Acacia Training, Retaining a family culture through employee wellbeing


Acacia Training is a family business founded by CEO Victoria Sylvester and her mother 21 years ago. The company delivers Apprenticeships and work-based training for the health and wellbeing sectors, including health and social care, dental nursing, early years and young people’s workforce, sport, beauty, and Mental Health First Aid.

Acacia Training’s wellbeing vision is to have a workforce who are happy, healthy and resilient, to ensure optimal performance of the team and the wellbeing of learners.

The wellbeing mission is to be a fun and enjoyable place to work, inspiring employees to take ownership for their own physical, mental, and financial health and wellbeing. Leaders support their people to be empowered to make healthy choices that positively impact their work and home lives and to be resilient when faced with challenges.

Pandemic Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic was an exceptionally busy time for Acacia Training and many of their clients working in the health and social care sector. It bought increased wellbeing challenges for the Acacia work family, as the company grew and responded to the needs of its care sector learners and employers during an exceptionally demanding time.

At the height of the pandemic, Acacia provided intensive induction training enabling more than 1,000 new health and social care workers to take front line roles in an urgent drive to meet staff shortages. They have trained and upskilled thousands more existing carers.

Acacia’s staff were also focused on supporting learners who were already working in care homes and health and social care settings. This included introducing new virtual ways of learning, providing emotional support, and giving free mental health first aid training.

Yet like so many others experiencing the lockdowns and restrictions, members of the Acacia work family were also experiencing challenges in their own lives. Many were parents combining work with home schooling, caring for relatives, or coping with bereavement and loss.

They were also adapting fast to new ways of working, increased workload, new technology, and working within their home rather than the office.

Prior to 2020, the company’s wellbeing approach included a staff choir, work out classes, fresh fruit deliveries, flexible working, being a disability confident leader, and having silver ‘Healthworks’ accreditation for staff wellbeing.

The key challenge was to adapt and extend that in a virtual working model, and to maintain their family culture and values during a period of fast growth. (From 80 people in Sept 2020, to 160 in Sept 2022).


The CEO and Senior Management Team are champions for the wellbeing strategy. Their compassionate leadership style ensures that quarterly performance management is focused on behaviours and consistent wellbeing. Employee Wellbeing was approached in two phases:

Responsive Phase – April 2020 to June 2021

The company ensured staff’s wellbeing by:

  • Weekly wellbeing check ins – phone calls from the HR manager to every staff member
  • Ensuring that each member of staff verbally spoke to their line manager in person daily
  • Enhanced internal communication – weekly virtual all staff meetings with the CEO where staff submitted questions anonymously, and honest answers were given, and team and individual achievements were celebrated.
  • Highly engaged slack channel with lots of staff suggestions and highlighting colleague achievements
  • Positive Intelligence coaching for 40 managers and team leaders
  • Virtual social events, including “takeaway night” (where staff were given a voucher to order takeaway and eat together in a virtual social), quiz nights, virtual work outs and choir meetings
  • Appointing an external employee wellbeing expert to lead the development of a wellbeing roadmap
  • Paying for new equipment to ensure staff had comfortable home working set-ups
  • 26 fully trained Mental Health First Aiders
  • Invested £250,000 in an office refurb for colleagues to return to post-lockdown, informed by Insights Discovery work completed with The Colour Works. The new office has 4 differently designed and coloured work and social areas so that staff can choose which environment best supports their preferred way of working on any given day.

Pro-active Phase – June 2021 to July 2022

A June 2021 staff wellbeing survey highlighted the following strengths, whilst also identifying that staff needed support with financial wellbeing – pay and recognition, and support with personal finances.

The company’s in-house Wellbeing Lead worked with an external wellbeing consultant to form a diverse group of 12 wellbeing champions. These covered 7 dimensions of wellbeing – financial wellbeing, employee benefits, physical wellbeing, mental health, social wellbeing, and equality, diversity, and inclusion.

Together, this group has driven all wellbeing initiatives and check with colleagues that they meet employee needs. Acacia’s senior leaders are clear that this work on wellbeing is NOT a tick box exercise – wellbeing solutions are to be delivered together rather than imposed.

