Author Mark Richards

Google’s London HQ has just been voted the best place to work in the UK. But we cannot all work for Google. What are employees really looking for at work? And what can employers do to compete with Google and the tech giants?

The audience has held its collective breath, the golden envelope has been opened, and the winner is…


Yes, according to a survey done by jobs site, Glassdoor, Google – specifically its London HQ – has been voted the best place to work in the UK, beating off competition from Facebook and a host of other firms in the City to claim the accolade.

Google was praised by employees for its culture and extensive benefits. Staff say they are well paid, with their expenses covering food, medical treatment, dental care and travel costs.

You suspect that staff would say the same about last year’s winner, Facebook – now poised to create another 800 jobs in the UK when it opens its new headquarters in Middlesbrough next year.

Ah! Sorry, my mistake. When Facebook opens its new HQ near Oxford Circus in London…


Apart from the tech giants seeming ignorance of anywhere outside London, you might argue that it is easy for them to be voted ‘best place to work.’

For the third quarter of this year (June to September), Facebook generated more than $10bn in revenue and $4.7bn (£3.5bn) in profits, with more than 6m businesses now advertising on the platform. Google’s sales for the same quarter – again helped by a surge in ad revenue – were more than $22bn (£16.4bn). Let me put that another way: every second between June 1st and September 30th Google generated £2,000 in ad revenue. If it takes you 5 minutes to read this article, Google will have taken £600,000 at that time.

So the cynic would say that it is easy for Facebook and Google to provide their employees with food, dental care, medical treatment and travel costs. Let’s not forget the table football or the pinball machines either…

…In the real world

Most British businesses do not have the luxury of a tap pouring out money. And yet they are still fighting what recruitment companies call ‘the war for talent.’ They are still competing with companies like Google and Facebook for the best people. They are, however, doing that in an environment which is changing. By the middle of the next decade millennials – those people who became adults around the turn of the century – will make up 75% of the workforce, and they want very different things to the job security and annual pay rise their parents’ generation demanded.

So what are employees looking for? And how does a small employer – one without the financial muscle of the tech giants – attract the right people?

What are employees looking for?

As we mentioned above, people are now much more concerned with their work/life balance. How many of us heard our fathers say, ‘I missed my children growing up’ and have determined not to make the same mistake? So work/life balance is increasingly important, and people are looking for employers who understand that – who will be flexible and supportive of family life.

They are also looking for employers who will help them achieve their potential so very often support with study and continuing professional development is important.

Not surprisingly, employees want to know that if they do progress and make an increasing contribution to their employer’s business this will be reflected in their salary. But, according to recruitment companies, money alone is rarely a deciding factor, with many employees willing to trade a slightly lower wage for greater flexibility.

Finally, all too many people today start a new job having been made redundant from their last one – so one of the key factors they will be looking for in their new job is stability.

So what can employers do?

In simple words, be imaginative, be open, be honest and communicate. Some ideas I have seen companies I work with implement over the past year have included:

Increasing the annual leave allowance above the statutory minimum – this has been especially effective when it has been linked to length of service as part of a retention strategy

Buying and selling holiday days – this can be really useful when both parents work and they simply need extra holidays to cover childcare through the summer holidays

Taking care of their staff’s health. It is not just big companies that can have on-site gyms and provide breakfast. Several small companies now have regular deliveries of fruit to their office and one company I work with gives their employees an extra hour a week off – providing they use that extra hour for exercise. And with sitting for long periods being dubbed ‘the new smoking’ many smaller companies are now successfully introducing standing desks

Flexible working around specified core hours. The most recent study I have seen suggests that preferred working hours are now 8 am to 4 pm: given the flexibility, employees will find the time that best suits their work/life balance and the time when they work most effectively

Lastly, the ability to work from home. Who isn’t going to feel committed to an employer that gives you the chance to miss out on two hours’ commuting every day? Especially when studies again suggest that remote workers are significantly more productive than office-bound workers.

An idea whose time has come

There is one other thing that at least 50% of the UK’s workforce want and that any employer in his right mind will provide: equal pay.

It has been one of the key themes of 2017, from Silicon Valley to the BBC to almost every workplace. Several high-profile leaks have shown that despite equal pay legislation having been in place for over 40 years, many employers still have a long way to go.

The Guardian reported in November that campaigners at the BBC were highlighting November 10th as ‘Equal Pay Day’ – the day in 2017 when a woman on the average wage stops being paid relative to her male counterpart. But in some parts of the country – and in some companies – the gender pay gap is so wide that women are effectively working for nothing from September.

This is patently ridiculous: if equal pay were denied for another reason it would be corrected instantly. “Yes, that is correct. The person at the next desk is doing exactly the same work as you. He has the same qualifications and works the same hours. But you get £3,000 less because you have ginger hair. Didn’t you read the contract…”

Any employer who genuinely wants to recruit and retain the top talent will have equal pay right at the top of his agenda in 2018. And it will be closely followed by flexible working and all the other things that a small employer can do to attract the top people – and keep Google and Facebook at bay.