The best a firm can get

It is within a company's best interests to ensure staff flock to and then stay with it, not least because this can boost financial performance. Darren Robinson explains how to become an employer of choice

Every year, The Sunday Times publishes its 100 Best Companies To Work For list. Badenoch and Clark discussed the results of this list with a cross-section of the winners to find out whether this meant they were an 'employer of choice'. The responses were diverse enough to look at the subject in more detail.

On 13 July, a seminar was hosted to explore how organisations could strive to become an employer of choice. Sue Smith, HR director at Hiscox - which, in 11th place, was the highest ranking financial services organisation in The Sunday Times' list this year - and Judith Leary-Joyce, author of Becoming an Employer of Choice, provided valuable insight on how companies can become great places to work. HR professionals from across the City attended to learn from the guest speakers and to use this opportunity as a forum to relay their own experiences.

Whether or not a company is a great place to work has an impact on every audience, community and individual it touches. It is generally accepted that people would rather work for, do business with, receive a service from, or deliver a service to a company where employees are motivated, rewarded, guided and stimulated.

What became apparent from the speakers, and the roundtable discussions that followed, was that key underlying principles can contribute towards an organisation being a great place to work. Starting from the top, the need for a clearly communicated vision was identified. Delegates agreed this enhances the sense of belonging and community - after all, everyone is working towards the same goal. Internal magazines, roadshows and question-and-answer sessions with senior managers were identified as great ways of delivering information on the corporate vision and getting across key messages to employees.

Employee retention

Recent market research on employee retention and motivation supports this view, revealing that organisations failing to offer opportunities for career progression risk losing staff. Encouraging personal development is key and research results confirm that 98% of respondents rate training and development as important.

This view was also conveyed at the seminar. A commitment to training is indicative of the type of investment - both financial and time - that companies need to put into their employees to become an employer of choice.

It was also clear that 'clever' use of language plays a useful role. For example, to combat the negativity associated with stress management, one organisation has a course named 'managing the pace'. Another example came from a senior manager of an insurance firm that hosts 'fiasco seminars', where things that have not gone right are discussed and evaluated. This creates an environment where employees are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

Delegates agreed that the celebration and rewarding of success, innovation and dedication is vital within any organisation. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of employees would not describe pay as the defining factor when deciding whether to join or leave an organisation. What people do crave, however, is a fair deal and the underlying understanding that they are getting what they deserve for the job they do, delivered by management that has a genuine interest in them.

Confidence in great leaders and managers who live and breathe company values is integral to an organisation's culture. In a great organisation, employees are inspired by their superiors and experience excellent management. Not only this, but having access to these people can have a significant impact on well-being and the subsequent motivation of employees.

Increasingly, organisations are working hard to ensure that employees at all levels interact with senior management. For example, a City-based insurance company hosts lunches for new starters with senior directors. With a view on innovation, these new starters have to deliver one organisational weakness to discuss at the lunch. This provides an opportunity to meet the people who direct the company, and also ensures employees feel their feedback is welcome and their contribution important.

With the increased onus placed on work-life balance, seminar delegates felt a great company offers an environment, and facilities, that enable employees to perform their role in the best possible way. Providing flexible work hours, break-out areas, a dry-cleaning service or a subsidised creche are all examples of how a workplace experience can be enhanced.

Investing in people

Ultimately, the themes running throughout the seminar reiterated the idea that companies that invest in their employees gain in service and commitment. The emphasis from both speakers was to keep processes and procedures simple and to align them with human nature. Factors such as a recruitment process with a focus on 'attitude' and 'company fit' enhance this, as do the benefits a company will reap if they are geared towards growing the potential within.

And the figures speak for themselves - being an employer of choice significantly improves a company's financial performance. Recent research revealed that such companies outperformed their FTSE counterparts by 10 to 15%.

- Darren Robinson is head of HR and insurance recruitment at Badenoch and Clark, which ranked 17th in the Sunday Times list this year.

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