While it remains a tough jobs market, other factors have served to compound the problems of recruiting and retaining good people. According to Gareth Lloyd, director of professional recruitment services firm, Amoria Bond, also shortlisted as a best agency to work for, loyalty can be hard to earn for several reasons in the present market. “People don’t want a job for life anymore and these are the first generation of people who are happy to move around. Added to that is globalisation, and people generally have a lot more choice,” Lloyd says, adding: “It’s massively important to be considered a great place to work in this sector with the amount of movement that goes on in the market.”
The body of entries for the Best Recruitment Agency to Work For category underlines just how many firms are going more than the extra mile to keep their employees happy and engaged at work. And there’s also no shortage of creative thought being applied to the challenge with everything from mind, body and soul therapies to a specially tailored mortgage fund to help young professionals save for the deposit on their first property. The inclusion of playground slides could even become de rigueur in recruitment offices over the coming years, with more than one entrant citing them as a potential fixture to make the workplace more fun.
What is clear is that the basic employee offering has to amount to so much more than it did even just a few years ago. Benefit packages that include private healthcare, childcare vouchers, cycle-to-work schemes and subsidised gym membership are widespread alongside an increasing number of flexible working options such as working from home.
Huge emphasis is also placed on environment, with breakout areas often decked out with 3D and flat-screen televisions, pool tables, table tennis, games consoles, table football and giant Jenga. And alongside free fruit, it’s not uncommon to find employers offering free breakfasts and lunch. “People are at work a long time and it needs to be a place where they feel engaged, happy and inspired,” says Kate McCarthy, managing director of Cheshire-based retail recruitment specialist McCarthy Recruitment, another firm shortlisted in this category (and the eventual winner).
Alongside free cereal, milk, bread and fruit, McCarthy offers staff home comforts such as a free Starbucks coffee machine, free tea, a large toaster, two ovens and a large American style fridge freezer, as well as a picnic and barbecue area outside and an onsite gym. “It [the office] is a home from home. When we designed it we sat in a room and asked everyone what they wanted,” she explains.
Respect and trust
Claire Owen, leader of vision and values and founder of marketing recruitment agency, Stopgap Group, agrees that employers should make the time people spend at work as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. “I think employers have a moral and social obligation to give staff more than just a pay packet,” she says.
Stopgap’s wide-ranging benefits package includes an annual sum of £500 for staff to put towards anything that is good for their mind, body or soul (the sum increases by £100 each year up to a maximum of £1,000). But Owen stresses that benefit packages alone aren’t what creating a great place to work is really about. “Our benefits are okay but I don’t think they are probably hugely better than anyone else’s. It is the attitude towards our staff that makes it a great place to work,” she explains.
“We treat people with respect and trust, and that is as valuable to our staff as the £500 mind, body and soul programme or 30 days’ annual holiday. That is where a lot of businesses fall down they say ‘look at all these benefits we offer but we don’t trust you enough to let you work from home’.”
Certainly any package of benefits designed to attract and retain talent needs to have depth and resonance behind it. Way at Marks Sattin suggests that lack of follow through on some of the “gimmicky or faddy” approaches to employee benefits is “prevalent in the industry”.
“So what we have benefited from is just being really honest, transparent and doing what we say we will do,” and he adds that a consistency of approach needs to be maintained whether the economic climate is booming or in decline. “If you are consistently looking after people it gives them comfort and allows them to be positive,” he says. “This is something we’ve been really strong on, whether it was during 2006 or the depths of 2009.”
Training and development
Undoubtedly a large part of looking after employees involves offering career development and training, often one of the first things to be cut during a recession. But it is a major focus for those keen to remain employers of choice. Amoria Bond’s Lloyd cites it as the “key differentiator” and claims his firm spent more than £12k per head on training its sales staff last year. He also points out that the average ratio between its sales staff and the middle office support functions (trainers, coaches and sales support) is 3:1.
“We liken it to a university or top public school with small classes where a lot of impact is made,” says Lloyd, who goes on to explain that the company has a diverse collection of people involved in delivering training programmes that includes external trainers from the US alongside an in-house team and a British sports psychologist who works with the England rugby team and helps with their mindset. “The stand-out benefit [of the training] is getting people from what we call time-to-productive — ie when they start to be productive — and that is improving every year.”
