have awards called GEM (Going the Extra Mile) which allow staff to anonymously nominate someone to win an M&S voucher. Jackson also explains that within the organisation, they have “business card style slips, with six boxes on the back that read: thank you, great job, well done, good work, keep smiling, and you’re a star. Staff can tick the one that reflects what they want to say, and on the inside it says ‘to’ and ‘from’ and ‘#justsaying’. It’s just a nice thing because often you’ll come back and see one on your computer from your colleague or manager.”

Other benefits include staff being treated twice a year to 30 minutes of holistic therapies including reflexology, Indian head massage and back massage, to melt away the stresses of the job. Paid month-long sabbaticals are given to staff that have served a minimum of 10 years at the charity. Team lunches and two annual staff away-days provide a good outlet for all workers to come together, discuss and brainstorm ideas that may help the charity and work processes flow better; an annual anonymous staff survey is conducted and evaluated externally to identify problem areas and to refine best practice, and the charity has ensured that staff are remunerated competitively against industry standards. And to complement the offering, BYPHS have enlisted Perkbox, which gives employees access to over a hundred practical, recreational and salary-sacrifice perks including free spa days, special price cinema tickets and discounts on groceries and travel throughout the year.

Despite the emotionally difficult challenges that charity workers face in their day-to-day lives – from providing support to vulnerable individuals from traumatic backgrounds to embarking on dangerous and demanding fieldwork – investment in employee health, wellbeing and engagement can often be seen as an unaffordable, non-critical ‘nice-to-have’ rather than a necessary measure to ensure that valuable staff feel fulfilled in what they do and are retained.

Jackson says that there are clear challenges present in justifying the purpose and cost of investing in employee well-being and engagement within the Third Sector.

“We’re subject to charity conditions and legislations and we’re funded through grants and charity income so we’ve got additional constraints that you wouldn’t have in the private sector. Yet there are certain things we can do as an organisations and where we can spend money – so we have to make sure the basics are covered and that people are happy to come to work. Then for the extras, you have to be creative so I have to do external fundraising to make sure I can pay for things like staff lunches as I can’t use grant money for that.”

She continued to explain that there is a clear link between improved investment in staff and better outcomes for the young people they are supporting. “The job our support workers and homeless mentors do on a daily basis is hard and emotionally trying. Some of the young adults we look after come from very difficult backgrounds. And although our staff are trained to remain stoic and objective, it is quite difficult to not become emotionally invested in those who rely on our support. To a certain degree, that it why they are in this job in the first place – because they are passionate and care about making a difference.”

Jackson adds: “In an organisation like ours, because we are in the support sector – our only asset in this organisation is the staff because they deliver the service and if we don’t invest, reward and recognise staff, we haven’t got anything. We rely on every individual to ensure that the experience the young person has is absolutely first class as much as possible.”

BYPHS was recently awarded an Investor In People Gold award, formally recognising them as a leader in people management practice globally - and it’s not hard to see why their employee engagement processes exemplify best practice.