Sesame Lane is a family-owned group of early education services that has been proudly supporting families for over 30 years. The company maintains a network of 14 childcare centres and a large population of frontline employees.
We spoke to Kerri Smith, Head of Sesame Lane, to discuss the company’s journey with Reward Gateway and the key challenges the platform is helping to solve, specifically around employee engagement and retention.
RG: With so much talk around the Great Resignation and the battle for talent, hiring and retaining great people has become a big ongoing issue facing many industries. How has this played out for Sesame Lane in recent years?
Kerri: That’s actually the main thing that led us to get in touch with Reward Gateway. The childcare and early education sectors are thriving at the moment, and there’s more competition than ever when it comes to hanging onto our best people.
We had to think creatively and put something in place that would encourage staff to choose us over other options. That meant asking our existing employees exactly what they wanted and acting on it.
As Head of Sesame Lane, what was it that first led you to invest in a digital reward and recognition platform?
We’ve always had great, creative ideas when forming engagement initiatives; the problem was that so much was done manually. That made it hard to roll out programmes, deliver quick recognitions, achieve consistent messaging and engage all of our staff with our full range of benefits. Even birthdays used to be far more challenging, because everything was done physically.
When I first looked at digital platforms, my initial way of thinking was based around cost and budget per employee. I thought we just needed the ability to offer staff spot prizes for their great work, something like £50 vouchers or similar. Having reviewed different systems and meeting with Reward Gateway, I realised there’s so much more to it.
There are so many things that our staff now love, from the eCards to the automated ‘Years of Service’ rewards. The Wellbeing Centre has been a huge success, too.
While we like having the option of customising everything ourselves, the ready-to-go content and functionalities curated by Reward Gateway are fantastic. It’s been such a good saving on our internal time and resources.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the difference the eCard system has made to your recognition strategy and culture as a whole?
Honestly, it has blown us away. The peer-to-peer recognitions we’re now seeing have been far more than I expected. As a group of 14 centres, it’s typically been tough to connect managers and staff, and shine a light on the great work being done in different locations. Since launching, our employees have sent more than 2,800 eCards, far exceeding my expectations!
Now that we have a central platform, the recognitions aren’t just quick and easy – they’re also seen by the entire company. That usually creates a chain reaction where people from other centres chime in and thank them for their work. I’ve been so impressed by that.
Our managers love it, too, because they have the ability to give out awards to staff as and when they see fit, whether that’s to our operations team, frontline staff or other line managers. I know personally when you receive a card that says ‘Thanks for all you do,’ it touches your heart.
How have you been able to manage your reward and recognition budget?
This surprised me, actually. Before setting out on the journey with the platform, I earmarked a pot of reward money for each of our centres. Even though we’ve earmarked that value, we actually aren’t spending it at anywhere near the rate I thought we would (even though our redemption rate is above 60%!). It’s a pleasant surprise, because it shows how high our engagement has been on the peer-to-peer recognition side of things. People are finding it so valuable to get a personalised pat on the back. It’s true: it’s the thought that counts the most.
Of course there’s the initial investment in the platform itself, but the capabilities it provides are well worth it if you’ve got a long-term strategy in mind. We also have additional ROI from the discounts and cashback benefits programme, saving our employees nearly £9,000 since launch, which has been really popular.
Six months in, it looks like you have nearly 95% registration and nearly 70% actively using the platform, many of whom are deskless staff, which is quite impressive! What’s been the secret to such great engagement?
It’s true most of our employees are working with kids and focussed on care. Even so, I’ve found that people want to be better connected and feel like they’re part of a community. When more employees started signing up to the platform, it had a snowball effect, with more and more staff talking about the functionalities and sharing their thoughts with others.
The interactions on the platform feel genuine, and I think it’s enhanced the ‘personal touch’ rather than taking away from it.
The system does much more than just rewards, so staff also use it if they need to check something with payroll, or search for new internal vacancies as and when they come up. The Reward Gateway Reward Marketplace has been a big draw for employees too, especially when they realise the sheer range of different services and retailers where they can save some money.
The impact of having everything in one place is huge and makes such a difference from when we had to do it all by hand. From the owners right through to our frontline staff, everybody loves it!