· Features

The Working Families List 2010

More than 100 organisations were assessed for this year's Working Families list, which recognise the employers with the most family-friendly working practices.

This time last year Working Families marked 30 years of campaigning for the most family-friendly workplaces by launching its first listing of the most family-oriented organisations. More than 100 companies were assessed and whittled down to a final list of 20 by a panel of judges. Those that made the cut, including Ford (which offers 52 weeks' maternity on full pay), Halcrow Group (where 30% of the workforce are women - tough in the engineering sector) and consultancy Eden McCallum (where 50% of staff work flexibly) were rightly crowned best in their league.

The list was so successful that Working Families has repeated the exercise, and this time it has expanded the number of companies judged as best for families to a total of 30. The list of companies, (see right) whose work practices have brought them success and created flexible, engaging workplaces for parents and carers, is published by HR magazine, which is media partner for the list.

The good news is that many of the companies are returning for a second year, including the Ministry of Justice, Ford, BT, Centrica, KPMG and American Express. But with 10 more in the list, we see new companies reaching Working Families' standard, including Deutsche Bank, McDonald's, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital and Jaguar/Land Rover.

For this year's list of top family-friendly employers, however, Working Families has gone even further. It has produced a 2010 Top Employers for Working Families Benchmark Report against which other employers can compare themselves. It has also made 13 special awards, recognising company performance in specific, family-friendly areas, including flexible working (Centrica), maternity (Ford again) and innovation (Citi). This year, some 65 organisations were short-listed across the 13 award categories to compile the Benchmark Report and Top 30 list.

"We asked for a lot of information. What we were really trying to get to was the impact of their policies, with evidence of people working flexibly at every level," says Sarah Jackson, CEO of Working Families. "Best practice awards are all very well but if you have not got something where you can track your own progress, year on year, you have to reinvent things," she adds. "Taken alone, other people's examples can be aspirational. But it only goes so far. What the HR sector needs is the powerful combination of benchmarking and good practice. We plan to establish that - and build on it."

Companies applying for Working Families' stamp of approval had to demonstrate fairness in areas such as career progression, staff satisfaction and whether they were monitoring performance outcomes for those who worked flexibly. "We also looked at whether teams are involved in flexible working decisions and whether they are properly trained," says Jackson. "We've given more weight to the things organisations are doing that make a difference, rather than comprising a suite of policies. Because we've created a benchmark score plus the judges' opinion, it's academically robust. This is really exciting. The feedback from employers is that the benchmarking will help them develop their businesses."

Ben Black, managing director of My Family Care, a family-friendly employee benefits company, says: "The business case for combining work and family commitments has been proven time after time. People can - and should - be able to combine work with their family lives a lot more successfully. At both ends of the career spectrum, people don't have to work somewhere for 10 years before they can ask: 'Can I work flexibly?'"

Judges for the awards this year included Mary Mercer, principal consultant, the Institute for Employment Studies, Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health, Lancaster University Management School, and Craig Jones, global head of diversity, Barclays Wealth. Mercer says the spread of companies in the top 30 A-Z list was particularly impressive.

"Organisations now recognise flexible working is good for business," she says. "Smaller organisations, like Plinkfizz, have started from a perspective of 'we want to be great at what we do - but we want the best people, so we have to work around that to offer them flexibility'."

This year's list also shows how offering flexibility for fathers is beginning to reach the boardroom agenda. "Centrica, in particular, has worked very hard to make sure that men are encouraged to look at flexibility," says Mercer. "Overcoming the traditional cultural fears and encouraging fathers to realise that flexible working is acceptable too is really impressive."

This year Citi receives a special award for its work with fathers. "Its unique work, supporting separated dads and helping them communicate with their former partner and children, is magnificent," says Mercer. "It includes a whole new group of people that probably never felt they were part of diversity policies before."

Cooper said he was particularly impressed by the inclusion of more organisations from the manufacturing sector: "That is exciting. Work-life balance has typically been led by the finance community and the public sector. Manufacturing organisations clearly see it as a bottom-line issue and want to attract more females."

Jones welcomed the increase in offerings to working fathers. "It's impressive because fathers do need to be considered. In the past, employers haven't always encouraged dads to take maternity leave. When we achieve a closer balance, we provide a greater likelihood that everyone will have the opportunity to reach their full potential."

Jones feels companies in the Top 30 list understand that flexible working also gives them a competitive edge. "In the financial/professional services sector, and even in manufacturing, it's challenging to find great quality people. Those companies that can't offer careers for working families won't be able to compete."

Allianz Insurance UK
American Express
Ashurst LLP
Berwin Leighton Paisner
Bradford & Airedale NHS Trust
BT Group
Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Chwarae Teg
Competition Commission
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Deutsche Bank
Ford Motor Company
Henmans LLP
HM Revenue & Customs
Jaguar Land Rover
Legal & General Group
London School of Economics & Political Science
Mcdonald's Restaurants
Ministry of Justice
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
Registers of Scotland
The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust
The Royal Bank of Scotland
University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Trust
Workplace Options


Special award, innovation

9,680 staff, 66% male, 34% female

Carolanne Minashi, EMEA head, diversity, employee relations and employee engagement

"We really believe we can create a better environment for dads working in Britain today. For us, it's all about talent and employee engagement.

