Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The top 10 places to work

Britain's best employers have been revealed - but what separates a great place to work from the rest?

The best companies to work for in the UK have been revealed this month in the 10th annual survey from the Great Place to Work Institute . The scheme ranks the UK's major employers by gauging the strength of the relationships between staff and management.

It also looks at how employees feel about their jobs and the companies they work for. Here are the top 10 this year:

1. Baringa Partners

2. Danone

3. Impact International

4. Microsoft

5. Novo Nordisk

6. NetApp UK

7. Diageo GB

8. General Mills UK

9. Danone Waters UK & Ireland

10. Admiral Group

As you can see, management consultancy Baringa Partners topped this year's poll. Elsewhere in the top 10 are household names like last year's winner Danone, Microsoft, drinks giant Diageo and insurer Admiral.

The scheme's chief executive Tom O'Byrne suggests the best firms understand that “progressive people management and generous benefits” are only part of creating a strong workplace culture and cites “trust” as the key element that makes a great place to work.

This “trust” is established through good communication and benefits that go way beyond a bonus and free mobile phone. So if you're looking for a top place to work, what benefits should you look out for?

The pension dilemma

Britain's major employers are struggling to deliver their pension obligations as the economy continues to stumble out of recession. Britain's 100 leading employers collectively face a £66bn shortfall in their pension scheme investments - and as a result gold-plated “defined benefit” pension schemes that pay a full salary on retirement are rapidly disappearing.

The new Government has yet to make any major moves on pension reform - which means job-hunters should look carefully at a company's pension scheme. Most firms now offer new employees a “defined contribution” pension which pays out a variable sum on retirement depending on how much has been saved.

Many employers link their contribution levels to employee length of service - which means, as a new employee, it's key to find a firm that automatically matches whatever sum their staff put into the scheme. Staff at all firms can obtain income tax relief on their pension contributions (although this will soon be restricted for higher earners) - so make sure you claim this too.

You can also boost your retirement income through investing into a self-invested personal pension (Sipp) - find out more about Sipps with this free guide.

Health and fitness benefits

Progressive employers all take great stock by providing healthcare plans and nurturing the well-being of their staff - and no wonder. Sickness absence in the firms comprising the survey's list of the 50 top UK employers was 30% lower than the national average - saving those organisations £20,760 per 100 employees per year.

In our first ever Frugal Fitness video, Verity Payne finds out how expensive it is to take up rock climbing and the potential benefits of doing so

So what form do these initiatives take? One common benefit is free private medical healthcare - yet be aware that this is considered by HMRC as a taxable benefit. In real terms, the taxable benefit value of private health cover deducted at payroll is £500 for individuals, around £1,000 for individuals and their partners and £1,250 for full family cover.

Whether you want to pay to obtain the obvious benefits of private health cover is up to you - but there are other tax-neutral schemes to promote health and well-being that are well worth hunting down. Many firms offer free gym membership which can be worth as much as £75-a-month, while on-site treatments such as massage, acupuncture and medical check-ups are also increasingly common. Free eye tests are another perk to look out for.

Another great programme is the Government's cycle to work scheme , which offers workers the chance to buy a bike through their payroll at a reduced cost. Tax relief is applied to the contributions and VAT is waived - typically helping participants save as much as 40% or 50% after a year on the retail price of a new bike. Ask if your firm is taking part.

Work / Life balance

New mums returning to work perhaps have the hardest time of all workforce members - so it's key to find an enlightened employer. One benefit that may soon disappear is the childcare voucher scheme - these are offered to working parents through tax-efficient payroll deduction but could, along with the Child Trust Fund, soon be revised under the new Government.

Elsewhere, many employers run childcare facilities such as onsite nurseries and emergency childcare schemes that can help parents find nurseries or medical help at short notice. Flexible working practices are also becoming increasingly common - a recent poll of 741 multinational employers found that 21% have instituted flexible working schemes such as “work from home” days in the past year.

Financial perks

Stringent new income tax laws could see employers move away from bonuses in future - which means it's worth looking out for employee share schemes. And these aren't just for senior executives - the UK Sharesave scheme allows workers to buy shares tax-free through payroll contributions. At the end of the investment term, workers can either buy shares or receive their investment back plus interest.

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