2018 Shortlist and winners

CD Pub Co

Shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey

In a nutshell A family-owned business set up in the Midlands in 2007 to offer quality pub dining with slick, efficient service

Locations Two sites in Leamington Spa, one in Crowle and another in Redditch

Employees 140

Average staff turnover 20%

Annual sales turnover £4.2m

Operations director and co-founder Charles Harris recognises that the success of this independent business, which is rooted in family values, relies on recognising and nurturing its talented staff. With four vibrant gastropubs already up and running and a fifth slated to open soon, the strategy has been to promote in-house, drawing managerial appointments from well-trained team members who understand the company values.

To make sure this happens, everyone has access to accredited training, from NVQs to WSET, while biannual personal Development reviews highlight the need for specialist training in areas such as cellar management. Communication gets top billing, with great importance placed on face-to-face meetings and full team meetings every eight weeks.

More recently, the company has changed the way it pays employees to enhance the opportunities on offer for flexible working. As a result, 90% of the team are now paid an hourly rate, which has the advantage not only of enabling staff to work reduced hours, but also ensures they are rewarded for overtime during busy periods.

No surprise then that a whopping 98%-plus of CD Pub Co respondents to the survey say the company respects work-life balance and that they work well within a team to produce good results. A hugely impressive 96% would recommend it as a best place to work.

City District

Shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey

In a nutshell An independent company with two restaurant brands, Fazenda Bar & Grill and Picanha

Locations Chester, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and a new opening in Birmingham

Employees 295

Average staff turnover Varies across cities, starting at 25% in Leeds

Annual sales turnover £11m (31 March 2017)

The privately owned South American-inspired restaurant group launched its first Fazenda in Leeds in 2010 and is about to open its sixth site, in Birmingham.

With further expansion of the business likely, City District’s founders are looking to train their own managers. The company has just designed its first graduate intake scheme and introduced a four-month structured development programme to upskill managers and supervisors, enabling them to take the step up to the next level of management.

Feedback from the original cohort who took part in the programme last year prompted the company to put on extra workshops covering more subjects, plus a two week break for personal reflection. The trainees’ projects have been implemented to increase cost-efficiency.

One team member says of their experience: “I’ve progressed through the ranks with both training and informal coaching from inspirational managers.”

Another says: “There is a well-developed benefit scheme, and the work environment allows fair and constructive feedback.”

The three top reasons for leaving are failed probation periods (21%), leaving the industry (20%) and relocation (17%). Some 86% of City District respondents to the Best Places to Work survey feel they are part of a team that respect each other, against a benchmark of 75%.

Cycas Hospitality UK

Shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey

In a nutshell A hotel management company with 11 properties and three opening this summer, founded in 2008 by John Wagner and Eduard Elias

Locations The UK and the Netherlands

Employees 55 in a central support role, and about 320 team members or “Cycadettes”

Average staff turnover 2% (retention for the past 12 months is 98%)

Annual sales turnover £36m in 2017

There’s a lot of energy at Cycas Hospitality, with management describing the team playfully as Cycadettes and pledging on its website that hotel management is “fun”.

Certainly, the company engages its people. Not only did it scoop the Serviced Apartment Investment in People Award at the Serviced Apartment Industry Awards in 2017, but 85% of the company’s respondents to the Best Places to Work survey would recommend it as a great place to work.

The message from the top is that everyone is valued and there is no room for bureaucratic barriers that stifle innovation. To get this across, the Cycas Hub Facebook page was launched in 2015 to allow teams to celebrate successes and share stories, and for the co-founder to post his lively quarterly business update videos. Best of all, the Facebook Hub is a great leveller – in keeping with Cycas’s open culture, it encourages a non-hierarchical, team-focused approach.

The message is appreciated, with 98.5% of Cycas respondents to the Purple Cubed survey saying their leaders are inspirational. This summer, the company is introducing an engagement app to make two-way communication even easier. Teams will be able to access everything from business updates and surveys to best practice, and can share documents. By reinforcing the feedback-friendly culture, Cycas hopes it will be able to monitor what matters most to employees.

