What makes a top employer?

Construction Teams looking at papers on a table


Workingmums.co.uk is launching its first Best Practice report, celebrating best practice in flexible working and diversity.

What makes a top employer and why does being a top employer matter? At a time when the Recruitment and Employment Confederation talks about there being a “war for talent”, 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.

Workingmums.co.uk’s annual Top Employer Awards, which take place this year on November 5th,  were set up to highlight and share good practice in family friendly working.

They reflect the full gamut of family friendly working from what works for microbusinesses to what the leading corporates are doing. While there is much talk of the business benefits of flexible working, Workingmums.co.uk felt that many employers needed support and advice on how to get the most from it.

For that reason Workingmums.co.uk has decided to publish a best practice report highlighting what it is that led our judges to decide to make their Awards.

The judging process has highlighted several themes:

The importance of leadership – many of the top employers not only had senior executive level involvement, for instance, in parenting network groups, but also had Chief Executives who talked about family issues, including their own, in messages to staff to show that they took those issues seriously.

Senior managers were also important in pushing the flexible working agenda, whether they were HR executives who went beyond the call of duty to come up with new initiatives and to argue the business case at board level or senior executives who set up or took a leading role in, for instance, women’s networking groups.

Training – top employers recognised the need to support managers around the implementation of flexible working. They tended to place a big emphasis on staff training on issues like diversity and inclusion and trained managers in how to implement flexible working in a sustainable, rather than an ad hoc, fashion as well as promoting the business benefits of such ways of working.

This was backed up with case studies and support on the company intranet.

Adopting flexible working as a work culture rather than just agreeing applications on an ad hoc basis – the top employers had all looked carefully at their ways of working in order to get the best out of flexible or agile working, as the Workingmums.co.uk Overall Top Employer for 2012 Unilever called it.

They had looked at how to reduce office space by making flexible working the norm, turning their main offices into hubs where people held meetings and brainstormed ideas rather than places where they worked every day.

This was supported by IT which enabled homeworking, including cloud-based solutions, conference call facilities and the provision of smart phones and laptops.

Allowing all employees to request flexible working – in advance of the Government legislation which allows this, top employers were already offering flexible working to all staff, depending on the type of job they did and were in particular pioneering new attempts to reach groups who might benefit from flexible working, such as grandparents or carers, whether those be live-in carers or employees who had a caring responsibility for a close relative but maybe did not view themselves as carers.

Involving people from the grassroots up – while demonstrable leadership buy-in was important, it was felt that hierarchical models were not the best way to get the message about flexible working across and to encourage further innovation.

The top companies had multi-layered structures which allowed for different levels of engagement throughout the organisation.

Staff were encouraged to use new technology to contribute content and ideas, such as blogs, and staff surveys were detailed and followed up on in a structured way which meant employees felt their opinions and ideas were listened to and acted upon.

Networks – many top employers had active networking groups, whether parents or women’s networks, which held events that allowed people to network with internal managers and external speakers, promoting mentoring, providing parenting classes or other useful advice and support.

Some employers opened up their women’s network to men, feeling that including men in the network was essential for encouraging greater communication about the issues faced and the way different genders might approach things.

Externally promoting flexible working – top employers spread the message about how flexible working worked for them both internally to staff and externally through entering awards, through PR, through local newspaper columns and speaking at conferences.

Workingmums.co.uk will be sharing similar best practice information following this year’s Awards. As Gillian Nissim, founder of Workingmums.co.uk says: “It is wonderful to see that employers are still forging forward with innovative policy and practice despite the tough economic times, and that they completely grasp the business benefits of doing so. We hope the Awards will inspire other employers to follow their lead.”

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