Penta Consulting, which specialises in staffing solutions for the mobile computing and connectivity sectors, has similarly heavily invested in its training programmes and developed its own talent management platform or hub that employees can use to develop their skills and monitor performance. Kristian England-Smith, head of recruitment training and development, points out that when potential employees have been shown the training hub, dubbed the Pentacademy, they have felt “very secure in signing up” to the company.
“All of our company’s experience has been poured into this portal. You take the journey as you learn and then that allows you to enter the market at an accelerated rate rather than have to wait and learn through all of your mistakes,” he says. “In our opinion it is one of the main benefits of joining Penta because there is almost a virtual guarantee of success.”
The shortlisted STR Group based in Portsmouth, which recruits for the technical, health and professional sectors, has also developed its own training programme which includes an e-learning platform. According to chief executive Richard Crawley, it “trains from scratch” 40% of its workforce. “Training is symbolic of STR and what we stand for,” he explains. “We want STR to be synonymous with quality and we want top quality talent to be working in a highly motivated, engaged and supportive environment, and hopefully that translates into top quality service.”
As well as a key part of its employee value proposition, the in-house training programme also means the organisation is less susceptible to any talent shortages. He says: “There’s a gap in the market for one to two years’ experience because a lot of organisations did not train or hire new talent during the tougher economic times.”
The company’s first ever trainee still works at the company 11 years on and STR has seen its retention rate, which stands at 81%, improve year-on-year. Crawley puts this down to a carefully selected blend of benefits and initiatives which as well as more traditional healthcare, dental insurance and childcare vouchers, includes a wedding bonus, long-service awards, a high achievers club, all-expenses paid holidays for top performers, a company discount card and early finishes on a Friday. A recent survey revealed that 100% of employees are engaged with the business.
Retention rates up
While the recession has inevitably meant people tend to stay in jobs longer, many of the companies entered for Recruiter’s Best Recruitment Agency to Work For category are able to demonstrate a payback from their efforts in the shape of steadily improving retention rates.
Shortlisted medical recruitment company, Your World Healthcare, vaunts a 96% retention rate over the past two years. “We don’t really lose staff and if anything they move within the company,” says managing director Tony Moss. “We have payroll staff who used to be resourcers on desks and recruitment consultants who are now doing compliancy work.”
Your World offers a well-rounded range of benefits but clearly the family atmosphere cultivated within the organisation plays a big part. Whenever new members of staff join a welcome night is held on the Friday to make them feel part of the team and the company operates an internal social network where social events are arranged. It stages an annual bring-the-children-to-work day on which Moss assumes the role of party games organiser.
Family-friendly policies are evidently one of the hallmarks of the modern employer of choice and at some agencies there is an underlying ethos to be more inclusive of family life. At McCarthy Recruitment, employees’ offspring, referred to as The McCarthy Children, are involved in social events. “The wives, husbands and families are all an important part of [the business],” says Kate McCarthy. “And it’s about making sure they feel appreciated as well.”
A significant proportion of agencies now offer home or flexible working options in recognition of the demands of family life, which has surely helped some mothers return to work. London-based finance recruiter Goodman Masson, which has been operating for nearly 20 years, has gone a step further than many by establishing a dedicated leadership development programme for women.
“In our industry the top fee earners are often women and once they start a family they tend to leave and not come back, and we’re losing an enormous amount of talent,” says chief executive Guy Hayward. “I wanted a development programme that facilitated a genuine career [progression] for mothers who wanted to come back to work and I have four to five individuals who work on a part-time basis from home who are mothers and who add enormous amount to the organisation.”
Alongside flexible working options and other more enlightened workplace initiatives, a key part of being seen as an employer of choice is authentic involvement in corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. As part of this, recent years have seen an increase in the number of organisations offering practical as well as financial support to the charity sector and initiatives that allow employees to fulfil a desire to give something back.
At Your World Healthcare, employees are actively encouraged to take part in charitable events and are offered paid leave. It is undertaking a Three Peaks challenge and skydiving events for the Teenage Cancer Trust, as well as sponsoring and supporting two Olympic hopefuls.
