HR · 23 September 2015

What small businesses can learn from the friendliest workplaces in the UK

High-street retailers dominated the UK's friendliest workplaces
High-street retailers dominated the UK’s friendliest workplaces

Glassdoor has released its latest study exploring the top ten friendliest companies to work for, so what can smaller firms note from their example?

The notable outcome from Glassdoor’s exploration into the UK firms with the most welcoming workplace was the dominance of Britain’s high-street retailers – TK Maxx came top with 26 per cent of reviews noting its friendliness. WHSmith was in second with 25 per cent, then Debenhams, Boots and ASDA rounding up the top five.

Joe Wiggins, careers trend analyst at Glassdoor, said: “When it comes to finding a new job we all have our own priorities, whether it’s better pay, career progression or seeking out a certain company culture. For some people, making friends at work and having a friendly boss is what keeps them in the job.”

Elsewhere in the top ten, Greggs, Primark, Morrisons, River Island and Sainsbury all featured. While the negative side of customer-facing jobs often reflect on the copious stories employees often have to hand about bad experiences with customers from hell, on the flip side, retail workers reviewing their places of work on Glassdoor frequently cited the positive atmosphere created by colleages as a plus.

A sales assistant at Boots mentioned its “friendly and welcoming atmosphere” while also noting the staff discount as an added bonus, while an ASDA cashier said the company had “a great philosophy and mission statement which is impressed upon every employee from day one”.

Though the survey isn’t all-encompassing, there are a couple of notable takeaways smaller firms can consider about those businesses which have been repeatedly cited as friendly – an important criteria in an ever-tight battle for talent.

Treat your employees as the most valuable part of your business

The difficulty in finding the right people is often named as a top concern for employers of all size and many established entrepreneurs have cited recruiting woes as some of their biggest mistakes. Yet, not all firms focus on keeping their staff happy once they’ve employed them – but it’s crucial to do. You don’t want to go through all the trouble of getting that job listing right, spending ages sifting CVs and sitting through numerous interviews to secure the right person for a role, only to have them leave soon after not feeling their worth is acknowledged.

It’s notable that one of the ASDA reviews mentioned that staff are “always treated like the most valuable commodity in the store” while communication channels were made crystal clear. If a very big company is able to convey this on a day-to-day level to a vast range of employees, an owner of a micro firm should be able to concentrate on making an employee’s worth known – even if you’re not able to do so through the obvious means, such as a pay rise. This is also where the communication side of things come into play – finding out whether extra leave might be top of an employee’s wish list is straightforward enough to do if you’re speaking to them regularly.

Show that you’re reasonable

It may sound simple enough, but as an employer, getting that balance right between directing and delegating effectively and lending an understanding ear to your employees can be tricky. You want to maintain an authoritative position rather than being overly chummy, but you’re also much more likely to instil goodwill among employees if you display a human side – if it comes to difficulty with getting something done, time constraints or personal troubles.

Again as a micro business owner, you’ll be able to display this much more easily than the head of a bigger company, so make use of the advantages you have of being accessible to employees to cultivate a friendly environment that will appeal to potential new staff members. A WH Smith employee said on Glassdoor that their manager had secured the perfect balance between being “friendly yet authoritative and always willing to help when uncertain”, which is a good way of leading by example. They also credited the other staff with cultivating a “great team morale” – always easier to do if the boss is spearheading this.

Wiggins said “it’s no coincidence that this list is packed with some of the UK’s most popular high-street retailers, because clearly camaraderie is easily forged amongst people working on the front line in customer-facing roles”. It’s crucial that these employers “put a lot of effort into fostering the right work culture because good customer service is the difference between failure and success”.

This is the case for small and big firms alike, so if you want to deliver the best customer service possible, make sure you’re providing for those who will be delivering it.

Image: Shutterstock

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

Work and Wellbeing