We wanted to pull back the curtain on the inner workings of our company culture and share some of the things that make EF, well, EF.
Here are a few hallmarks of EF life that help make our experiential education company a great place to work.
From EF staff to EF customers and our global community, driving human connections is our reason for being. Everything we do helps people build bridges across borders and cultures, spark mutual understanding and create new opportunities. And the impact starts with EF employees.
We hire smart, engaged, motivated people we’d like to have as friends, not just co-workers. There’s a tour consultant who broke the record for the fastest unsupported completion of the Appalachian Trail, a vice president adeptly balancing life as a business leader and a mother of three (soon to be four!), and a senior director who helped create and grow the most comprehensive, big-data analysis of English proficiency in the world — and that’s just three people out of 52,000.
But our collective staff resume only tells part of the story. Summing up the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that’s so characteristic of EFers is tricky without interacting with EF people in person. As EF employees, we’re in a relentless pursuit of personal and professional growth — and we like supporting each other along the way. We’re a tight-knit bunch and relationships — whether internal or external — are central to EF.
Get to know some staff members by reading their stories.
Our mission is opening the world through education and it fuels the EF goals of building real-world skills, unity and mutual understanding by bringing people together across borders and cultures.
We’re committed to fulfilling this mission, and all of EF’s programs and initiatives directly support it. There’s the Hult Prize, English language training for volunteers at the Olympics, the EF EPI, the EF SET, the EF Global Classroom Foundation (our philanthropic arm) and a partnership with Stockholm’s Nobel Museum which drives the development of new teaching materials given away for free to educators around the world.
That’s just the tip of the EF iceberg. There’s also the work we do together every day across 17 divisions: bringing people together to learn a language, build cultural understanding, exchange ideas, earn a degree and experience new things in new places.
You can’t help but be inspired by that.
Entrepreneurial spirit, quality, passion, nothing is impossible, attention to detail, innovation, cost-conscious: these are EF’s core values and they’ve helped us stay small even as we’ve grown. They’re so ingrained in what we do and how we act that it felt right to capture them in writing. It’s all detailed in the EF culture book, known as the Very Blue Book. But this isn’t your average culture book. In fact, Fast Company reviewed it a few years ago and called it “an employee manual you’ll actually want to read.”
EF employees do read the Very Blue Book (every employee gets a personal copy) and use it as a north star during their time at EF, starting with the “Core Values & Cocktails” mixers the recruiting and employee development team hosts for all new Boston staff.
A commitment to local and global communities
Day-to-day work at EF is inherently community-focused but we dedicate time and resources to causes and organizations we believe in — whether it’s in one of over 200 countries EF has a presence in or a global initiative we collectively feel will have impact.
In Boston, EF employees take on volunteer opportunities through a staff-formed group called EF Cares. They package and prepare meals for families in need with organizations like East End House and Community Cooks, host an annual holiday giving drive that benefits places like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Boston, Cradles to Crayons and the Greater Boston Food Bank, and team up with the Charles River Conservancy to help clean the Charles River.
EF has a longstanding partnership with Community Boating, Inc., that has resulted in the growth of the non-profit’s Universal Access Program – a first-of-its-kind initiative that provides dedicated support for people with physical or cognitive challenges who want to learn how to sail independently. This solid financial footing also helped Community Boating secure a significant grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to purchase two new sailboats, a move that enabled an expansion of the Universal Access Program and the ability to work with injured veterans.
Since 2012, EF has run an annual event called the EF Glocal Challenge in partnership with the City of Cambridge and Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School. Students from Cambridge Rindge & Latin engage in a STEM-focused design thinking challenge where they draw up solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. EF sends the two winning teams to the EF Global Leadership Summit where they explore global challenges in destinations like Iceland, China, Italy, Costa Rica and Switzerland with keynote speakers like Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Sir Ken Robinson, Nick Kristoff, and Dr. Steven Chu.
EF has also played a small and ongoing role in the revitalization of the North Point neighborhood in Cambridge. In 2015, not long after our second North American headquarters building opened in North Point, the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development honored EF with its Gold Economic Development Award for the Boston region.
Earlier this year, we sponsored EF Hub on Wheels, Mayor Walsh’s annual citywide bike ride, where 4,000 cyclists set out to complete 10- or 40-mile loops past the city’s most iconic landmarks to raise money for pediatric cancer research at Boston Children’s Hospital. We painted the town EF pink and sent more than 53 EF staff members to ride in the event as part of the Children’s Hope Riders program.
Beyond Boston, EF is the official language training services provider for pretty much every Olympic Games held in a non-English speaking country dating back to the Seoul Olympics in 1988. A contingent of EF team members represents the company at each Olympic Games. EF volunteers teach English to people who touch the games — from food vendors to judges — both leading up to and at the event all for free.
