Best practice discussed at Top Employer Awards

A Q&A session following WM People’s prize ceremony flagged up where companies are doing good work and where is still room to improve.

top employer awards 2023 best practice


What can employers do to understand the mental health challenges in their sector? How can we get more take-up of equal or shared parental leave policies?

This year’s Top Employer Awards saw a discussion on a range of best practice issues.

In a Q&A with the Awards’ judges and keynote speaker Jane Portas OBE, chaired by judge Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership for Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions, the panel were asked about what stood out for them from the Award entries.

Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield School of Management, said she was interested in how the definition of diversity was being interpreted more broadly and in innovation, such as how J Murphy & Sons had launched a returner programme aimed at prison leavers. She said that while innovation was laudable, those organisations that have sustained their efforts to be more inclusive and family friendly over longer periods of time and are seeing real results should not be forgotten. “These organisations are heroes too,” she said. “They have taken the long view and invested and got results.”

Dave Dunbar, Head of Digital Workspace at the Department of Work and Pensions, also commented on the breadth of the work being done on diversity and the increasing focus on disability and neurodiversity.

Kim Chaplain, Associate Director for Work of the Centre for Ageing Better and a new judge this year, said she was very impressed by the rigour of the judging process, the quality of the entries, the way employers are measuring impact, the way they had taken the opportunity to think differently about work and the fact that they had not taken their foot off the pedal.

Salma Shah, Writer and Founder of Mastering your Power, and another new judge, said it is important that organisations are truly inclusive and that they are moving from awareness to action. She said she was ‘blown away’ by many entries.

For Andy Lake, director of, what stood out was the normalisation of flexible working, however that was interpreted, and the support for line managers and remote workers as well as the way SMEs are recruiting on a flexible basis, diversity initiatives, for instance, on neurodiversity and the holistic approach to that which recognises the role of workplace design and technology in building inclusion.

Jennifer Liston-Smith’s highlights included Lloyds Banking Group’s advocacy of job shares, split shifts and compressed hours for senior managers; the way some employers were addressing international working [for instance, Paddle allows employees to work from any location for 45 days a year]; Aggregate Industries’ listening circles and coaching; Vistry Group’s recognition of the high male suicide rate in construction and its outreach work on this supporting its partner Papyrus, a suicide prevention charity.

Vistry Group spoke of how it had organised a Vistry Voyage campaign to raise money for Papyrus which involved taking a book of shared experiences of suicide across its offices in the UK by bike, on foot or by boat from the North to its Exeter office where a young employee had committed suicide in 2020.

This drew a round of applause as Liston-Smith commented that Covid had very much blurred the line between work and home.

J Murphy & Sons Ltd also spoke about their returners initiative for prison leavers. They worked on a pilot with a large main prison who identified prisoners with six months remaining of their sentence who could be given training and support to offer people a second chance through work opportunities after they leave prison that break the cycle of reoffending.

Parental leave

The Q&A also addressed the issue of greater equality at home. Jennifer Liston-Smith said encouraging dads to take more parental leave is down to pay and added that many employers are now offering equal parental pay.

david blackburn at Q & A, TEAs

WM People Working Mum Awards 2023

David Blackburn [pictured right], Chief People Officer at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), spoke of the importance of sharing examples of dads taking parental leave to normalise it. The FSCS offers six months equal parental leave on full pay for all types of parental leave, including adoption leave, and has a 100% take-up record.  It emphasises in its policy and its communications that families come in all shapes and sizes in order to change perceptions. Having that policy was a major investment decision, said Blackburn, but the cost had to be balanced by the return on investment in terms of increased engagement, trust, inclusion, attraction and retention. He added that the biggest advocates of the policy are the fathers – they spread the word to other dads and overcome reticence linked to fears about how taking the leave will affect career progression.

Read more:

Episode 2 of WM People podcast now out

Belief in possibilities of flexible work is growing

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