The Virginia-based financial services company (it has smaller teams in Colorado, London, Australia, Canada, Singapore, and beyond) has been growing its team of loyal “Fools” for over 20 years. And over those two decades, The Motley Fool’s founders and ingenious HR team have come up with several unique initiatives well-crafted to keep its employees happy, productive, and most of all, engaged.
We spoke with The Motley Fool’s Alison Southwick about just a few of the company’s employee engagement programs – from forced vacations to doling out gold to coworkers – to learn how they started, how they work, and the impact they have made.
Workopolis: Each employee makes their own core value when they start at The Motley Fool. What exactly does that mean?
AS: We had a committee get together to come up with our company’s core values. They came up with collaborative, innovative, fun, honest, and competitive. And they were having a hard time coming up with a final core value, and at some point, someone just said, “Well, what about motley?”
So, the idea behind motley is that one thing that every individual brings to The Motley Fool. It’s the idea that we’re all bringing something special to the company.
It’s a great conversation starter – you can ask people about their motley, and that can start a larger conversation. And they don’t always have to be so serious – one employee really loves Chipotle, and so when he started, his motley was “Chipotle burrito.”
Your Fool’s Gold program lets employees earn “gold” that can be redeemed for private DJ classes, trips to New York, and more. How does it work?
The People Team noticed in our engagement survey results that we were scoring pretty low on recognition, and there was criticism that too much of the ability to give recognition and bonuses was in the hands of people that were more higher-up.
And so a member of our People Team then found [online employee recognition platform] YouEarnedIt. Through YouEarnedIt, everyone is allotted a certain amount of “gold” and you can then give that gold to your coworkers along with a message about why you’re giving it – to say thanks, to say you did a great job.
And they then collect that gold and redeem it for gift cards, and experiences, things like that. You can make donations to charities, deposit money into your brokerage account, or redeem services from other Fools. I once used my gold to sign my husband up for a drum lesson.
After we instituted YouEarnedIt, the survey scores jumped 20 points. It ended up being quite successful and people really liked it.
The Fool in Need program offers financial support to struggling employees. Can you tell me how it started?
This started more than 15 years ago. An employee had lost his husband, and he was at risk of losing his house. And so a bunch of Fools got together and said “Can’t we chip in for a few mortgage payments?” And they did.
And then they thought maybe this is something that we could make ongoing. How the program works is that those who choose to participate will have a couple dollars taken off their paycheque, and then it goes into the fund. Then, a committee of three people dole out the money as needed. Generally, they don’t ask a lot of questions about why you are a Fool in Need.
Tell me about your unlimited vacation policy.
We have never tracked vacation time – and the company was founded in 1993, so I haven’t found a company that has offered unlimited vacation longer than we have. We’re going on 25 years here.
We’re not big on rules and policies here at The Motley Fool in general. So while of course there’s a larger conversation to be had about having trust in your employees, and the importance of taking time off, it’s one of those things that probably started because we didn’t want to deal with the boring details of tracking people’s time off.
Speaking of vacation, the Fool’s Errand randomly selects one employee each month two go on an impromptu two-week vacation where they completely unplug from their job. How did this unique initiative start?
The Fool’s Errand was an idea that our co-founder David Gardner came up with. Basically, we do a monthly all-hands huddle, where we talk about how the company is doing, celebrate what’s going on, or talk about tough issues. And so David thought it would be fun if, at the huddle, an employee’s name is drawn from a hat and they had to take two weeks off immediately. Like they literally had to run out of the room.
People talked him down from that a little bit, and they said how about instead of the person running out of the room immediately, they have to take two weeks off in the next four weeks. And the Fool’s Errand was born– every employee’s name is in a hat once for every year that you’ve been at The Motley Fool. We draw a person’s name and they take two weeks off in the next four weeks. You must completely unplug, and you get $1,500 to spend on your Fool’s Errand.
You must take the Fool’s Errand. Our CEO has taken it, David Gardner, our co-founder, has taken it, no one gets let off the hook. We’ve been doing it for at least 10 years. It’s an institution.
How does the Fool’s Errand impact the team?
What’s interesting is that David just thought of it as a fun idea, but it actually has a lot of benefits. One being that it helps us identify single points of failure.
It’s also a great way to remind people to take time off. Every time they announce the Fool’s Errand, they’ll say that if you were sitting there hoping you wouldn’t win because you’ve got so much work – you should probably take a few weeks off. Or, if you’re sitting there and you’re bummed you didn’t win it – go take a couple weeks off. You can. We don’t track your vacation time. Go.