Making the most of employer accreditations

employer accreditations

Need to know:

  • Accreditations are proof of the positive work being done by organisations, as well as a long-term commitment to change.
  • The process can be complex, with different challenges depending on the type and the employer, but an accreditation team should be on hand to help.
  • Without a deeper commitment, reaching for accreditations can seem like a tick-box exercise, instead of highlighting issues with an employer.
  • As well as benefitting the employer, accreditations can be an important part of fuelling wider societal change and improving the world of work.

From employees to consumers, people are increasingly looking for more from the businesses they either work for or engage with.

Simon Daly, employee experience strategist at Qualtrics, says: “People are looking to the leaders of organisations to address key topics, such as wellbeing and work-life balance, and the pandemic has certainly seen that trajectory move forward. There’s also a desire to see wider social issues being addressed, such as climate change, racism, social justice. It’s important now more than ever for leaders to speak out.”

This might sound daunting, but there are many ways organisations can use this trend to their advantage by representing best practice. One of the ways to do this is by gaining employer accreditations, which put a seal of approval on those businesses that treat their employees well or have a positive impact on the world around them.

The why

Accreditation takes time and resources, so first, what is the value of investing in a positive working environment? And second, why not just leave the benefits to speak for themselves?

Kim Peters, executive vice president (EVP), global recognition, research and strategic partnerships at Great Place to Work, explains: “We want to have organisations where every employee, no matter who they are or what they do, has a consistently positive experience. We’ve found that when this happens, [organisations] are much more financially successful as well.”

She adds that Great Place to Work’s research finds certified businesses have about half the turnover of non-certified ones, as well as higher revenue and greater innovation.

Maisie Caro, communications officer at the Living Wage Foundation, adds: “93% of living wage employers say that paying the living wage has benefited their business. That includes 86% seeing their reputation improve, and 75% seeing improved employee motivation and retention rates.”

This leads into the second answer: employer accreditations make the work being done more concrete, putting it in context and benchmarking it against best practice.

Peters says: “Having the Great Place to Work-Certified badge on [an employer’s] website immediately differentiates [its] workplace from others,” says Peters. “It’s not just [its] opinion or a PR campaign. It allows [the employer] to talk about [its] workplace in terms of how employees feel using real data, which is very convincing.”

Robin Fieth, chief executive at the Building Societies Association (BSA), says: “The Good Business Charter represents businesses which promote and implement responsible business practices and, at a time when people are caring more about the types of organisations they work for and do business with, this accreditation is a simple way to demonstrate our value-driven approach to the way we behave.”

More than this, it shows a real commitment. For example, while some might view an organisation’s efforts around issues such as LGBTQ+ representation, gender and race diversity, or sustainability, to name a few, as convenient tick-box exercises, signing up to a charter or accreditation often includes a long-term strategy.

Similarly, the UK faces rising living costs and inflationary pressures that do not look set to ease any time soon, and some employers might raise wages to curry immediate favour for 2022. However, the 10,000 accredited living wage employers, half of which have joined since the start of the pandemic alone, have done something longer-lasting.

“When an employer signs up, [it is] joining a movement, and it’s a really big statement to employees and the rest of their sector,” explains Caro. “The employee is assured that they aren’t going to be left behind as the cost of living rises. The employer also has the security of being able to plan and know what [its] wage bills are going to be. We need that stability now more than ever.”

Financial services firm Admiral has been accredited by Great Place to Work since the movement started in 2001. For Richard Thorne, people services manager, there were many reasons to get involved.

He explains: “We are really proud of our culture, and for 29 years we have always thought we are a great place to work. We were looking for something that would help us understand if that was actually true; it gives [us] a benchmark and a context in which to talk about the things that are important to both existing and potential colleagues.

“It’s great to make sure our culture is visible externally, and also it’s helpful for us to keep consistent in our efforts, to make sure that we keep our focus on the right things. It’s also a chance to learn from other [employers].”

The how

There are many different forms of employer accreditation, each with their own hoops to jump through. At Great Place to Work, as an example, the process includes extensive employee surveys. If a business reaches a threshold of 65% of employees having a positive experience, it is certified and eligible for inclusion in the Best Workplaces list.

It might seem sensible for employers to wait until they know they are going to excel in these surveys before attempting accreditation, but Peters notes that this risks missing out on an important part of the process, says Peters.

“No [organisation] is absolutely perfect,” she explains. “Understanding where you are on the continuum is where it all starts. Unless you know how you’re doing, it’s impossible to know what to do.

