2021 really has been a year like no other and during the COVID pandemic, businesses and their leaders were forced to learn and make changes in months what normally takes decades. It has been a time where the predominant focus on profit was replaced with a new sensibility of culture, care and compassion. Leaders and employees alike found themselves in the same boat; locked down at home and forced to juggle multiple roles. People quickly adapted to new roles; as home-based teachers for their children. Meanwhile, the evolution of the workplace was astronomically accelerated with people across sectors swapping their daily commute for a new schedule of Zoom, Teams and Webex calls.
During this time, the differences between organisations that look after their people (and those that don’t), were laid bare leading to thousands of people quitting their jobs, in what became known as ‘the great resignation’. Separation from friends, colleagues and family became the new normal leading many people left isolated and suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues.
Meanwhile, leaders have been spouting rhetoric about CSR and purpose for a number of years now. It sounds good in an annual report and gave companies a way to claim a higher purpose than just profit. Many non-believers accused organisations of ‘purpose washing’ as a means to gather positive PR and reputation. One thing we can say for sure, recent events were the pivotal moment for leaders to practice what they preach. So how did they do? Well, as the COVID-19 crisis continues and new variants continue to be announced, many businesses are not just surviving but actually thriving whilst keeping their people happy, safe and highly engaged.
So how have these extraordinary times impacted the way we define the best AU and NZ workplaces in 2021?
There are multiple organisations who rank the best employers around the world. One of those is ‘Great Place to Work’ who are a world authority on workplace culture. To date they have surveyed more than 100 million employees around the world and each year, over 10,000 organisations work with ‘Great Place to Work’ to benchmark the quality of their workplace against their peers. The output of these annual surveys has enabled the creation of deep and meaningful insights as what it means to be a ‘top employer’ and a great place to work. In 2021, their research represents the views of over 50,000 employees in Australia. Meanwhile, for New Zealand, it’s worth looking at the research conducted by Human Resources Director magazine, who make an annual review of the ‘employers of choice.’ Before we reveal the employers who came out on top, we’ll dig down into what makes a great workplace and what it means to be ‘an employer of choice’.
What does it mean to be a ‘top employer’ or a ‘a great workplace’?
According to Samantha Huddle, General Manager, Great Place to Work for Australia and New Zealand, “the best companies are those that have clarity on their values and can lean on them when they need to. The best care about their communities and their people. They trust their people. In this year’s best companies list, it was the companies with purpose that did best of all.”
So what is meant by organisational purpose add how does this add to the employment experience?
The term ‘purpose’ is often over-used and for this reason is often mis-understood. These days everything claims to be purpose-driven or purpose-led. There’s purpose-driven soap. Purpose-driven cosmetics. Even purpose driven ice-cream. So what does it mean in the workplace?
Purpose is ‘why’ people come to work — not what they actually do when they’re there. It’s about giving people a sense of meaningful mission about what they are accomplishing each day over and above their immediate tasks or revenue generating activities.
“It’s more than a mission statement or list of values. Instead it speaks to the heart of the goals an organisation is striving to achieve. It must be meaningful, heartfelt and lived throughout the organisation," Samatha Huddle — Great Place to Work Australia/NZ
According to McKinsey, purpose-led organisations have reflected deeply on what they stand for and how this manifests daily in terms of how employees are empowered to make decisions and also the very product and service strategy that the company adopts.
In Great Place to Work’s 2021 rankings for Australia, the top employers have an explicit purpose over and above their day-to-day line of business. Cisco aims to make the world more inclusive. Pharmaceutical giant AbbVie seeks to cure humanity’s most complex diseases and Atlassian (famous for Jira and Trello) aims to unlock the power of teamwork. Meanwhile in New Zealand, SMB accounting software trailblazer Xero focuses its purpose on “helping small businesses thrive worldwide”.
If we look at the data from the 50,000 employees surveyed in Australia in 2021, there was a measure that was extraordinarily correlated between the highest ranking employers. Respondents are asked the question “My work has a special meaning — this is not just a job.” Of the companies that made the Best Workplaces listing, on average 87% agreed with this statement. It does vary slightly between the size of companies where you ask this question. In Small companies, the figure goes up to 91%, whilst in large companies, 81% of employees in ‘best employer’ ranked companies agreed with this statement.