Treating their staff like grown-ups and making sure they feel valued is at the heart of telephone answering service Moneypenny’s ethos. And it really works. Peter Crush reports

RachelClacher

The charismatic co-founder of Moneypenny – the outsourced telephone answering service that now supports thousands of small and large companies worldwide – has a confession to make. The business that Rachel Clacher co-founded with her brother was launched in 2000 (and in 2015 was ranked by The Times as one of the UK’s Top Five Companies to Work For), but it’s only now, in preparation for talking to Reward, that she’s ever totted up the list of employee perks on offer.

“I’ve never felt the need to write it all down,” she confesses. “People here just understand us. We’re all about showcasing what our 400 staff refer to as ‘the Moneypenny Love’,” she says. “It’s not something I’ve created; it’s been labelled by them. What it shows however, is our founding ethos – which is around ‘getting things right’. When we first launched our mantra was simple – treat clients as you would like to be treated yourself, and the logical extension is that this applies to our staff too.”

According to Clacher, “what was an unconscious belief about human respect has turned into a conscious part of the business”, but she says she’s never thought how to ‘engineer’ engagement – the concept is an anathema to her. “When you’re based on respecting other people, you don’t need to sit down to try and invent things to do, you just do them because you want to,” she says.

Now that she’s produced her list, though, what is on it is enviable. In addition to standard benefits (there are the usual health cash plans and death-in-service insurance), some very personal perks make a big difference: roses are left on every employee’s desk on Valentine’s Day while chocolate treats arrive at Easter.

But staff needn’t worry about piling on the pounds. Desks have integrated fitness bikes so staff can burn calories off while talking on the phone. In their first year, staff cycled more than 13,000 miles. “I’ve just set up a running club,” says Clacher, “because sitting on the phone indoors – even with bike desks – can be quite indoorsy.”

Even before these desks arrived, staff at Moneypenny could take advantage of paid-for entry to a number of sports events. Now Clacher hopes more events will be entered, especially as employees are able to fundraise, safe in the knowledge all monies they raise will be matched, and unusually, with no upper limit either.

Other alternative benefits include what Clacher refers to as allowing for people’s ‘bad hair days’ – days when, for one reason or another, people simply can’t face turning up for work.

Maybe they’ve drunk a bit too much at the pub the night before, or have been kept awake all night by a baby.

That’s fine, she says. Staff get five of these per year – no questions asked. “It breaks my heart that staff still throw ‘sickies’,” she says. “But this is us recognising that sometimes it happens, and that you’ve got five per year, but please don’t do more than this.”

Family feeling

It’s clear people really appreciate the very family-feel benefits Moneypenny offers. An internal survey found staff love working for Moneypenny (85%); and the aspects that score the highest were ‘strong sense of family’ (88%) and allowing people to ‘have fun’ in their teams (91%).

“What you don’t often realise when you see all these aspects as a whole, is the huge galvanising impact it has on people,” says Clacher. “Staff sit in teams, and they’ll work for each other – by taking calls on their behalf if they need to pop out for half an hour. They do this because they respect each other.” She jokes: “The culture is so ingrained, I don’t need to be there overseeing it with an iron fist: in fact I went away on a sabbatical for a whole year in 2010 – and I don’t think anyone actually noticed I’d gone.”

That’s probably not true, but last year staff will certainly have noticed her touch. It was the company’s 15th anniversary, and a series of ‘surprise events’ was devised by Clacher to inspire and motivate her teams even more. Intrigue was the name of the game – regularly changing clues would appear on a TV screen in the staff ‘play room’, and names selected at random would be displayed on it.

What was referred to as ‘blackboard of dreams’ would later reveal the 15 special trips planned – including everything from white-water rafting to spa treatments and bungee jumps. “The whole process was kicked off by us sending letters out to staff, simply saying ‘I love you, and I’m going to show you it 15 times,’” says the boss.

There are creative agencies that would no doubt charge a great deal for what Clacher seems to dream up quite easily. But she says ideas flow because they come from an authentic standpoint. “Lots of people say, ‘why are you spending all this money on staff when you don’t need to?’ My response is always this: we’d much rather spend money on people we know and love than spend money continually recruiting people. And it shows. In our business people don’t leave us.”

Making it fun

Thanks to Moneypenny opening new offices around the world, new reasons for staff to stay keep on coming. Four lucky employees have the opportunity to work in its 2011-opened New Zealand office for six months each year, and there’s a long waiting list.

Even procedural things – like bonuses – have the Moneypenny treatment to make them more appealing. “We like to make bonuses more fun, and more meaningful than simply giving staff money,” she says. “So, last year for instance, we said we’d give staff a bonus as long as people came in dressed as Santa, and brought a gift that we could give to the local Shelter appeal.”

She says: “We couldn’t believe the impact this had. We were inundated with presents – more than 1,000 were donated in total.”

Unsurprisingly perhaps, there are also staff awards at every company meeting (and a party afterwards); while staff who suggest ideas that are used are given £100 plus a picture of them in the reception ‘hall of fame’.

Anyone who doesn’t have a sick day for six months running also receives £100, while staff who have been with the company for ten years get a contribution to help them ‘fulfil a dream’.

The fact that there is also a staff choir really does show that this is a special company. “We’re grown-ups,” says Clacher. “When you treat people like grown-ups it’s a passport to success.”