Meanwhile, Way says Marks Sattin has become “passionate” about its charity work over the past few years working closely with leukaemia and lymphoma charities. More recently, the company has partnered with a community special school in White City, where every Friday consultants go to help out. “The time we put in as well as the financial support we give them has become really rewarding for both sides,” says Way.
“The guys really enjoy it and myself and the other directors go there quite frequently. The feedback we’ve had from the school’s department heads in terms of the influence our guys are having is really encouraging and rewarding and the children are getting a lot out of it.”
At Amoria Bond, employees may be rewarded with trips to Las Vegas, closing parties in Ibiza and an all-expense paid Michelin starred restaurant lunch club but its charity work is increasingly important to the company and its employees. Last year, 15 volunteer employees travelled to Peru on a self-funded trip to assist with the building of 30 homes to re-house 120 local people.
“There were people on good money as well as recruiters in their 20s who maybe hadn’t been to South America before,” says Lloyd. “It made everyone open their eyes and really focus on some of the good you can do. More importantly it made them realise how lucky they are.”
The company’s stated aim is eventually to build 100 homes for Las Ladaras through its own charitable trust.
More staff benefits
Other recruitment firms are proving that they are attuned to some of the other economic and social challenges facing their own workforces. Goodman Masson’s Mortgage Fund could be regarded as extremely timely in its aim to help employees get a leg-up on the property ladder. With current lending restrictions by banks, Goodman Masson’s Hayward recognised the difficulty young professionals in the industry have in raising the 20-35% deposit necessary to purchase a one-two bedroom property in London.
“So I thought if we could somehow create a system where in three years’ time somebody could have sufficient monies for a deposit on a property it would a) create high employee engagement and b) ensure we had good retention within the organisation,” he explains. “What drives ultimate performance, like in many businesses, is the longevity of the people who work for you.”
In straightforward terms, the Mortgage Fund scheme works by individuals paying 20% of their annual salary into the fund and in three years’ time the company tops that up by one third. If an employee added a percentage of their bonus into that fund, whatever the value after three years the company would add 50% to the fund.
Feedback and take-up has been highly encouraging, says Hayward, with 21 people already opting for the scheme out of a workforce of 130 (35 already own their properties). Goodman Masson also operates a similar arrangement to help students pay back their student loans.
Both schemes form part of the company’s Benefits Boutique, which allows employees to create their own tailored benefits package to the value of 20% of their basic salary. Options include buying and selling holiday (up to five days either way), interest-free loans to buy a car, for home improvements, or as new parents. “I’m in a challenging industry where retention of my people is hugely important to me and we spend an inordinate amount of time looking after them,” adds Hayward.
In an industry which sometimes had a reputation for bad practice, often seen as being solely driven by sales targets and full of consultants who are only interested in commission and bonuses, the entries into this year’s awards amply demonstrate that many of today’s employees expect a far more holistic approach from their employers when it comes to their reward and benefits. Encouragingly they also underpin that recruitment firm bosses have a genuine desire to create companies for which people want to come to work. No-one can deny that this doesn’t link back to performance and indeed there is hard business data to show that such strategies and initiatives really do pay off: Amoria Bond, for instance, doubled its profits last year and is on target to do the same this year, while STR is on track to deliver a 40% rise in turnover.
Being crowned a great agency to work for requires a mix of measures and benefits, some tangible, some more atmospheric and cultural and it is anticipated that the organisations showcased here provide plenty of ideas and inspiration for others.
Of course much is made of recruitment being a people business and as a final point, recruitment firms should also remember to make best use of their own stock-in-trade when creating a desirable place to work.
“Having a good workplace is partly down to the people you have in it,” says Stopgap’s Owen. “Our recruitment policy is pretty rigorous and it isn’t about how much money they are going to make but how they are going to fit in. We’ve turned down people on paper that would probably be high-performance in terms of fees but would have been disruptive to the business.”
Similarly, Kate McCarthy says her recruitment policy is based on “behaviours” as opposed to specific experience. “We’ve all got the same desks and PCs but it’s people that make an office,” she says. “I’ve got a fun, vibrant team and we all like coming to work. When I’m not here, I miss my team.”