The message is appreciated, with 98.5% of Cycas respondents to the Purple Cubed survey saying their leaders are inspirational. This summer, the company is introducing an engagement app to make two-way communication even easier. Teams will be able to access everything from business updates and surveys to best practice, and can share documents. By reinforcing the feedback-friendly culture, Cycas hopes it will be able to monitor what matters most to employees.

Firmdale Hotels

Shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey

In a nutshell Tim and Kit Kemp’s collection of luxuriously designed boutique hotels

Locations Five hotels and three townhouse hotels in London, two hotels in New York

Employees 1,300

Average staff turnover 34%

Annual sales turnover £126m

Yet again, Firmdale demonstrates that good business results can be had from listening to employees, respecting work-life balance, offering career development, promoting from within and celebrating successes. Over the past 12 months, its people strategy has contributed to a 4.8% increase in revenue, consistent levels of employee engagement exceeding 83%, and a 74% staff retention rate.

Bolstered by the success of its inaugural employee engagement week in 2017, the company has unleashed Firmdale Live, a series of monthly events, masterclasses, competitions and awards to inspire and empower staff. It included the launch of a new training calendar, which encouraged a further 68 employees to sign up for an apprenticeship.

All this doesn’t go unnoticed. “I love how we are constantly updating systems to fit in with new developments and really develop our people,” comments one employee.

And since the 2017 launch of the Year of Incentive, using a engagement platform that encourages staff to reward colleagues when they’ve demonstrated core values), more than 4,500 rewards have been given, equating to an investment of £6,000.

HR says that this values-led approach has boosted employee engagement, particularly helping the retention of harder-to-engage back-of-house workers, such as housekeepers, kitchen staff and head office employees. It will be expanded this year to include guest comments, bright ideas and green initiatives.

The success of the people strategy is borne out by the survey, which reveals that 84% of Firmdale respondents believe it is a good environment to work in, and 86.4% feel they work well with a team to produce good results.

Hand Picked Hotels

Shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey

In a nutshell Launched in 2001, this privately owned collection of country house hotels has grown to a total of 20 sites

Locations The UK and Channel Islands

Employees 1,498

Average staff turnover 49% (Dec 16-Nov 17)

Annual sales turnover £83m (Dec 16-Nov 17)

Hand Picked Hotels is a big company, but chairman and chief executive Julia Hands has worked hard to create an inclusive workplace, where staff are encouraged to develop and let their personalities shine as part of a tight unit.

Last November, Hands relaunched the company’s original set of vision and values “where guests feel special and colleagues feel like family”. Insiders report that her video presentation, which was shown across the portfolio, was met with “cheers and applause and a sense of pride”.

The relaunch kicked off with a roadshow and an ongoing programme of activities to drive the ethos in each hotel. This involves team training, job-swapping, games, role play, social events and community efforts.

But the company was also creating a productive working environment. As the Best Places to Work survey reveals, three-quarters of Hand Picked respondents feel they work well within a team to produce results. 

“It’s a place that I have worked for the past 34 years and is my second home – love the place,” comments one employee.

Another member of the Hand Picked staff says: “I feel my company treats both its customers and staff with equal respect, which in turn builds the atmosphere that we all feel. It seems to be a mini eco-environment where we all give a little more, and as a result we all gain a lot more. I wish more companies would wise up to this.”

Red Carnation

Shortlisted for the Best Employer Catey

In a nutshell A collection of 17 four/five-star boutique luxury hotels

Locations South Africa, the US and Europe

Employees 667 in London

Average staff turnover 30% for 2017

Annual sales turnover £8.7m in 2016

This family-run company proves time and again that it values its staff – underlined by the fact it holds an Investors in People gold standard award. It’s no surprise, then, that a recent initiative has set out to improve the general health and wellbeing of staff – a win-win situation that has already reduced overall sickness and absence rates by 16%.

To achieve that, the company took a reading of the physical, mental and social well­being of its staff across everything from food and benefits to training. The result is a wellbeing programme, supported by a website to ensure staff know what is available to them. This, for instance, flags up the employee assistance helpline and volunteer days (staff get paid to help a charity of their choice for two days a year).

