Norfolk Business Awards: East Anglian Air Ambulance named Employer of the Year

People, helicopter, award

The East Anglian Air Ambulance won the Employer of the Year - Credit: EAAA/J Mauger

The high-flying health charity won the Norfolk Business Awards’ Employer of the Year title, sponsored by Pure and Birketts 

Award logos

The Employer of the Year award is sponsored by Birketts and Pure - Credit: Archant

The East Anglian Air Ambulance has only entered the Norfolk Business Awards twice. In 2019 it was named Large Business of the Year and in 2020 it won the Employer of the Year award, sponsored by Birketts and Pure.  

“One of the managers said that, of all the awards, this is the one they wanted to win so they could tell their friends they worked for the best employer in Norfolk,” says Sarah Atkins, the charity’s head of HR. 

“There are two benefits to entering the awards,” says CEO Patrick Peel. “First and most important for us is that it gives our staff a great sense of pride that they work for an organisation that is recognised as being good at what it does. 

“It also spreads awareness of the organisation further and wider, which is particularly important for a charity as we rely absolutely on our reputation to encourage people to support us.” 

It can sometimes be hard to see the impact awards have on fundraising as it’s an ongoing, long-term challenge. "In 10 years’ time we might see a legacy from someone who’d thought ‘the East Anglian Air Ambulance – great employer and they looked after my daughter’. So we could see the effects of this award in years to come,” says Patrick.  

Smiling lady beside an ambulance

Sarah Atkins, head of HR at the East Anglian Air Ambulance - Credit: EAAA

So what are the secrets of being an award-winning employer? “The key is having a good understanding of your staff,” says Sarah. "We were really lucky that we came into this year with pretty much the perfect team – we've got everyone in the right place, doing the right things." 

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“You don’t win Employer of the Year in a year,” cautions Patrick. “You don’t go from being useless to being a great employer in a single year. When I started as CEO in 2014 we had high staff turnover and some quite unhappy people. One of my first good moves was hiring Sarah and I said to her, 'you and I are going to make this a place that people want to work’.

"It’s taken a long time to gradually ramp up the capability of the organisation and the way it looks after and develops its staff. We’ve seen the culmination of that in the past two or three years until we’ve felt we’re in a position to justify entering Employer of the Year. 

Smiling man in helicopter

East Anglian Air Ambulance CEO Patrick Peel (right) with his co-pilot - Credit: EAAA

“I would add that right from our day one, we’ve given everyone a very simple guide to what this charity is about and how their role fits into it,” he says. “The mission of this organisation is to do the very best for every single patient and we make it very clear to everyone. We help people understand how their role, whatever it is, plays into that. That leads to a sense of pride and then you can develop the staff.”  

The Covid crisis has naturally made looking after staff more difficult – so how did the East Anglian Air Ambulance adapt? “We’ve massively increased our internal comms,” says Sarah. As well as more messaging, including Patrick posting pics from his dog walks to encourage staff to take time away from the screen, the charity has launched a podcast and even its own version of Desert Island Discs.  

“The move to working from home has forced us to cross the divide to improve even further the work-life balance,” says Patrick. “It has transformed the way we will run the working day going forward because now we will expect people to spend up to half the working week working from home.” 

“The staff say they feel closer to one another now and appreciate one another much more,” says Sarah. "Which I don’t think we would have expected at the start of this journey.” 

To support the East Anglian Air Ambulance – which welcomes donations of your time as well as money – see www.eaaa.org.uk 

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