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Forget the beanbags: What makes a Great Place to Work?

The 2019 Best Workplaces in Ireland survey shows what really motivates employees, writes Joseph Benkanoun-Greene

Employees felt good when their workplace is working to reduce its environmental impact. Photograph: iStock

Employees felt good when their workplace is working to reduce its environmental impact. Photograph: iStock


Research from the 2019 Best Workplaces in Ireland survey project indicates that, amongst the best Irish organisations, employees are finding motivation in more than bean bags and ping-pong tables. But the data also points to challenges that employers will need to navigate in a crowded talent market, as uncertainly looms .

Participation levels in the programme have seen a massive increase over the past year, with the total number of employees surveyed for consideration in the Best Workplaces in Ireland process rising from 33,875 to 60,271. This is an increase of 78 per cent, making it the largest survey conducted to date by Great Place to Work Ireland, and is a clear indication that Irish organisations are looking for an edge in the war for talent.

Getting more by giving back

The strongest category rise across all three Best Workplace lists was seen in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which rose by an average of four percentage points. This category is comprised of three statements: “I feel good about the ways we contribute to the community”; “This workplace is working to reduce its environmental impact”; and “This organisation manages its impact upon society responsibly”. Across all of the listed companies, 82 per cent of employees agree with these statements. This figure rises to 90 per cent when we look at the top five companies on each list. We may be witnessing a generational shift: a consequence of increasing numbers of millennials entering the workforce, and the value they place on finding a sense of purpose.

Irish employees, comforted by a robust job market and low levels of unemployment, seem to be feeling secure enough to look beyond typical remuneration packages. They’re now seeking the chance to make a difference through their workplaces. CSR initiatives provide organisations with a great opportunity to effect positive change while building camaraderie and promoting their cultural values. The most successful of these programmes activate employee input, to ensure that the projects are authentic, effective, local, and built from the ground up.


Another area that has seen strong year-on-year growth is provision for later life. “This organisation helps me plan for my retirement” saw the largest rise of any single statement, increasing by seven percentage points to 76 per cent. The sharp rise of this statement speaks to a sense of short-term security paired with longer-term insecurity. Employees in the Best Workplaces, seeing the pension age tick upwards, are realising that they need to look beyond the State pension for later life.

This statement doesn’t necessarily correspond to monetary input on the organisation’s part: in many cases, we’re seeing workplaces who facilitate financial planning workshops, provide support and advisers to help manage personal finance and provide training for employees to assess the myriad risks associated with investment. This level of empowerment can often be the catalyst that enables an employee to begin planning for their future.

Being your best

We’ve seen some interesting movement within the cohort of Best Small Workplaces this year (determined as any organisation with between 20 and 100 employees). There has been an increase in a cluster of categories which all fall under the heading of “Giving Your Personal Best”: areas such as career and development, recognition, and empowerment and accountability have all risen in tandem by three or four percentage points.

Smaller organisations typically are unable to take advantage of the benefits of scale that are available to medium- and large-sized organisations. Instead, the best small organisations are focusing on their existing talent pools and are ensuring that they put processes in place to maximise their teams through development, innovation, and support.

The customer at the centre

A consistently high-scoring area across all list sizes were statements relating to the relationship between the organisation and their customers. Taking everything into account, “Customers/clients can trust this organisation” scored 92 per cent overall, while “The customer/client is at the centre of everything we do” was 90 per cent. These figures increase to 96 per cent and 93 per cent respectively when we look at the scores achieved by the very best organisations.

In an era when we’re seeing sustained erosion of public trust in organisations of every kind, these results indicate that organisations who perform well within the Great Place to Work methodology have made customer focus a key pillar of their strategy. Employees feel the organisation they’re representing is authentically engaging with their customer base, rather than cynically exploiting them. Organisations often claim that “the customer is always right” – these results highlight that without engaged employees, the customer experience will suffer.

What to watch

However, it isn’t good news across the board. Perennial concerns relating to remuneration persist, as some sectors and regions continue to see wage stagnation. Fifty six per cent of employees on the Best Workplaces in Ireland list agree with the statement “I feel I receive a fair share of the profits made by this organisation”. Sixty five per cent believe that “people here are paid fairly for the work that they do”. Against an uncertain international backdrop, organisations may be more reticent than ever to address the issue of pay, but ignoring the concern won’t make it go away. Companies performing well in this area manage to do so by having regular conversations with staff: discussing performance, remuneration, and future planning in an honest and frank manner.

Another area that may cause concern is how organisations address (or rather, how they don’t) the issue of poor performance. “Appropriate action is taken when dealing with poor performers” currently scores 65 per cent across all organisations, rising to 76 per cent when we look at the very best. Again, this is an area which is primarily resolved by allowing the time for regular check-ins, assessment, and coaching with the employee population. By approaching this in a structured and consistent manner, people managers in the Best Workplaces have a much better understanding of the capacity and ability of their teams: not just at a point in time, but rather on an ongoing basis. This allows for training and development to be targeted, monitored, and refined in an iterative and effective manner.

Every year, competition is increasing for ranking on the Best Workplaces list, and for talent in the wider recruitment market. The organisations who are making the effort to develop an honest, authentic culture where employees are empowered to achieve their personal best and supported in finding their purpose will continue to win.