Disabled people searching for a job have been able to rely on accreditations such as the ‘two ticks’ symbol for some years to tell them that an organisation is disability confident. The Top Employers seal is an award that you may not be so familiar with. It’s awarded to those organisations that demonstrate and practice the highest employee offerings and uses a framework of inclusion for all, rather than just focussing on individual strands of diversity.

The members list of the Top Employers Institute is indeed long and distinguished; running from well-known organisations like Asda through to companies you may or may not know such as media agency, Zenith Optimedia. What they all have in common then is an ethos based around keeping staff contented and satisfied by their work. This isn’t to say that they encourage ‘workaholism’, they don’t, but there’s certainly no harm in enjoying what you do for a living – in fact there are some very real benefits to you (and the employer).

This isn’t corporate fluff or a tick-box exercise; the companies involved are all rigorously audited in terms of their working conditions and HR practices as part of the certification process and have to meet very strict standards before they are accepted as a member.

Building the Business

The Top Employers Institute accreditation is about building a brand. Branding is business speak for the mix of name and reputation – once this gets big enough or well-known enough it becomes a brand. Tesco, BP and Orange are all examples of brands. Of course, expanding and becoming well known is relatively straight forward but competing amongst other brands takes something special and this is where accreditations such as that awarded by Top Employers Institute come in.

Having a positive brand reputation is important if that organisation wants to recruit and retain the best staff. For example, Microsoft has a very positive brand, not simply because they’re hugely well known and successful but also because of the softer elements. We all know that founder, Bill Gates, has gigantic charitable concerns and has helped a tremendous amount of people, especially in Third World countries – this contributes, indirectly, to the perception of the Microsoft brand. On the flipside, a brand like say, Enron, the failed energy and commodities firm was mired in controversy. Whereas you might be proud to work at Microsoft, you might not want the word Enron on your CV because of its negative associations.

The Research

Business will always be about making money – but that doesn’t have to be at the detriment of pleasant working practices. In fact, research abounds that a contented workforce is well worth investing in. The Top Employers accreditation actually reminds organisations’ employees that they work for one such company – and hopefully brings a smile to their face. The theory is simply that business (or work) can be fun, satisfying and sustainable (through achieving profit).

The Top Employers Institute is based in the Netherlands and have been auditing companies’ working practices all over the world since 1991.  CEO, David Plink, says: “Over the years, we have assessed and certified companies the world over using our proprietary methodology. We strongly value our objectivity, independence and selectivity. As a result, current and prospective employees can trust upon the certified organisations to have excellent conditions in place for their people to develop. Always.”

Essentially it’s a symbioses or a two-way relationship. If the company you work for is good to you, you are likely to view it positively and give of your best in return. This is what is known as a virtuous cycle in that the results just keep plying positive upon positive – which is good for everyone.

The Audit Process

The actual accreditation process isn’t particularly complicated but it certainly is in-depth. The registration is only open to a certain strata of organisations, that must have a minimum of 250 employees nationally or 2,500 employees worldwide. Not only that but there’s a research fee involved and participation in no way guarantees accreditation with around 10% of applications failing to meet the standard criteria.

The research is based on a HR survey including points on environment, strategy, policy, implementation, monitoring and communication of employee conditions and development. To make sure that all is as it should be, there is an answer validation process where any further data is collected to fill in any gaps and perhaps more importantly, a random sample of participants are asked for their input (to avoid any bias).

An audit is then undertaken which assesses the organisation for any anomalies and potential areas of concern before the results are evaluated. Feedback is provided in the form of a report that highlights areas where improvements need to take place and if an organisation has failed – the reasons why. In a sense, it’s quite a blunt process but then business has always been basically about ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Successfully audited organisations are able to display the accreditation ‘seal’ for a year.

The Potential Rewards

It doesn’t sound like a pleasant journey but there are potential rewards for businesses that realise that the accreditation will help them to recruit quality candidates. At this point ‘quality’ needs to be defined. It isn’t just going to be about qualifications, although that aspect of recruitment can’t be dismissed. Accredited employers are likely to be looking for people that share their values and are prepared to learn through training and mentoring. After all, if you’ve come from another non-accredited company, you won’t necessarily have the skills or training behind you – so your new accredited employer will want to sort that out. In this sense, the employer helps employees become the best they can be.

If you still aren’t clear about what the business gets out of all this then remember that the business world is stacked high with valuable contracts. A company in search of a service provider needs to know that they can deliver. A Top Employers Institute accreditation gives them the peace of mind to know that they’ve got the right people in the organisation that can (and want to) make it all happen and that their investment is not in jeopardy.

Employees also win. Training and development helps employees to do their jobs better, perhaps leading to greater responsibility and promotions. If they decide to leave, they’ll also have some really good stuff on their CV’s. In the everyday though, it means that they’ll feel valued and that means a lot. There’s a huge difference between enjoying your work and waking up in dread of it, and this shows in levels of productivity and creativity alike.

Some businesses just won’t get it and therefore ‘need not apply’. There are no specific ‘metrics’ that point with any certainty to how much money an organisation will make if it has happy employees. Perhaps Albert Einstein had it right. He might well have been talking about business when he said: “that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted”.

Perhaps the best testimonial I can give about the Top Employers Institute is to tell you that on their website David Plink has again been at work with a blog entitled: “Happiness Can Be Profitable”.