As well as the fall in overall sickness, there have been no recorded absences for work-related stress in the past year and volunteer days increased by 50% to 346 in 2017.

Not surprisingly, nearly every Red Carnation staff member who responded to the Purple Cubed survey would recommend it as a good place to work, with 94% highlighting the access to personal development.

The comments back this up. “In 35 years (and the last 18 with Red Carnation Hotels) this is the best company I have worked for by far,” says one employee.

Another member of staff adds: “I have developed from shift leader to operations manager. The support, coaching and mentoring I receive is phenomenal.”

7 The Chocolate Quarter (St Monica Trust)

In a nutshell This £60m retirement community, run by the charity St Monica Trust, opened in late 2017 with 136 assisted living apartments and a 90-bed care home, Somerdale restaurant and B-Block pizzeria

Location The former Fry’s chocolate factory at Keynsham, Somerset

Employees 39, including front of house, pizza chefs and kitchen staff

Average staff turnover Two – one returning to Spain and one for a new career

Annual sales turnover The organisation has been trading for under a year

The Chocolate Quarter is St Monica Trust’s fifth retirement village and although it only opened late last year the charity’s employment strategy has not missed a beat. One of its top achievements is respecting work-life balance, with 91% of Chocolate Quarter respondents satisfied against a benchmark of 68%.

The majority of employee respondents say the charity lives up to its promises and 94% are content they work well as a team to get good results. Certainly, all teams are involved in operational day-to-day procedures, with opportunities to give input through regular tasting sessions of new dishes and wines.

To ensure career fulfilment, all staff have four supervision sessions during the year and there is scope to move between departments, such as marketing, maintenance, and so on. “We’d rather keep our best people within the charity, even if we have to lose them from B-Block or Somerdale,” says facilities operations manager Mark Thomas.

The lucky employees also get lots of thank-yous. To date, this has been in the shape of Love Hearts on Valentine’s Day, hot chocolate and a mug at Christmas, and Easter eggs. No wonder 93% of Chocolate Quarter respondents to the Best Places to Work survey would recommend their employer. As one says: “It’s a great place to work and the staff are trained to a very high standard, with great working benefits and working environment.”

8 The Old Stocks Inn

In a nutshell A former 17th-century coaching inn transformed by owner Jim Cockell into a 16-bedroom boutique hotel, bar and restaurant

Location Stow-on-the-Wold, the Cotswolds

Employees 23, but at high season up to 30

Average staff turnover 16%, with the average team member having 2.2 years’ service

Annual sales turnover £1.3m in 2017 (£1.5m forecast for 2018)

Operating with a small team in a rural area, the company makes sure its employees are happy. Front of house staff work 42-hour contracts with paid overtime, and the kitchen team work 48 hours maximum with 2.5 days off a week. Some 90% of staff respondents to the survey say they have a good work-life balance.

There are lots of perks too. The team get 28 days’ holiday a year – plus their birthday off and one other special day. When they’re on duty, staff sit down to cooked breakfasts and a group family meal at 5.30pm, and to nurture them as brand ambassadors, they get 50% off when dining at the inn as well as discounted rooms for friends and family.

Development is taken seriously, with access to in-house training and an online training platform called Flow Hospitality.

Underpinning it all is the company’s recognition of good service. This reassures employees that they will be rewarded as they progress, inspiring them to take a personal interest in growing the business. Employee of the month awards, for instance, offer self-development prizes such as molecular cocktail classes, spa days and hotel stays.

The success this company has had in creating an engaged, focused team who act as brand ambassadors has resulted in a great employer reputation and an excellent staff retention rate. One employee, for instance, started as a part-time waitress aged 17 and loved the job so much she stayed, progressing four years later to events co-ordinator. “I have grown so much as a person. I absolutely love my job and my colleagues,” she says.  

She is not alone. Some 92% of her colleagues say it is a good working environment, with notable comments including “it is run with a soul and a heartbeat”.

