Staff are relying on bosses to make the right decisions for tougher times, says Senay Boztas of The Sunday Times, at least this was the feedback that came out of the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies surveys for 2009, of which Jenrick Recruitment was officially ranked the 6th best SME to work for in the UK. Turbulent times have often brought forth great leaders — and based on the findings of this year’s Sunday Times 100 Best Small Companies to Work For survey, it appears the current global economic crisis is no different. The biggest annual gains in employee ratings across our survey all relate to company leadership and the pivotal role played by middle managers. The unique and comprehensive Best Companies survey is a barometer of workplace opinion, based this year on the responses of 34,295 employees across 565 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) entering the contest, up from 513 companies last year. The 66 statements put to employees to score from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” on a seven-point scale are designed to examine the key components of a happy, engaged and successful workplace. All 100 companies making this list can be said to be delivering on this front in spades, whatever the external pressures. Although people are worried about the economic climate, they have faith in their firms to lead them through it. Working for a small company remains the place to be. In every question across all eight workplace factors, SMEs score better than their mid-sized and large counterparts. And Christians Against Poverty, the Bradford-based debt counselling charity, remains the top small company to work for overall, the third year running that our SME list has been headed by a charity.
The eight workplace factors by which companies are judged are: — Leadership: how employees feel about the head of the company and senior managers. — My Manager: people’s feelings towards their immediate boss and their day-to-day managers. — My Team: people’s feelings about their immediate colleagues. — My Company: feelings about the company people work for as opposed to the people they work with. — Wellbeing: how staff feel about stress, pressure and the balance between their home and work life. — Fair Deal: how happy the workforce is with pay and benefits. — Personal Growth: whether staff feel challenged by their job, their skills are being used, and if there is scope for advancement. — Giving Something Back: how much companies are thought by their staff to put back into society, and into environmental protection.
Overall, the positive scores for the Leadership factor, which take account of all shades of opinion on our seven-point scale, have risen by 1.1% from 81.2% last year. This puts SMEs now fully 9% ahead of the top 100 mid-sized companies, the biggest gap across all eight factors when comparing small and mid-sized company performance. Results for individual questions on Leadership and My Manager (also up 1% this year to 79.9% positive overall) are even more striking. All of the top eight biggest rises in positive scores fall into these two factors, with the most improved score for having confidence in the leadership skills of senior management — the mean positive score rising by 2.2% to 85.3%. Having a great deal of faith in the person leading the organisation (up 1.7% to 85.7%), confidence in the leadership skills of immediate managers (up 1.6% to 82.5%) and managers sharing important knowledge and information (up 1.4% to 80.6%) also show significant gains.
“Although people are more worried about the future and job security has gone down a little, company engagement hasn’t really changed,” says Dr Pete Bradon, head of research at Best Companies Ltd, which compiles the list. “They aren’t blaming their company, even if perhaps they are blaming Gordon Brown. People recognise this is a global thing.”
The pattern of sharp improvement in positive scores for individual questions is markedly different in small companies compared with their bigger counterparts, where gains in the Giving Something Back factor, rather than Leadership, is the trend.
“Among small companies, we see a real improvement in the things which relate to surviving well in a difficult economic climate: strength of leadership, management and values,” says Bradon.
Strong positive feelings towards companies have been cemented in the past year, with the My Company factor score retaining its position as the highest scoring among SME employees (up 1.1% from 82.5% in 2008 to 83.6% this year). Among the top 10 SMEs only, Giving Something Back scores are up again by 3.4% to 78.9%, building on the 5.3% rise in 2008. Christians Against Poverty comes close to a perfect score, hitting 99.5% for a question within this factor about making a positive difference to the world. It’s not all plain sailing at the top though. The organisation’s overall marks have fallen by 2.7% since its extraordinary debut in 2008, with scores for fair dealing down the most, falling 9.7% from last year. This is a place that isn’t driven by profit, though, and nor are its workers: their sense of Wellbeing rose by 0.3% and they have faith in the firm’s moral approach and leadership. As Simon Wilce, head of debt management, explains: “We’re so passionate about what we’re doing, no one is on a different page to anyone else.” Not all of the questions we ask count towards the top 100 table, and some of these provide a litmus test for the impact of the recent economic turmoil. A question on job security is one such example. It shows people do not feel that their positions are as secure as last year, with mean positive scores falling by 4.2% to 76.7%. However, it is still a relatively high result, and considerably above that reported in big and mid-sized companies. Perhaps because of these difficult times, people are also more inclined to feel they are spending too much time working (a 61.6% positive score, down 2.7%). Yet employees of small businesses remain happy with the balance of their work and home life, the 1.3% rise in the positive score for this question putting it among the year’s 10 biggest risers, with Jenrick Recruitment being ranked 1st for providing the least stressful working environment. Some industries have been particularly exposed to the downturn, and compulsory redundancies have not been uncommon this year. People in marketing, public relations and construction companies have reported difficulties, while those in e-commerce are often still thriving. For others, bad times can result in a greater need for their business. New entry Ellis Whittam (63rd) provides fixed fee advice in employment law, human resources and health and safety. Chief executive Mark Ellis explains that they are hoping to celebrate 50% growth in 2009 with their first keg of cider from the firm’s apple trees. “We are certainly not immune to recession,” he says. “We have seen some clients fall by the wayside.
“On the other hand, we have had to increase staff numbers to cope with the demand for our employment law and HR support services from clients wishing to downsize.”
While some companies’ scores have suffered, others such as Eland Cables, Fairbairn Private Bank, Tate and HLM Architects have made impressive jumps up the league. People in the top 10 SMEs still feel extraordinarily well protected from the downturn: 56.2% of employees in firms who did not make the top 100 are very worried about their company’s future, compared with just 26% of staff in the top 10 small companies. In times of adversity, it pays to find a fantastic employer and the evidence of this year’s survey of the 100 Best Small Companies to Work For suggests employees are well aware they have found one. Just 3.4% of employees in the top 10 SMEs (7.8% across the top 100) would leave tomorrow if offered another job. They clearly place the blame for the present commercial difficulties firmly outside the office door. More information: Sunday Times 100 Best Companies 2009 table - Jenrick profile page Official Best Companies 2009 article on the Jenrick Group website