With the Mayflower Theatre recently listed by the Sunday Times as one of the best organisations to work for, Robin Hancox explains the recent workforce initiatives that helped secure the listing.

Photo of people standing in theatre stalls

Mayflower Theatre in Southampton was 52nd in the Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to work for 2018, an award that measures and celebrates staff engagement - and was the only theatre listed.

The survey attracted just under 800 entries and the lists are widely acknowledged as the most extensive research into employee engagement carried out in this country. Staff at the theatre were asked questions over eight areas: my manager, leadership, my company, personal growth, my team, giving something back, fair deal and wellbeing. Of those employees surveyed, 90% agreed that they felt proud to work for the organisation and 79% were happy with the pay and benefits they receive.

We moved box office, stage door keepers and front-of-house staff from casual contracts to annualised hours contracts

There are four areas that we believe helped the theatre secure a place on the list.

Following the Fish! philosophy

The work that went into creating an engaged and motivated workforce was a team effort led by Chief Executive Michael Ockwell. Three years ago we adopted the values expressed in the FISH! philosophy – choose your attitude, be present, make their day and play.

In our industry our staff have varied working patterns and they may not see each other on a day-to-day basis. For example, a member of front of house starts their day at 5pm as the finance team are heading home.

This makes communication between departments and opportunities for all teams to mix and meet up extremely important. FISH events were introduced and held quarterly - a time for coffee, chatting and playing games with colleagues and building departmental relationships. The FISH days were also set up as no email days, to encourage staff to speak to their colleagues in person, spend time away from the desk and get active.

Healthy staff

Getting active tied in with our wellbeing initiative called ‘Mayflower Active’. It was launched in January 2016 when we brought together all our employee benefits under one umbrella. We worked strategically to identify the objectives and impact of each activity and now have an active staff choir, netball team, weekly yoga sessions and a running club.

We also run healthy interdepartmental competitions, including a pedometer challenge for the highest number of steps in a week.

Purpose and understanding

Often in our roles we do not connect with what is actually happening on the stage, so last year we worked with a local dance company, ZoieLogic, to create bespoke contemporary dance pieces within the workspace and help everyone understand the complexities of designing a piece of work from scratch.

We were observed and then spent two days creating and rehearsing prior to a live performance lasting about 20 minutes. The dancers worked in different areas of the theatre and created four pieces, some of which were based on the behaviours of members of staff they had observed in the departments. It gave a fascinating - and hilariously funny - insight, particularly for the office staff. Feedback from staff indicated they had a better understanding of the creative process.

Security for staff

In a move to be ahead of the game, with staff feeling secure in their roles, we moved box office, stage door keepers and front-of-house staff from casual contracts to annualised hours contracts. On casual contracts they had had no guarantee of hours, so now we believe they feel more secure in their employment with the theatre, particularly as this year we will be closed for 15 weeks while we undertake major refurbishment of our auditorium.

Pride and impact

The pride felt throughout the company for getting a place on the list was palpable after the announcement was made. Michael Ockwell summed up the feeling: “Mayflower Theatre staff are dedicated to offering the best possible customer service and work hard to offer all our partners and supporters inspiring experiences. We believe in supporting them and ensuring their own experience is fulfilling, and it is clear that a happy team can have such a positive impact on a business.”

Robin Hancox is Press and Marketing Manager at Mayflower Theatre.
Tw @hancoxr

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