9 CEME Conference Centre

In a nutshell The Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence (CEME) is a not-for-profit education and skills organisation with purpose-built conference facilities in 18 acres of campus

Location Rainham, Essex

Employees 22 (including support services)

Average staff turnover 4%

Service standards are consistently high at this state-of-the-art venue. Its expertise in hosting conferences for up to 600 delegates (as well as meetings, exhibitions and events) has attracted gold standard accreditation from the Meetings Industry Association and membership of Venues of Excellence.

CEME’s remit to provide an inspirational environment for learning and business growth means the organisation takes the motivation of its own team seriously. As part of its 2017 learning and development plan, CEME invested in emotional intelligence profiling for its employees. According to conference centre director Eamonn Cole, the benefits were two-fold: staff gained insights into their emotional make-up through completing the profiles, while HR improved its workforce understanding, interaction and communication through the evaluation.

The results are tangible, with team and individual performance against task completion increasing by nearly 10% and engagement scores improving to 9.2/10.

The Best Places to Work survey provides further evidence that the organisation has a great people strategy: an astonishing 100% of CEME respondents say they want to do a good job and that their leaders are inspirational.

As one employee puts it: “CEME is an organisation that truly lives up to its values of exceeding expectations, positive attitude and presentation. The staff all commit to be the very best that they can be for the benefit of all our customers.”

10 Friska

In a nutshell A group of healthy fast-food restaurants and concessions

Locations 10 sites in Bristol, Manchester and Luton

Employees 115

Average staff turnover Undisclosed

Annual sales turnover £5m

Friska believes that its staff should have fun at work, while also striving to improve their performance. To incentivise employees, the company recently implemented a values awards scheme called the A-team awards, to recognise employees who embody values and go above and beyond to make Friska’s customers – and colleagues – feel great.

Nominations can be made by anyone and are shared in Friska’s monthly Feel Good News newsletter, with a winner picked every quarter. An overall winner receives a cash prize at the Christmas party.

“We’ve received nearly 100 nominations and they make for very uplifting reading,” says people and development manager Ellie Steers. “They sum up the positivity and friendly nature of our team.”

Friska is a three-star member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, and being a good employer is as central to its ethos as low waste and good food. Its approach includes a good work-life balance, fair pay, benefits such as Simplyhealth healthcare, childcare vouchers, free lunch and coffee, and opportunities for development and progression.

“On a personal level, I have had access to a huge amount of personal development and feel valued in the company,” is one comment that reflects the company vibe. Another is: “Great work-life balance for the hospitality industry – most people have weekends off due to the nature of the business, and there isn’t the expectation that managers will be working 50-plus hours a week as is common in the industry.”

Not least, team members get to celebrate their annual Friskaversary with a meal out for two courtesy of Friska. It all pays off, with 92% of Friska staff wanting to do a good job.

11 The Savoy

In a nutshell This historic 267-room, five-star luxury hotel is run by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Location The Strand, London

Employees 557

Average staff turnover 27% in 2017

Annual sales turnover Undisclosed

A recent colleague engagement survey undertaken by the Savoy revealed that individual and team recognition needed attention. Ever nimble, its HR team took advantage of National Employee Appreciation Day on 2 March this year and went one better by holding a colleague appreciation week.

For five days, managers were encouraged to do something special for their teams. For example, an appreciation station was set up at the hotel’s staff entrance offering a different surprise to team members every day. These included doughnuts on the Monday and a bagel bar and coffee station on the Wednesday, staffed by the executive team.

“The energy that week was amazing and we feel confident that our extension of this national celebration for a whole week touched every one of our colleagues,” says learning and development manager Rachel Banks.

It is just one initiative, but it exemplifies how managers at the Savoy work hard at keeping their teams motivated and engaged. The Best Places to Work survey results reveal their success: Savoy respondents gave the company’s inspirational leaders a 90% rating (the highest in the survey), and 88% feel they are part of a team that respects each other.

12 Dalata

In a nutshell Ireland’s largest hotel operator, with 39 hotels, including the Maldron and Clayton brands

Locations The UK and Ireland

Employees 4,326 across the UK and Ireland

Average staff turnover Undisclosed

Annual sales turnover £300m

This year looks busy for Dalata as it is building three hotels in Ireland and opening a fourth in Newcastle. To build the necessary management teams, it aims to promote from within, so the focus is on developing staff to ensure it has a talent pipeline. To this end, there are 12 bespoke structured programmes to help employees at all levels to grow their careers with the group. It’s had proven success, with 160 managers developed last year. 