“The other thing our survey does is help [employers] understand the areas where [they] have strengths and opportunities. [They] could do a number of things to improve [their] workplace culture, but wouldn’t it be helpful to know which would be the most important? That’s what [employers] get after [they have] done [their] initial survey, looked at how [their] employees feel, and compared [themselves] to industry benchmarks or company size. It gives [them] the data [they] need to make a plan and set [themselves] up for success.”

Nevertheless, there should be a foundation of positive culture and intent before taking the first step to accreditation, even just to ensure that employees are willing to engage with the process, says Thorne.

On a practical level, the process of accreditation simply takes time, so it is best to get started as early as possible in order to reap the rewards sooner.

“Getting in touch doesn’t mean that right there on the spot [employers] have to have completely sorted [their] plan,” says Caro. “The accreditation team works with [the employer] to put the right steps in place. For some businesses, that can take a couple of years: [they] identify living wage milestones with the help of the team. It’s a process, not all or nothing from day one.”

For those wondering which accreditation to go for, it is also important to consider what makes most sense for the specific organisation, and this means talking to employees, asking what they value, and going on from there.

The nuances

If not backed up by a genuine commitment, reaching for an accreditation might simply emphasise for staff that an employer is only about optics.

“The intent is good, to have a badge of honour to showcase what [the employer is] doing, but it should be about listening to employees and driving actionable internal change, as opposed to just portraying an image,” explains Daly.

“[It] can have a great score, but that might be because people were driven internally to respond in a certain way. What is much more powerful is if leaders actually take the time to listen to employees and create that environment where they can give their best: a culture of true belonging.

“It might be covered up for a short period, but ultimately, if the employee voice continues to be ignored or [they] don’t address those key pieces, the cracks will start to show.”

Thorne agrees: “For those organisations that go out to get the accreditation just to get the accreditation, it’s really not going to stick.”

This also applies when considering which accreditation to strive for, says Fieth: “Accreditations can have value for employers as they signal to staff and potential staff, as well as wider stakeholders, what they value and measure. Picking the right ones to apply for is important. There are a growing number around, and longevity and progress, rather than a ‘one year wonder’ is likely to be most effective.”

Dominic Ponniah, CEO and co-founder of Cleanology, and a member of the Living Wage Foundation’s Recognised Service Provider Leadership Group, agrees that some have more weight than others: “There are lots of accreditations, and some of them are more worthwhile than others, I would say. There are many which are known to be very rigorous in what they do, but there are others where [employers] really just pay [their] annual fee and that’s it.”

Once the right accreditations have been chosen, employers should keep staff in the loop, and celebrate successes both internally and externally, but perhaps even more importantly, be open about any weaknesses discovered during the process. This provides a strong platform upon which to build and showcase success long-term.

For Admiral, this means cascading the results down through managers in different parts of the business, and giving localised breakdowns through varied communication channels, such as internal videos, email and social media, explains Thorne. This includes information on what changes are going to take place as a result of the process.

“It’s a big commitment to make, so shout about it and be proud, both internally and externally,” says Ponniah.

Organisations also have to realise that accreditations can be complex. For smaller businesses, the demand on resources and time might be a particular hurdle, whereas larger employers might struggle to be agile and implement quick changes.

“The best tip I can give is to get in touch with the accreditation team,” says Caro. “Living wage accreditation is about paying directly and indirectly employed staff, so sub-contracted workers as well, which for some businesses does get immensely complicated. But our accreditation team has expertise which cannot be overstated.”

Collaboration with the accreditation provider is key. “[An employer has to be] really dedicated, and having someone on both sides who really understands the business and what is involved is important,” says Thorne.

The bigger picture

While the value may differ from one employer to the next, one thing is clear: accreditations generate an important wider discussion. With the Great Resignation and the race for talent, employers will be looking for ways to improve now more than ever. Accreditations help signpost best practice, improving the world of work for all.

Ponniah adds that this can go both ways, with his role in the Living Wage Foundation’s leadership group representing a chance to bring real life experience to the foundation.

“We can say what works really well in a commercial environment, what people are looking for, and help them develop the proposition,” he says. “We are then able to take that back to our clients and say ‘look, we’re part of this amazing movement’. It gives us a great platform to be able to talk to our clients and then the wider industry.”

As Peters concludes: “If we had a world full of people who really enjoyed going to work every day, enjoyed working with the people they work with, and felt they and their [organisation] made a difference in the world, the world would certainly be a much better place, and organisations would have the full benefit of all of their employees’ capabilities.”