Spice up the nine to five

How about Latin lessons in your lunch break, or a long weekend in Brazil?

Not all companies offer you Latin lessons in your lunch break or long weekends in Brazil. Such practices may seem mere gimmicks, but the companies that introduced them say they have inspired creativity and commitment in their workforce.

Nick Oulton, the founder of educational publisher Galore Park and a former Latin teacher, has 12 staff. One day one of his proofreaders mentioned casually that she’d like to learn Latin. Oulton, a passionate advocate of a classical education, agreed to offer her lessons at lunchtime along with anyone else who was interested.

‘Anyone else turned out to be the whole company,’ he relates. ‘I had to cut the team in half to make sure there were still people answering the phones.’

Oulton says the lessons have turned out to be excellent for teambuilding, bringing together people who would not normally talk to each other. He adds that getting their heads around Latin is likely to improve staff’s attention to detail.

Rachel Clacher, joint founder of virtual PA service Moneypenny, has also responded to the requests of her employees, 96 per cent of whom are women. Staff can take five ‘bad hair days’ a year on top of their regular annual leave, which they can book at short notice and use for occasions like funerals, essential shopping trips or children’s sports days. If you don’t need them, you can take extra wages instead. It’s just one measure in a raft of policies designed to promote a culture of flexibility and trust, Clacher states.

Seeking inspiration
Another generous but fruitful initiative is Soak It Up, which design and branding agency Boxer has been running for two years. Business development director Giles Poyner explains that staff are sent on long weekends to destinations in Europe and beyond to gather fresh ideas and build the company’s library of creative photography.

‘Creative staff are under pressure all the time to come up with new and exciting ideas. Soak It Up provides “creative fuel” – it’s like a mental holiday,’ Poyner elucidates.

Clearly, unconventional working practices work best when they’re introduced not for the sake of being wacky, but grow out of the needs and culture of the company.

‘Staff can see through initiatives which are simply about buying their loyalty,’ says Poyner. ‘If you’re going to do something like this you have to put it at the centre of your business.’

Marc Barber

Raven Connelly

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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