Building a Great Place to Work: Aura's People-Centric Culture

Rachel McLoughlin

Being a Great workplace isn't just about end-profits or surface-level benefits. While these can be nice to have, time and time again, organisations who prioritise their people and foster a sense of pride and trust at work come out on top. For many organisations, this does not happen overnight. It takes some work to get there, but the end result means a happy and healthy workplace where employees can thrive. Irish-owned Aura Holohan Group adopted this outlook early on in the process of their Great Place to Work journey, and haven't looked back since.

Established in 1982, Aura Holohan Group employs 370 staff across 15 leisure centres and gyms nationwide and is one of Ireland’s Best Workplaces™️ 2023, having first made the list in 2017.  Aura have undergone many changes over the years, a notable one being their Great Place to Work Trust Index score rising from 38% in 2013 to an impressive 82% in 2022. Through their approach of continuous learning and employee engagement, they managed to underpin the essential people-centric culture which they are now so passionate about, and in doing so, have created a Certified Great Workplace for staff.

But how did they make a start on making such a drastic culture change for the organisation?


Find out what other organisations joined Aura as a Best Workplace in Ireland in our exclusive report below 👇

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Keeping employees engaged

It goes without saying that one of the most important areas to focus on when creating a Great workplace is making sure your employees are constantly engaged. Engaged employees are more motivated, focused, and productive. They are much more likely to stay with an organisation for a long time as they feel a sense of loyalty towards the company and also tend to find their work more meaningful and fulfilling, contributing to their overall job satisfaction and well-being.

Creating a culture of engaged employees means listening to their needs. Aura did this by carving out an employee engagement structure, based on their core values and focusing on key pillars like recognition, communication and involvement, teamwork and wellbeing. 

An example of this aim at boosting engagement and team morale is the "confidence tree" implemented by Aura Youghal, where staff were encouraged to write positive messages for their colleagues and leave them stuck to the tree in the staff room. This concept aims to give individuals the freedom to be positive to their colleagues in an
anonymous fashion and promote positivity in the workplace.


Making staff aware of benefits

In many organisations, especially those with majority hourly employees, staff can feel unengaged and unmotivated as they just clock in and out of work each day without feeling any real sense of purpose or belonging. In these cases, making staff aware of the benefits your organisation offers can go a long way for them in feeling that the work they do is actually appreciated by their leadership team.

At Aura Dundalk, after seeing staff were not fully informed of the benefits available to them, they focused on increasing awareness of these to staff e.g., Aura's EAP service, Friends and Family Benefit, Refer a Friend Benefit, encouraging staff to utilise the facilities available in the centre, as well as the Health and Wellness support readily available. In addition, staff members got priority booking over waiting lists for their children's activities and bookings such as swim lessons. In making these benefits readily available, staff feel they are actually appreciated beyond just at a surface level.



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Creating opportunities for learning and development

Learning and development opportunities being made available for staff is another key to a Great workplace. When this is made available, employees feel that their growth and advancement are valued by the organisation, fostering a sense of loyalty and engagement, as employees feel invested in their personal development, as well as professional. Employees are also much more likely to stay with an organisation that invests in their development. 

Aura's culture aims to empower everyone in the business. They have achieved this through their focus on their Aspire programme and by continuing to support and encourage their people to grow and develop in the business. As part of the Aspire programme, staff development is a top priority; after all, Aura themselves say that their success is based largely on the contribution, commitment and achievements of their people. It is for this reason that they support their people in the performance of their designated roles and help them to fulfil their potential during their employment by learning new skills and progressing their careers.


Recognising employees' great achievements

When employees receive recognition for their hard work and achievements, it can help to boost their morale and overall job satisfaction. Feeling appreciated and valued by their superiors and peers leads to increased motivation and enthusiasm at work - also key to a Great workplace!

Aura take pride in hosting their annual GEM Awards, where they acknowledge and thank employees who have gone the extra mile in creating a Great workplace, not just for staff but for the local community and customers as well. As they acknowledge, these awards recognise the significant impact Aura employees can have on each other, supporting each other and building strong relationships in the workplace that make it feel more like a family than a job. A record seven hundred and fourteen nominations were made in the last year, showcasing the true family feel Aura employees have and the pride they have in the work they do.

As well as the GEM Awards, Aura also started the "Nominate to Celebrate" programme, acknowledging the extra mile Aura employees go for their customers. Through this programme, management makes an effort to acknowledge and celebrate when a customer takes the time to give feedback about staff members who provide exceptional service. 


Narcisa Popovici, HR Director at Aura reflected on the commitment the organisation has each day to keeping their people at the core of the business; "As a company, we believe in creating a great employee experience for our staff throughout every stage of the employee lifecycle - from attracting the right people who are a good fit for our company, to the learning and development opportunities, it all contributes to the delivery of an exceptional customer experience. We are really proud of our people who help us maintain the highest standards of customer care and safety at each of our facilities and the lengths they go to meaningfully contribute, engage and participate in their local communities.”


Learn more about Aura's Great Place to Work journey here 👇


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