Wellbeing solutions have included:

  • All staff given 5 days extra paid holiday each year, plus their birthday; 3% cost of living increase plus an extra £30 per month towards rising fuel costs
  • All staff can join an LLP profit share after 6 months’ probation. In 2021 LLP members received profit share equivalent to one month’s salary each.
  • £7.8k investment in BIPPIT – app providing a financial mentor and money tracking
  • £4.5k investment in staff benefits via money saving app SODEXO – cash back scheme and discounted travel, gym and shopping
  • Roll out of Positive Intelligence coaching to all staff
  • Achieved ‘Investors in Diversity’ accreditation from the National Centre for Diversity
  • Appointed new Head of People and Culture, who recently joined the business


The strategic benefit has been the retention, wellbeing and high performance of a dedicated team, the external accreditations underpinning the employer brand to assist with recruiting and retaining the best talent, and the progression of the existing team into more senior roles, helping to retain a positive, engaged, diverse culture.

Staff retention, satisfaction and progression:

  • Staff retention is at 92% (October 2022)
  • Vacancies are filled by internal candidates (versus external candidates) at a rate of 3:1
  • The majority of company board members joined Acacia in junior or even Apprentice positions, and have progressed through the company
  • The company created ‘Board Apprentice’ positions which has bought important diversity of thought to the it runs the business. Last year they hosted two BAME Board Apprentices through a partnership with the Black and Urban Representation Network (BURN) and this year they will recruit a Board Apprentice from the disabled community.
  • 5 out of 5* rating on glassdoor, from 27 staff reviews

Staff survey (June 21) found:

  • 91% of staff say that Acacia puts in effort in promoting mental and physical health among its employees
  • 90% hope to work for Acacia for a long time
  • 88% would recommend Acacia as a good place to work (13 points above benchmark)
  • 82% agree that people at Acacia look after and care for one another (7 points above benchmark)
  • 82% feel that Acacia has a family/team feeling about it (7 points above benchmark)
  • 88% say management is trusting of their abilities to do a good job without looking over our shoulders
  • 88% feel that senior leaders fully embody the organisation’s best characteristics (13 points above benchmark)


91% of staff feel that neither ethnicity nor race is a factor in how fairly people are treated in the workplace. 93% feel that sexual orientation is not a factor and 94% feel that their gender is not a factor.

December 2021 staff survey results on Fairness, Respect, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement (FREDIE):

  • 94% felt the organisation encouraged them to consider F.R.E.D.I.E in daily routine
  • 96% think that their colleagues are accepting of people from diverse backgrounds
  • 92% feel that senior managers are accepting of people from diverse backgrounds
  • 91% feel they have an equal opportunity to succeed in the organisation
  • 98% of respondents feel there is fairness in recruitment
  • 94% feel there is fairness in access to training
  • 86% feel there is fairness in promotion, 89% in recognition, 89% in reward, and 90% in remuneration (this was a huge increase on June 21 survey results)

External Stakeholder Recognition

  • Finalist in the CIPD People Management Awards – Employee Experience category
  • Winner – Federation of Small Businesses Wellbeing Strategy 2022
  • Winner – Employer of the Year – Staffordshire & Stoke on Trent Chamber of Commerce 2022
  • Winner – Transformational Leader (Business Desk WM Leadership Awards 2022)
  • Finalist – This Can Happen Mental Health Awards
  • Achieved ‘Investors in Diversity’ accreditation from the National Centre for Diversity (January 2022)
  • Best Workforce Development – Great British Care Awards Winner 2022
  • Lifetime Achievement Award Winner – National Care Awards 2022
  • Outstanding Contribution to Care – Great British Care Awards Winner – Victoria Sylvester 2021
  • Apprenticeship Provider of the Year (AAC Apprenticeship Awards 2021)
  • Disability Confident Leader (since 2017)
  • Armed Forces Covenant – Silver Accreditation
  • Healthworks Stoke on Trent accreditation for employee wellbeing – Silver

See other Wellbeing approaches here