The UK’s best employers get more value from employees by making them feel valued, according to FT Recruitment & Appointment Editor Peter Whitehead.

At the height of the recession employers in the public and private sector were faced with tough choices. Tasked with taking fixed cost out of the organisation, redundancies were inevitable; but those who remained would have to work twice as hard to deliver the same or better service. How could employers prepare for the upturn and keep their key staff loyal after eroding – or severely stretching – their goodwill?

The answer is fairness, communication and involving staff in the strategy for success according to Peter Whitehead, Recruitment & Appointment Editor at the FT - and a judge for the Croner Employer of the Year award. Peter talked to Alex Evans, Editorial Director of the National Business Awards about what employers can do to motivate staff to achieve exceptional performance.

AE: What elements distinguish the best employers?

PW: A great employer really means it. It’s relatively easy to get the HR department to run off some worker-friendly sounding policies and practices, but far harder to deliver individual treatment to each employee and to make them feel they matter, are valued and are being looked after. Often, it can be the really small things that make the difference - the employer prepared to say yes to a reasonable but unusual request that doesn’t fit any template. This is where the presentations to the judges becomes vital, as it gives a chance to assess who really means it and who is paying lip service.

AE: In your experience, what kind of investment in staff tends to have the biggest impact on profitability?

PW: Getting the right staff and keeping them is crucial to profitability. The easy route is to offer financial rewards to attract and retain people – and they can be very welcome. But, above all, sits fairness. Rewards – meaning pay, benefits and how you are treated – must all match effort. How hard people try can be even more important than how skilled they are – and usually leads to becoming more skilled.

AE: In your opinion, how has the approach to recruitment changed to enable better staff engagement?

PW: Recruitment is all about getting to know people before you hire them. This can be done by any number of means, but primarily face-to-face and increasingly via online social networks. How an employer goes about finding and getting to know candidates for jobs depends on the nature of the role: at executive level there will be far more face-to-face and personal engagement; for other roles there might be more use of LinkedIn or referrals etc for a wider sweep of available talent. Either way, mutual understanding has to be established to make everything fit together.

AE: As a judge for the Croner Employer of the Year award, what will you be looking for from this year’s winner?

PW: The winner will be an employer who genuinely understands and cares about people. I recently saw a chief executive on a panel displaying exactly the depth of understanding a great employer must have – and again, she clearly cared about the small things that matter so much to people. This year’s winner will have to be one that treats employees as individuals and recognises their needs and aspirations, and is prepared to act on that recognition in a flexible and innovative way.

AE: Why is it important for the National Business Awards to have an award dedicated to professional development?

PW: Given that society operates in a way that presumes we must all work, there has to be a duty on those controlling the workplace to act fairly and honestly. The role of the trade unions has waned as fairness and decent treatment of workers has become a key differentiator in attracting and retaining the best staff. There is therefore a natural tendency towards using “people policies” competitively. Sharing – and showing off – good practice enhances this process as well as providing benchmarks for the wider environment. And there is also the glory – and fun – of being shortlisted and even winning.

All winners of the National Business Awards in partnership with Orange will be announced on 8th November at the Gala Dinner – which will be attended by 1,200 of the most influential people in British business, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer. To book your place or reserve a table call 0207 234 8755, email Anthony.akoto@ubm.com or visit www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk for

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