Staff development opportunities
Everything we hope to support our customers in developing — real-world skills, increased confidence, knowing more about the world and our place in it — mirrors the professional development opportunities available to staff.
The professional path of an EF staff member is rarely linear. Employees are encouraged and empowered to build relationships with fellow EFers and influence their own career trajectories.
We’re well supported as we walk that path together. Weekly breakfast, lunch and post-work “mingles” hosted by senior leaders, monthly professional development seminars, and a rigorous management-track trainee program for recent college graduates are all part of the EF fabric. The robust new-employee onboarding program features a series of orientation sessions that bring new starters together across divisions, disciplines and generations. EF also offers bi-annual new manager trainings and an immersive global manager development program.
Beyond on-the-ground initiatives, North American team members have the opportunity to travel internationally at least once a year to visit one of EF’s international offices, engage with customers in schools or on our tours, or attend one of the major international events the company is involved in.
Each year, more than 2,000 EF team members also relocate to new positions in different offices around the world. Being flexible and able to operate across cultures is central to EF (and to building a wider understanding of the world) and we actively relocate employees for relevant roles with this in mind. It’s truly a global professional experience.
Benefits and perks
As EF team members we have the same opportunities as the customers we serve: to explore the world and come together with people from diverse backgrounds, whether that means learning a new language, earning an academic degree or immersing ourselves in a new culture. EF’s perks are a direct extension of and complement to our mission, aimed at bringing people together and breaking down barriers.
Some highlights for Boston-based employees are: free international language classes, staff discounts on all EF travel and language learning products, private Global Entry appointments, an on-site restaurant and bar, an on-site hair salon, three weeks of vacation right off the bat (which jumps to four weeks in the second year) intended to help staff explore the world, and exciting staff events (in Boston alone, think “EF’s Got Talent” at the House of Blues or a full-sized American Ninja Warrior course at the Lawn on D).
Dentists, optometrists and flu shot clinicians make visits to the office periodically during the year so staff can easily keep up with routine health care.
More health and wellness amenities are on the horizon, too, as part of our new building project in Cambridge’s North Point, including a full-service gym for staff and the wider East Cambridge community as well as several acres of new public parkland with fields and tennis courts.
The EF backstory is never far from our minds. We know EF’s beginnings continue to fuel any success we have today.
EF started in 1965 after our founder, Bertil Hult, had a challenging time learning English in school. He went on to work as an intern for a ship broker, where he earned a work exchange trip to London and learned English through immersion after only a few months. A few years later, in his university dormitory in Lund, Sweden, Bertil founded EF. The $700 he invested in the company is the same money still driving our growth today. Bertil had the realization that if traditional classroom learning doesn’t work, perhaps immersive learning through travel could open up new pathways.
We’re proud of how we got our start and the EF story continues to underscore everything we do.
Our founder’s personal experience as an entrepreneur drives a strong entrepreneurial spirit across EF.
Team members are encouraged to come up with big ideas, lobby for support across the organization and then receive funding to bring the idea to life. Some of the most meaningful initiatives at EF, like the Hult Prize, EF Global Leadership Summits and the EF English Proficiency Index were started by a single person. More recent programming additions like EF Gap Year and EF Tours for Girl Scouts also emerged as a result of strong entrepreneurial ways. And for the 50th anniversary of EF, in a true display of just how limitless that entrepreneurial spirit is, one of our staff members even found a way to fly the EF flag on the International Space Station.
A love of all things playful
EFers love Halloween (REALLY love it) and have a costume contest every year. A slew of clubs also dial up the playful factor including a sailing club and a running club. Earlier this year, the EF Employee Experience team put on a “Backyard Run” in the suburbs of Boston — a 12-hour overnight multi-team staff race through the woods. EF has also been known to set up a full-blown “American Ninja Warrior”-inspired course at Lawn on D in South Boston for a summer party a few years ago. (Because who doesn’t need a little “warped wall” in their life?)
Even team members who aren’t active participants in a specific event have plenty of opportunities to show off their “play hard” side by volunteering or cheering from the sidelines.
Oh, and there’s a Disco Lunch every month. You come, you dance (to a different playlist each week curated by staff members) and then you get a free lunch. ‘Nough said.
A clean-desk policy. A tendency to fly halfway around the world to meet in person rather than having a call. An unwavering dedication to natural light in work spaces. The fact that “EF” doesn’t actually stand for Education First but rather the Swedish term for “European Holiday School” (Europeiska Ferieskolan). A love of Fika (afternoon tea in Sweden). These are just some of EF’s signature quirks.
We were also inspired to step in and become the title and majority partner of a professional cycling team — EF Education First Pro Cycling — after learning about the #SaveArgyle campaign and seeing an incredible outpouring of support from fans around the world. It was a move that aligned perfectly with the EF mission as cycling unites people of diverse backgrounds to achieve extraordinary athletic feats in a peaceful, fun and friendly way.
EF is definitely quirky, but we like it that way!