Best practice and boxer shorts up for discussion at Top Employer Awards

Experts, employees and influencers attended the Top Employer Awards and enjoyed thoughtful and surprising contributions.

workingmums Top Employer Awards 2019


Lacey boxer shorts was an unlikely topic to come up for discussion at the Top Employers Awards this week. Yet the frilliness, or otherwise, of male underwear got a mention at the event that celebrates best practice in the workplace.

Aviva took home the Best for Dads award and Vodafone – who only last week boosted their paternity leave offer to 16 weeks – were named Top Employer overall.

Employers, influencers and experts gathered to share ideas and recognise innovation. It was the 10th anniversary Top Employer Awards. With joining for the first time having been set up in the same stable at the start of this year.

Keynote speaker Caroline Waters made the eye-catching underwear analogy. She compared men’s attitudes to their family in a workplace context to having lace on their boxer shorts; they know it’s there but they don’t necessarily want to talk about it!

Waters speech was just one part of a busy and successful night.

Life cycle approach

Gilliam Nissim, founder of and talked up taking a life cycle approach to working and embracing multigenerational teams. She also officially launched new site, which is aimed at workers over 50. She said: “For us it is about the whole work life cycle, about joining the dots and highlighting best practice in the kind of work that we need to ensure jobs work for everyone.”

Drawing on the results of our survey she highlighted how it was young people who were significantly more likely to research flexible working, to ask for it at interview and to turn down a job unless it was flexible.

She looked back at the progress made over the last 10 years of the Awards and to the future. She said: “There is a greater interest in the more challenging areas for flexible working – frontline, location-specific jobs and larger SMEs; broader diversity issues, including neurodiversity; career progression for flexible workers; wider family issues and a lifecycle approach to working.”

When the magic happens

Nissim’s speech was followed by keynote speaker Caroline Waters, Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Vice President of Carers UK and Founder and CEO of CW Consulting Box.

She spoke about how BT – where she was previously director of people and policy – had pioneered a life cycle approach 20 years ago. That was driven by the increased need to support a more diverse, multigenerational workforce and by demographic and other social changes. She said there was no point having the best talent in your organisation if people were not connecting with each other. “That’s when the magic happens,” she said, “when people connect and share experiences.”

Employers should not hide from the realities of human life, said Waters. She explained that every life experience made people more of an asset to their organisation. “Life experiences give you a different perspective. We need to be able to give people the choice to continue to work, whatever life throws at them.”

Courage and determination

She also spoke about the need for employers to demonstrate “the courage and determination to do the right thing for people who choose to do the right thing for their loved ones”. The result was increased loyalty and high retention rates. “If you stick with people through difficult times they will do the same for you,” said Waters.

Tiny steps can have huge impacts according to Waters. Many men know that the tone of voice that meets their request for paternity leave or flexible working can make it plain that the request is not welcomed. Waters demonstrated that just lightening the voice and the response can engender a more positive and motivated workforce.

There were multiple business benefits to a life cycle approach, said Waters, but it was about more than business; it was about business’ wider social role; it was about doing good by doing business, about doing the right thing by people. “Raising children and caring for people is essential for the future of our society and economy,” she concluded.

Questions and answers

Waters’ speech was followed by the awards ceremony and by a Q & A, expertly chaired by judge Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Coaching, Consultancy and Thought Leadership at Bright Horizons Work + Family Solutions and sponsored by Roche. The panel consisted of award judges, Andy Lake, editor of, Dave Dunbar, Head of Digital Workspace at the Department of Work and Pensions and Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield School of Management. and Sheena Mistry-Patel, Talent Acquisition Partner at Roche.

Each was asked to choose an area which has changed the most over the last 10 years.

Waters chose carer policy. The change from no-one knowing what a carer was to the passing of legislation for working carers was “monumental”, she said.

Mistry-Patel spoke of the increase in dads wanting to work flexibly. Professor Kelliher and Andy Lake both highlighted the mainstreaming of flexible working for all employees. Andy Lake focussed particularly on the rise SMEs set up with flexibility built in from the beginning.

Dave Dunbar said technology had made a huge impact and was now very much consumer-led and much more social.

Jennifer Liston-Smith mentioned the fact that family friendly packages, including maternity and paternity coaching, were becoming the norm in corporates. She also pointed to the impact of the gender pay gap legislation and greater transparency generally.


However, challenges remain. The panel mentioned the difficulty of ensuring flexible working was consistent across organisations, the tendency of many organisations to be reactive with regard to flexible working and the frequent disconnect between policy and practice.

Other questions addressed the availability of senior part-time jobs, the four-day week and the problem of the ‘always on’ workforce.

The panel was also asked about trends for the future. Andy Lake spoke about more immersive ways of communicating such as holograms. Dave Dunbar mentioned tensions between team working cultures and the move against presenteeism. Professor Kelliher spoke about the rise of different forms of working relationships, such as gig working. Caroline Waters said she envisaged demand for a new category of professional who understands the psychology of collaboration and how to increase productivity. Finally, Jennifer Liston-Smith spoke of an increasing need for human connectivity through networks and buddies to share the human experience.

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