Employee Experience

How Bright Horizons improved employee wellbeing with X- and O-Data

Catherine Thurtle // December 18, 2019 // 5 min read

How do you know when your instincts are wrong? Put simply, you don’t. Not unless you have the data to back it up. That’s why, when Kristin Henderson, Director of Institutional Research at Bright Horizons, saw a problem with uptake of its 401K, she decided to find out why, rather than relying on gut feel.

In the latest in our EX Visionaries series, we spoke with Kristin about this and why Bright Horizons goes one step beyond with employee experience.

Bright Horizons is the largest US provider of employer-sponsored childcare. It also provides back-up childcare and elder care, tuition program management, education advising, and student loan repayment programs.

What’s unique about the Bright Horizons workforce?

“We have a large, highly dispersed global workforce,” says Kristin. “It’s important for us to figure out how to support each type of employee.”

It’s a low-paid industry, but its employees aren’t driven by their paypacket. “When asked what sets Bright Horizons apart from other employers, our employees said: our mission, HEART Principles (how we live our vision), our commitment to employee well-being, and our understanding if employees are struggling outside of work they aren’t able to bring their whole selves to work,” explains Kristin.

Bright Horizons core principles are HEART: Honesty, Excellence, Accountability, Respect and Teamwork

Why is employee experience important at Bright Horizons?

“In order to deliver on our mission, supporting working families and their employers, we need to foster a culture where employees feel supported, valued and fulfilled,” says Kristin. “Human touch is a huge part of our work so having strong culture and work environment is directly connected to our reputation for delivering high quality care, education, and service to the children, families and employers we serve.”

How do you measure employee engagement?

“We have a lot running throughout our employee’s lifecycle with us,” says Kristin. “We have an Annual Employee Experience survey — which includes typical engagement questions, questions about overall wellbeing and satisfaction with internal customer service.

“We also run ad-hoc focus groups to follow-up annual engagement, as well as pulse surveys to probe deeper on areas identified in annual survey.

“Plus we have quarterly surveys for our operations team, and quick polls on employee intranet for feedback on key initiatives.

“And of course, New Hire Surveys, Exit interviews. We’ve also just launched Microsoft Teams, and are about to launch a new employee app and we are currently figuring out how to leverage both for employee feedback.”

How did Bright Horizons use X- and O-Data?

Bright Horizons knew that only 20% of their teachers were using their 401(k) program even though it was considered a valuable retention benefit in the industry. This was the O-Data — the Operational Data, the ‘what’.

But now they needed the X-Data — the ‘why’.

It’s easy to guess why the uptake was so low — maybe they weren’t aware of it? Or maybe it was too hard to sign up? But instead of guessing Bright Horizons tried a radical move, they asked their employees why they weren’t taking part in the program.

“In our overall wellbeing survey, we found that financial wellbeing was identified as an area of concern for our center staff, particularly around managing a budget and paying for everyday expenses,” says Kristin. It was an ‘aha!’ moment for Bright Horizons.

But knowing this and taking action are two separate things. But Bright Horizons knew it was crucial to act on this. After all, there is no point surveying employees if you’re not prepared to action their answers.

What was the response?

Bright Horizons created a financial wellness program that included webinars, online resources, and personal coaching.

“What was great was that we didn’t need to spend a lot of money to do this,” says Kristin. “It really was about looking about what we had, repackaging it, rebranding it, and communicating it to our workforce.

“Ultimately, we wanted to help people feel financially secure,” And it worked. Participants in the financial wellness program scored higher on a wellbeing scale than non-participants. They also showed increased confidence in their ability to create budgets and financial plans. And, as Kristin points out, the same approach works for education programs, dependent care, engagement – HR across the board.


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