The secrets to a happy workforce

Happy workforce - generic
By Nicola Sinclair, CA Today

6 January 2016

Recent staff surveys provide useful insights into the mix of factors that can make for a happy – and loyal - workforce.

The modern employment landscape is a complex one. In days gone by salary ruled supreme, but a growing body of evidence suggests that today’s employees look for a much richer blend of career progression, flexible benefits and positive business culture.

With this in mind, is there such a thing as a winning formula for happy employees? Recent research and league tables offer some interesting insights.

While lists of top performing companies are generally dominated by highly innovative tech firms, Glassdoor’s newly-released Employees Choice Awards 2016 features a refreshingly diverse mix of sectors and business cultures. Included in the top 20 are Expedia, Hays, Oxfam, Shell, JPMorgan, London Underground and John Lewis, among many other well known brands.

As the name suggests, these companies are chosen by employees as the best in the UK, so what is it that sets them apart?

Interestingly, salary is barely mentioned, although it’s no doubt a strong contributing factor. Instead, Expedia takes the top spot for its ‘strong, friendly work culture’ and focus on ‘work life balance’ while GE is praised for its strong leadership, flexible working is an attractive perk at Schuh, London Underground is found to protect its employees, Cisco cares for society and Waitrose wins out for its ‘family feel’.

Going places

One of the most interesting trends emerging from this survey is employees’ appreciation of professional development. This featured in almost every top 20 company, including Hays (‘great training’), GE (‘challenging assignments’), ARM Holdings (‘technically challenging’), Google (‘opportunities for everyone’), Yell (‘training is second to none’) and Procter & Gamble (‘dynamic career progression’). Indeed, PwC was the only accountancy firm to feature (placed 21), by virtue of its ‘strong emphasis on development’.

This theme echoes recently published research by financial recruitment company Robert Half, which showed that when it comes to employee retention, career development opportunities are more important than higher salaries. While eighty nine per cent of financial sector executives worried about losing top performers to competitors, sixty eight per cent said they would tackle this challenge by offering better development opportunities for highly rated employees.

Employee benefits

In addition to a working environment that drives top performers forwards, today’s employees expect a mixed package of benefits, ranging from flexible working hours to free food.

Glassdoor’s 2015 Compensation & Benefits Survey demonstrates the range of benefits available at the top UK companies as rated by employees. Facebook came top, with one marketing analyst writing: “Smartest people to work with – great benefits (free food for breakfast, lunch, dinner) – healthy work environment and an amazing working culture.” In second spot was social software firm Jive, which combines ‘excellent salary and benefits’.

One employee of AO in Bolton spoke of ‘a great office environment including a Starbucks and a Spa’ while an employee at marketing agency MediaMath wrote: “MediaMath offers all the cool perks expected within the industry such as free food and drink, cool working environment and social events, but it is more the empowerment you get offered.”

It seems that when it comes to employee perks, the winning formula combines excellent salary with innovative working environment and fun add-ons: all of which leave people feeling valued and empowered.

What about accountancy?

While PwC is one of few accountancy firms to feature in Glassdoor’s league tables, the sector’s growing focus on career progression is a step in the right direction, and confidence in the industry is on a high. In contrast with the Glassdoor Q2 2015 UK Employment Confidence Survey – which revealed that sixty six per cent of employees don’t believe or know if they’ll receive a pay rise in the next year – sixty seven per cent of CAs told The CA magazine Salary Survey they expected to receive a pay rise, and only six per cent answered ‘don’t know’. Meanwhile, sixty four per cent received a pay rise in the past year, with more than one third of CAs receiving a raise that was above inflation.

The survey also asked CAs for their ‘wish list’ in terms of employee benefits, and the top five were:

  1. Pension: defined benefit
  2. Pension: defined contribution
  3. More paid leave
  4. Private healthcare
  5. Health insurance

Breaking through

Looking beyond the Glassdoor surveys, the accountancy profession is beginning to break through in rankings.

Chase de Vere, a company of independent financial advisers based in London, was a new entry onto the Top 100 Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For 2015, ranking number 95 overall but number 79 in the ‘fair deal’ category, which focuses on pay and benefits.

And while they did not feature on the overall Top 100, two of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms – EY and Deloitte – ranked 14th and 22nd respectively on the Top 25 Best Big Companies. An interesting piece on pitted the Big Four against one another based on stats and awards, and claims that EY takes top position for pay, promoting women, employee happiness and good, old-fashioned fun. The article however lambasts all four for working employees too hard and not encouraging a manageable work-life balance.

People power

What can we learn from these rankings? Generally it seems that companies with innovative cultures are also more forward-thinking in how they treat their employees, and this is rewarded by higher levels of engagement. However, employees still value good salaries and bonuses more than free food and concert tickets, so it’s perhaps best to start with the basics and build from there.

Most of all, these league tables are predominantly based on employee feedback, so the golden rule here is to listen to what people want and to value that feedback. It’s likely you will be rewarded in the long run.


  • CA life
  • Business
  • Accountancy

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