"We started focusing on fathers two to three years ago. We previously focused on new mums and through this we uncovered we had a lot of parents who were dads coping with newborns but also coming into work each day.

"Our community of dads was not networked. So we started running quarterly, 90-minute workshops for new dads, inviting any new or expectant father to find out not only which benefits might be useful but also to talk to other men going through the same experience.

"We've recently launched a pilot programme called Staying Connected, a 5-8pm session to support dads who are separated or have gone through a divorce. It was piloted this summer on the night of a World Cup football match. But they all turned up; we had excellent feedback - and we will be repeating the sessions in the future. These strategies are winning ones for us."


Special commendation

126 staff, 25% male, 75% female

Viv Matthews, head of HR

"As a busy law firm, offering flexibility was a problem to begin with. But I suggested that if done properly we should be able to accommodate it. We have broken the mould a bit in that respect.

"Other firms are doing the same thing now. But we really did set the standard for people to work more flexibly. And we've got a good IT system to cope with it so people can work from home.

"Several quite senior people now work a four-day week: our managing partner, our head of personal injury and our current head of marketing all work on a four-day week basis - some working one day a week from home. We also have support staff working three days a week.

"For religious reasons, a Jehovah's Witness employee has had her hours reduced to three days a week to suit her lifestyle."


Special award, SME

15 staff, 59% female, 41% male

Clare Hill, UK CEO

"We've been around for 24 years: the company was launched in New Zealand and we have a female owner, Katherine Corich. A lot of the innovation in our practices has come from her: she leads by example. Our consultants come from many different backgrounds: we don't just hire people who have come through the traditional route; we look for people who have the same kind of values and work ethic - we work very practically with our clients, a no-nonsense approach.

"In our teams of consultants we have men working four-day weeks, a number of parents who work on flexible packages, where we can accommodate it (part-time, for example) and we have quite a lot of consultants moving from New Zealand to the UK, and vice versa. We support those people with family needs in a practical way.

"A lot of our flexibility does come from our New Zealand heritage. It's not policy-driven. It's driven by 'this is how we treat our people and we want them to have a good work-life balance'. There's something in it for us as well: it's not a one way street."


Best recruitment policy for parents and carers

10 staff, 10% male, 90% female

Julie Grant, managing director and founder of Plinkfizz

"We took a conscious decision to use flexible working as part of our business model. We have three women, all with childcare commitments; it's fundamental to us that we run the business in this way, so we have actively recruited people who want to work flexibly.

"We need to employ talented, experienced colleagues, and they need to be highly motivated to want to come to work.

"I don't see this as paying lip service to a policy, it's fundamental to our success. We have to have good people.

"In big companies, if more women in senior roles used this type of business model, it might be more effective.

"A lot of people say it can't be done effectively this way. But with good teamwork, plus senior level commitment and good use of technology, it can be done."


Top 10 A-Z Employers Benchmarking Report list

1,100 staff, 30% male, 70% female

Sue Browell, HR director

"What we do is provide care for adults with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour. Because that's what we do, we try not to make any differentiation between the care people pay for as a service and what we do for our staff. Caring principles can't just be turned on and off.

"Also, because we operate a 24/7 service providing care, we have the flexibility to accommodate different requests and needs.

"If we have a good member of staff, we don't want to lose them simply because they have a change in circumstances: it's a win-win situation to try and work with staff.

"For instance, we had a head-office staff member who had taken two lots of maternity leave and requested flexible working so she could continue to care for pre-school children. Since then, she's been promoted.

"Because there's flexibility and goodwill, it tends not to be exploited. It's a give-and-take situation."


Special award, public sector

3,665 staff, 54% male, 46% female

Janet Champion, deputy director of HR

"There's a culture here of flexible working (at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills). And because that culture underpins all our policies and practices, it is very pervasive. And, of course, there are all sorts of business benefits too.

"What it's built around is the ability to work flexibly from home because of the IT provision. Everyone has access to a token, accessed from home, that allows them to log into BIS systems securely.

"So if there are transport strikes or weather problems, people can plan for it and choose to work from home. And that flexibility is not a costly option in terms of the IT provision.

"What makes us stand out from other public-sector bodies is not just our policies and practices. What sets us apart is that these practices are integrated with the IT and the estate provision.

"Because employees are working at home on a regular basis, it makes hot-desking easier. You don't need to have so much accommodation. Here we work on a ratio of seven desks for every 10 people."


Innovation special award: Citi. Special commendation: The Co-operative

Best for flexible working: Centrica. Second place: American Express

Best for maternity: Ford Motor Company. Second place: Citi. Special Commendation: Deutsche Bank

Best for fathers: Centrica

Best for carers/dependant care support: Centrica

Best recruitment policy for parents and carers: Plinkfizz

Best SME (1 - 250 employees): Chwarae Teg

Best for career progression for parents and carers: no winner. Special commendation: Henmans LLP

Best emergency childcare: The Royal Bank of Scotland

Best implementation of childcare voucher scheme: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Best in financial services sector: Deutsche Bank

Best in professional services sector: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Best in public sector (central government and NHS): Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.