There’s more to looking after your staff than just paying their monthly wage. Travel Counsellors’ operations director Karen Morris shares 10 additional benefits that the company offers to ensure happy, healthy homeworkers
We’ve invited a professional pilates teacher into our Travel Counsellors TV (TCTV) studio to conduct a 10-week course of half-hourly sessions. We stream this live, and the sessions are available for Travel Counsellors to watch at their own convenience. Offering pilates was the result of a survey in which we asked Travel Counsellors what activities would be beneficial to counteract a more sedentary lifestyle. The exercises are tailored for their home environment and focus on posture and reducing neck pain and backache.
We offer a private healthcare scheme with Bupa to all our head office staff, and homeworkers can benefit from a reduced rate. The take-up rate is on the low side, but we do try to promote it as an optional extra because it is a great benefit for a self-employed person to have.
We have a dedicated counsellor, and Travel Counsellors can tap into that service – by phone or Skype. Whether they want support because of bereavement, marriage problems, or financial worries perhaps, we can set up a schedule of appointments and review that if they need extra support. We get unbelievable feedback about this service. It helps that the counsellor knows about our ethos and values. When the issue is financially related, if the Travel Counsellor in question agrees, the counsellor might decide it’s worth sharing the information with head office, and we can put a plan in place to support the staff member.
Another hot topic on the survey was depression, anxiety and stress. On the Friday before our annual conference, we will be holding a one-hour workshop with a consultant from mental health charity Mind focusing on specific techniques to improve mental health. There’s been a lot of interest, and if it’s the success we think it will be, we’ll do some follow-up via TCTV and include some literature on the intranet. We want to show we care, but we also want to take some of the stigma away from a taboo subject. People are often too embarrassed to admit they are feeling low and anxious, but it’s actually a sign of strength to admit that you need support.
This is a pot of money that we’ve put aside for good causes. We don’t specify the criteria because every case is different and it depends on the needs of the individual. But a recent case involved helping a Travel Counsellor in South Africa after she had a back operation and she needed a special chair to help her do her job properly. Another one of our Travel Counsellors was featured on the TV programme Rogue Builders. She paid a lot of money and fell foul of not one but two cowboy builders. It was affecting her ability to work because her house was in a state, so we made one of her living areas a nice, habitable space so she could continue to operate her business from home. If a Travel Counsellor faces unexpected costs such as a new boiler or a family car has broken down, we can advance an interest-free loan.
Family days out
For a couple of years now, our in-house events team has organised a summer family day at Alton Towers, tying up with a sponsor to offer tickets at a reduced rate. We set up a marquee and provide lunch. We also offer face painting and goody bags for the kids. It’s a great day out and a chance for families to meet each other.
Keep the kids busy
On the back of that, we’ve also organised activities during half-term holidays. We had a kids’ day sponsored by Club Med, attended by 40 Travel Counsellors and 50 of their children. We took them to the Chill Factore, which is close to our office, where they could go sledging, play games in the snow and meet the characters from Frozen. We also gave some Travel Counsellors’ offspring the chance to star on TCTV. We asked them on camera what it means to have a parent who works as a Travel Counsellor and they gave a lot of secrets away. It was hilarious.
We had some feedback that husbands and wives wanted to be able to do more to support their partner’s business by knowing how to make referrals and promoting their services locally. So we invited partners to head office to learn about the business model. Having the support of partners is so important because working from home doesn’t mean you automatically have time to do the cooking, washing, and ironing. Once they understand how the business works, partners can help with routine admin tasks and motivate spouses to meet their goals. We invite Travel Counsellors to bring their partners to our Gold conference weekend. A small minority might seize the excuse to go off and watch the football together, although the vast majority attend the sessions and they get really involved. You can most definitely tell when a Travel Counsellor has a really motivated partner.
We’ve developed the technology so that a Travel Counsellor can cover a colleague’s business when they’re on holiday, or can provide long-term cover in the event of illness such as cancer or a stroke. They can decide how to split the commission. Often, it happens that Travel Counsellors become friendly at induction and that’s how they become buddies. But it might be that there’s a Gold Travel Counsellor who is really busy and we can identify a less busy homeworker to help them. We can also use the same system for corporate travel. If a Travel Counsellor wins a big account, we can create a team of up to six to service the one account together.
We find Travel Counsellors mentor each other quite naturally and we do encourage them to connect with colleagues locally to offer extra support. We will have the technology to formalise this and we’ll start by asking Gold Travel Counsellors to mentor those who aspire to Gold status. Whether it’s socially in regional get-togethers or virtually on our message board, the level of interaction, care and camaraderie shown between Travel Counsellors blows me away. They develop lasting friendships, and that’s a rare thing to find in a company where the majority of employees are self-employed.