· Features

The best companies to work for are responsible ones

Whether small, medium or large firms, in the private or public sector, giving back to the community, doing their bit for the environment but above all, investing in their people, all make a significant difference, according to the latest research by Best Companies.

Workplace engagement firm Best Companies polled more than 275,000 private, public and charity sector firms, including almost 1,000 private companies, which opened their doors to scrutiny about their workplace culture. The survey tracks eight factors, from leadership, wellbeing, feelings about their line manager and their team, to attitudes towards pay/benefits, personal growth, the company (including its green credentials) and putting something back into the local community or society at large.

Despite 2011 being no less tough than last year (or indeed 2009), employees seemed to be more motivated and committed than ever to their organisation - welcome news as the country struggles to come out of recession and drive towards growth. In particular, the survey found that organisations that have fared best are those whose managers are well equipped to deal with their teams in terms of capabilities and resources.

I have been hard on managers in the past (HR magazine, September 2010), criticising a certain breed of middle manager for miring their organisation in a kind of treacle that gets in the way of progress or slows it down, particularly around responsible business. So, although I won't necessarily change my opinions completely, I very much welcome the contribution managers are making to their organisations, particularly in such straitened circumstances.

So, which companies are cutting the mustard in the area of responsible business in 2011?

Among small companies, Lake District-based consultancy Impact International was ranked highest for 'giving something back'. Every employee has a minimum of three working days a year to volunteer. In 2010, the firm's staff contributed 102 days to 25 community partner projects. Impact's aims are to help other organisations to become 'sustainable enterprises' through bringing its skills to bear on projects that require long-term thinking and environmental protection. As Impact is headquartered at Windermere, many of these projects are Cumbria-focused.

Ethical cosmetics brand Lush cleaned up among mid-size companies for doing a lot to protect the environment. 'Making mothers proud' might not be the most orthodox mission statement, but clearly this commitment informs its strategy. Not only does Lush help the communities that supply its ingredients, but it will also never test products on animals - only humans, and preferably its directors!

Engineering and management consultancy Mott MacDonald tops the list for big companies making the world a better place by digging deeper to give back. The company spreads its net wide, making a contribution to some of the most challenged places where it has its operations, such as Bangladesh, Uganda and Ghana. Managers and the firm's staff magazine regularly update employees about progress.

Unsurprisingly, the survey also points to higher levels of retention when employees are happy at work. Allied to this, those who believe their job is good for their own personal growth and who feel that their manager helps them to fulfil their potential are the ones most positive about their long-term future in their firm. And therefore it seems likely that companies which give their staff the opportunity to use their skills to the full will be in stronger positions than their competitors. After all, well-motivated people respond better to challenges than those who are less engaged. The evidence is clear: organisations with a bright future invest not only in their people but also in the communities and environments in which they operate. It's not responsible business, it's plain and simple good business.

Michael Saxton is founder of Greenpoint PR