What makes a Top Employer?

What makes a top employer? As WM People prepares to announce its Top Employer Award winners later today, we look at some of the key areas under consideration.

Headshots of employees


Today is the 12th annual Top Employer Awards, now hosted by our umbrella group WM People. Over the 12 years that we have held the awards the categories have changed a little and last year’s reflected Covid developments. This year’s awards see the return of some categories such as Best for Returners and retain the renewed Covid-related focus on mental health. Over the years our judges have also changed, although many are seasoned hands. This year we welcome two new judges, Patrick Thomson, Policy Institute Director at the Shaw Trust, and Bukola Adisa, Founder/CEO of Career Masterclass.

So what do we look for in a top employer and why does being a top employer matter? At a time of staffing shortages and a renewed focus on recruitment and retention, it makes sense for employers who want to recruit and keep the best staff to take stock of the issues that matter to them and how they can best address these.

Our awards share best practices on those that matter to working parents and to older workers. They reflect the full gamut of family-friendly working and diversity and inclusion policies from what works for microbusinesses to what the leading corporates are doing.

The issues that have cropped up continually over the past years include:

  • The importance of leadership – not just for buy-in when it comes to policies, but for role modeling those policies. That may also mean representation on employee network groups and talking about family-related issues that they face in order that employees understand that these are taken seriously.
  • Training – Top employers recognise the need to support line managers around the implementation of family-friendly and flexible policies through training and ongoing support, such as toolkits or access to advice. They also recognise the need to upskill their workforce and provide positive pathways out of entry-level jobs.
  • Engagement – During Covid, good employers sought to canvas staff opinion regularly as a way of checking in with people, but also including them in decisions on how to move forward as restrictions eased. In addition to surveys, many have now set up employee network groups which feedback to HR and senior managers about what the big issues are at the grassroots. These can lead to innovative approaches to fast-changing circumstances. The top employers not only encourage the establishment of such groups but actively engage with their proposals.
  • Communications – Never has communications been more important than in a world where the workforce is more dispersed. It is vital that employers ensure that people know about policies and guidance and that they see it working, for instance, through case studies or blogs on the intranet. Internal platforms also allow employees, wherever they are, to contribute their experiences and suggestions for what works.
  • Inclusion – Top employers recognise that inclusion is about culture and not just about policies written on paper. It is not enough to say you are inclusive if you do not interrogate your practices on the ground to see how these might act as barriers to recruitment, progression, and retention of certain groups of workers. That means monitoring the impact of policies, tracking that impact, and responding to any challenges. Inclusion links to flexibility in that flexibility is a key way of ensuring the workplace is open to all and that all employees can fulfill their potential. Flexibility is not limited to remote or hybrid working and involves a panoply of different approaches that enable employees to have a greater choice over how, where, and when they work. Inclusion also extends to the way jobs are advertised, outreach to under-represented groups, ways of addressing unconscious bias in recruitment processes, returner programs, and much more.
  • Personalisation – The pandemic has shown us clearly that a one size fits all approach doesn’t work because every employee faces different circumstances. Top employers recognise this and have evolved a flexible culture that enables everyone to thrive.
  • Specific family-friendly policies – these include policies that give parents more choice over who takes leave, such as equal parental leave policies, policies that embrace different types of family situations, address challenges in becoming a family such as miscarriage and reproductive health policies and policies that address the major pinch points in people’s working lives, such as parenthood, menopause, midlife changes and later life. Top employers are open about these policies and promote them to employees and externally to drive positive change more generally.

*WM People will be sharing what this year’s winners have done through its Best Practice Report, to be published in the Spring.

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