It’s a fact that successful brands and companies need buy-in from employees. If your staff – one of a company’s most powerful brand assets – don’t believe in what you’re doing, who will? It’s not just up to the marketing department; every employee in every department has a role to play. Spier wine farm and the Spier Hotel in Stellenbosch are renowned for sustainable practices, in business and on the farm, not least due to the role its staff have played over the years.
The importance of motivated and engaged employees is crucial for the success of every business. There is a wide array of employee engagement strategies available that are proven to reduce staff turnover, improve a business’s productivity, efficiency and sustainability.
I believe that an engaged and purposeful workforce forms a stronger connection with a company, creating a positive impact for the individual, their community and the business.
Our focus has been on nurturing a working environment that encourages employees to be agents of change. Recognising that each employee is a brand ambassador for Spier, our Love the Land programme connects employees to broader social and environmental issues, helping them understand the role we each play in society, connecting them to it in a positive and meaningful way. These half-day courses include modules on river and alien clearing and indigenous plant propagation. It also explores food sources and the recycling and conservation of water.
The It’s Sorted programme aims to change Spier’s staff members and suppliers’ perceptions about the “value” of waste and unlocks individual agency for change. Participants are introduced to the broader waste challenges globally, then to very specific regional challenges in Stellenbosch. They also explore their own personal waste challenges at home. The participants visit various areas on the farm – working with the on-site sorting team and visiting the composting site (where the farm’s organic waste becomes compost).
A visit to the Tree-preneurs nursery at Spier where indigenous seedlings are grown in re-used items such as used plastic milk cartons and drinks bottles introduces them to the opportunity “value” that can be created by the waste sent to this nursery. At the end of the programme the group reviews key learnings and commits to specific actions to reduce waste sent to landfills.
We recognise that each employee is unique, which is why we want to support the development of employees beyond the normal scope of employment.
Improved employee wellness and the development of the ‘whole person’ is not just about doing good: it’s actually key to boosting productivity, efficiency and performance.
Spier’s most recent employee engagement surveys indicated that 93% of its team are motivated and 98% are proud to work at Spier.
One interesting initiative to retaining an engaged workforce was the introduction of an Individual Learning Spend (ILS) for each employee’s personal and career development. Implemented in 2010, this unique initiative allocates training funds to employees to be used towards developing intellectual, emotional, physical or spiritual skills and knowledge.
We have challenged our employees to be creative in looking for opportunities to support their skills, health and wellness beyond the normal requirements of the operation.
The Tree-preneurs Project Leader at the farm, Lesley Joemat, works hard to save fuel and electricity as she actively recycles and conserves the environment. She felt motivated to use her individual learning spend to buy a bicycle. “I felt it was important for my health and fitness to use the bike when collecting seeds for our nursery on the farm. Reducing my own carbon footprint, mixing exercise, the outdoors and work was perfect for me.”
Maintenance assistant Ben May says: “I feel privileged that the independent learning spend meant I could complete a welding course and then buy welding equipment to support my learning. I now use my tools and training on home improvements and my work benefits from my improved skills.
Another initiative aimed at achieving an engaged workforce is a Living Wage Survey that Spier conducts annually with a pool of entry-level staff, to better understand their financial and social challenges. It helps to guide us in supporting their socio-economic empowerment. In addition to company-required skills training, we support individuals through management and leadership development programmes embracing transformative learning that enables employees to bring more of themselves to work, lives and communities.
By using the Lobster Ink hospitality training system and other learning initiatives we empower staff with skills and personal growth that extend well beyond required competencies.
To play its part in helping tackle the rampant levels of youth unemployment in South Africa, Spier began partnering with Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator in 2014. The non-profit business initiative connects unemployed youth with sustainable employment opportunities and empowers them with budgeting, timekeeping and other workplace skills.
In many businesses, entry-level position turnover is extremely high. When Spier started working with Harambee, turnover for entry-level positions was 72%. In 2014, 17 Harambee candidates joined Spier, followed by another 24 in 2015. To date 50% of these candidates have been retained, with many others going on to study and further develop themselves, having found a new “lease on life” and optimism once they’d started working with Spier.
Spier has also long been a participating employer in the Pinotage Youth Development Academy, which focuses on youth development and employment in the wine industry. The year-long programme incorporates industry-relevant vocational skills – from viticulture to wine sales. There is also a personal development component and the students earn an industry-endorsed qualification with practical skills making the students work-ready. The programme offers the students practical work experience throughout the business on the farm, cellar and hospitality; on average four students are hosted per module.
How to enrich your own staff:
- Reward healthy habits – such as through subsidising gym or yoga memberships for employees,
- Run regular surveys with your staff to assess work satisfaction, socio-economic challenges, and find out ways in which things could be done differently,
- Conduct workshops exploring environmental and social challenges such as the Western Cape’s current drought, exploring with your staff the ways in which they can make a difference,
- Are you hiring? Partner with Harambee to find promising entry-level candidates and make a contribution to the youth unemployment challenge.
Over the last 15 years, its socially responsible approach has resulted in a number of awards and accreditations. The Spier Hotel was one of the first in the country to be awarded Fair Trade in Tourism accreditation in 2003. Following its 2013 audit, Spier received a 10-year certification award, an Excellence in the Workplace award and an Excellence in Environmental Stewardship award to name but a few.
We feel it is important to learn and grow from external verifications and audits as these accreditations provide us with regular opportunities to evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts towards nurturing a positive, ethical and empowering workplace.
Heidi Newton-King is Spier’s Director of Sustainability and Human Resources.