“I think that Amoria Bond is a great place to work because there are so many positive incentives ranging from monthly lunch clubs to quarterly holidays to destinations including Las Vegas. It is a company that really rewards people for working hard in terms of earning and personal recognition from the directors and managers. In addition to this, there is a fantastic charitable foundation which supports people in difficult living conditions. There is a fantastic company culture where everybody is keen to help each other to improve in their own roles and you get all of the training and support that you need to succeed in recruitment.”
Richard Grogan, recruitment consultant, Amoria Bond
“I’d been working in IT recruitment for a couple of years when an opportunity arose at Penta and immediately I saw such a difference in culture, sense of togetherness and opportunity, not only on the earnings front, but also to develop my career. Initially, I worked in IT contract moving over to IT sales and more recently I have been given the opportunity to join the international team and specialise in permanent placement across telecoms. This move across the business was supported with excellent training, coaching and mentoring bringing me up-to-speed quickly and efficiently. I have also been given management responsibilities as part of my career development and this has been facilitated by an intensive six-month leadership programme which I have just completed. I can’t imagine working for anyone else in the recruitment business and I’d sum it up by saying it’s the opportunity to learn and grow, it’s the people, it’s the strong sense of team and family, it’s the fact that I trust and respect the senior leadership team and finally it’s the rewards and recognition.
Russell Adair, team leader, Penta Consulting
“Having worked here for over seven years, I have seen the company evolve and remain committed to nurturing and developing its staff, believing that maintaining a motivated and loyal workforce will create opportunity for all. STR’s focus on its employees makes it an exciting place to work for a number of reasons. Winner of numerous awards for its training and development, starting as a trainee consultant I have worked through the training academy and was later given the opportunity to gain an REC qualification. Through continuous development, support and training my career progressed which enabled me to be part of STR’s in-house Leadership Academy [a six-month comprehensive course that encompasses all of the aspects of running a successful team].”
Lisa Pinhorne, senior consultant, FMCG, STR Group
“As a graduate I was unsure of what to expect embarking upon my first professional role. However, Marks Sattin has surpassed my expectations and provided me with all of the support and training I’ve needed to forge a successful career in recruitment. It is a meritocratic environment within which hard work and determination are constantly rewarded, and the fact that most of the senior managers and directors within the organisation joined themselves as graduates is a real testament to the prospects that are on offer to those prepared to work hard. Marks Sattin is led by an exceptional senior management team who demonstrate a philosophy of leading by example, and unlike many other recruiters, they work incredibly hard to nurture, develop and retain internal talent, even during such challenging economic times. I believe this is one of the organisation’s key strengths and something unique in this industry.”
Shelley Kehily, senior consultant, professional services, Marks Sattin
“From the beginning Goodman Masson has made me feel valued and crucial to its success. This has never been something I’ve felt working for other companies and really does serve in making me want to give 100% and achieve the best that I can. The fact that I actually look forward to getting up in the mornings to come to work speaks volumes. The people, the atmosphere and the environment all serve in making me feel lucky to be working for the number one company in London.”
Rebecca Johnston, administrator and events assistant, Goodman Masson
Best benefits from the best
Benefits provision: most common benefits excluding commission and bonus arrangements.
1. Private healthcare (56%)
2. Pension (54%)
3. Flexible working arrangements (32%)
4. Childcare vouchers (30%)
5. Cycle-to-work scheme (24%)
6. Subsidised gym membership (22%)
7. Life assurance/insurance (20%)
8. Fine-dining experiences for top performers (18%)
9. Season ticket loan (12%)
10. Dental insurance (12%)
11. Duvet days (12%)
Note: results are based on where those benefits are specifically detailed in the awards entries received.
The top 10 most popular all-expenses paid holiday destinations for top performers
1. Las Vegas
5. New York
10. St Tropez
Other interesting statistics
14% Number of companies which highlighted the importance of their luxury coffee-making machines to staff in their awards entries.
Less than 4% Lowest rate of staff turnover
Three The number of companies which used a Dragons’ Den type exercise for staff to pitch and develop new ideas. Outcomes included the development of a business app and the purchase of a greyhound!
The firms mentioned in this article were all entrants in the Best Recruitment Agency to Work For category at the Recruiter Awards for Excellence 2012, headline sponsored by Eploy, and was written and researched before the eventual winner was announced.