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Europe’s best workplaces: Where to work and why

In May 2010, Great Place to Work, published its 10th anniversary edition of the best workplaces in Europe. In the past decade, The Best Workplaces Programme has recognised over 4,000 businesses in Europe, across 17 markets, measuring workplace climates and assessing what factors create great employment cultures.

Tom O’Byrne, ceo of the UK Great Place to Work Institute, says: “A key element of our mission is to create role model workplaces.” He says what makes the leading businesses winners, is what they do on a daily basis to earn and sustain the trust and respect of their people.

Unemployment seems to be on a downward trend and, with the slight return of economic confidence, companies have to face the pre-recessionary challenge of retaining staff. Those firms that went out of their way to look after their staff, who maintained, rather than eroded trust, appear on the Best Workplace latest lists.

Linda Bellis is HR director at law firm, Wragge & Co, one of two companies that has achieved a place in the rankings 10 consecutive times and has earned an inaugural place in the Hall of Fame, alongside Admiral Group. Wragge employs over 1,000 staff, but was forced to make 97 people redundant during the downturn, 42 through compulsory lay-offs.

Bellis says: “People still feel wounded, however well you deal with it. We had never made redundancies before, so it was a massive culture shock.” The firm went to great lengths to ensure there was not a communication vacuum into which morale-damaging gossip, rumour and intrigue could rush.

She says: “People do not want it dressed up or spun. We have intelligent and highly skilled people here, and they just want to be treated as adults.” Teams were asked to come up with their own solutions, which led to 86 staff members moving to more flexible working patterns, which Bellis says, “was a nightmare from the HR point of view, but it did make people feel they were more in control of their destinies.”

Wragge & Co has just opened a new office in Paris and things have begun to pick up, with Bellis hoping that the company’s hard work in maintaining morale and trust during the tough times should put it in a stronger position for the future and help with recruitment and retention.

Europe is trying to recover from one of the worst recessions since the 1930s and the Institute reports that the European Best Workplaces bucked the general trend, with an average 15% revenue growth, year-on-year, and a 2.2% increase in staff. Productivity grew, on average, an astounding 12.9%. Many, like Wragge, had to resort to sabbaticals and flexible working arrangements to keep their talent pool.

In many cases, companies had to make redundancies in order to stay afloat and the Institute recorded a 3% average drop in employees’ perception of their workplace experience, partly due to general anxiety about the economic outlook and partly concern about additional work generated by lay-offs.

The report says the recession marked a paradigm shift from a shareholder to a stakeholder society, where the successful companies of tomorrow will be those that help society to deal with major societal challenges and listen to and engage with their most important stakeholder – their employees.

All you need is trust (again)

The 2009 survey concluded that the overriding factor for a successful employer, was trust and 2010’s results confirm that trust, (along with credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie) is the hallmark of successful workplaces.

The recession has been punctuated by a loss of trust; trust in once respected financial institutions, trust in politicians and trust in once respected global brands. Trust is in short supply, but it still remains the key requirement for a great workplace environment.

MD of The Great Place to Work, Williams Johnson, says: “Trust underpins and affects the quality of every relationship, communication, project and effort. Organisations that maintain and improve levels of trust experience improved business performance.”

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School, says: “If there is trust, employees feel valued and have autonomy and control, which are the most motivating factors. They will feel engaged and will perform at their optimum, vital for surviving the recession.”

Leaders encourage debate and listen rather than impose their will. They support differences of opinion and high-trust leaders encourage the exchange of knowledge throughout their business.

Microsoft, named (as in 2009) Top Large Workplace, encourages its staff to take part in focus groups and its MSPoll is a survey that asks staff what they think and is followed up with real change.

Trust should be reciprocal and vital in an increasingly digital and flexible workplace. The 1990s’ command and control management style is no longer effective. Now employees need to be trusted to work anywhere at any time, but still deliver results; so leaders need to learn how to extend trust, as well as building trust in themselves.

10 Best Large Workplaces in Europe 2010 10 Best SME-sized Workplaces
Company Name Sector Company Name Sector
1 Microsoft IT &Samhoud Management Consulting
2 ATP Finance Middelfart Sparekasse Finance
3 SMA Solar Technology Electronics Reaktor IT Consulting
4 3M Manufacturing Roche Pharmaceuticals Biotechnology
5 IRMA Retail noventum consulting IT Consulting
6 Coca-Cola Manufacturing 4flow Management Consulting
7 SAS Institute IT Froes Herreds Sparekasse Finance
8 Accenture IT Consulting Consol Software IT
9 domino-world Healthcare Creativ Company Retail
10 Pepsico Manufacturing Autisme Center Healthcare

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