Employees also have access to a suite of personal and skills workshops and modules. During 2017, more than 250 face-to-face workshops were delivered, as well as 40 webinars to 2,600 employees in subjects ranging from management, health and safety, and recruitment to service delivery skills.

The company has also made its food and beverage business a focus for development in the past year, supported through skills training and workshops for F&B managers. Customer service training is based on Dalata’s core values of service and individuality, and measured through customer feedback. 

One employee comment that sums up Dalata as an employer is that it is “a fantastic place to work with a real focus on people. Development of individuals and internal development is at the very heart of the organisation.” Should you need further persuading, take note that Dalata was recognised as Ireland’s best organisation for learning and development at the 2017 Early Career Awards.

13 Just Hospitality

In a nutshell A contract caterer focused on providing fresh and healthy workplace food

Locations Based in central London

Employees 98

Average staff turnover 32%

Annual sales turnover £7.3m

This contract caterer sets out its aim to inject fun into the workday through its Eat Happy! motto. It believes that to keep its clients’ workforces happy, it needs to ensure that its own staff feel cared for and valued. This year, it has improved existing initiatives and developed new ways to engage with staff.

Take its happiness week – a twist on wellness week. It coincided with the International Day of Happiness, but at Just Hospitality the celebrations go on all week. This year, activities included a team gift exchange, a lucky dip and an interactive nutrition workshop. Staff were also surveyed about their level of happiness and what might increase it. The results reveal that staff want more “exercising, relating and meaning” activities at work.

In the meantime, collaboration has been improved this year through the introduction of private networking service Yammer to help staff exchange ideas across the sites.

Other initiatives to keep staff happy include parents getting the day off for their child’s first day of school, and having access to an employee assistance programme in partnership with Hospitality Action.

To keep staff agile and focused, they are given the opportunity to shadow a colleague in a different department for one day. This not only helps employees to gain a better understanding of the business, it gives them inspiration on how to develop their career.

With 82% of Just Hospitality respondents to the Best Places to Work survey saying they have a good work-life balance and more than half saying they are happy there “all the time”, it is fair to say many respondents reckon it is “a great place to work”.

“Senior managers always listen to ways to improve and genuinely want to make Just Hospitality a great place to work – this is evident from every­day practices,” says one.

14 Accent Catering Services

In a nutshell Operating since 2002 to provide food services to the business and education sectors

Locations 70 contracts in the Home Counties

Employees 585

Average staff turnover 18%

Annual sales turnover £15m

Accent aims to expand by eight to 10 contracts a year, which means it has a constant raft of new employees coming on board with TUPE protection. It also means it is particularly important to have an HR strategy in place to quickly create a connection between the new teams and the culture of the company.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of investment in the induction training – and training generally. This year, the company has launched a chefs’ academy to guide ambitious kitchen staff through the new national commis chef apprenticeship qualification.

Opportunities include attending masterclass sessions overseen by food development director Paul Merry and being taught leadership skills in kitchen management. The plan was to train four apprentices, but due to the volume of talent, six have signed up for this year’s programme.

To capture loyalty and ginger up motivation, Accent recognises and rewards individuals for outstanding service through a Shining Stars scheme. The company also recognises the hard work of staff in showcasing sites to potential new clients and even offers a £500 bonus to those who provide a lead that develops into a new contract.

According to the survey, more than 90% of Accent respondents would recommend working at the company, and there are a lot of comments about joy and happiness at work, summed up by one worker, who says: “Best job I have had in 27 years of working – which I still really enjoy after two and a half years.”

15 EatDrinkSleep

In a nutshell Launched in 2000, this trio of pubs-with-rooms is run by Charles and Edmund Inkin

Locations The Old Coastguard in Mousehole, the Gurnard’s Head in St Ives, and the Felin Fach Griffin in Hay-on-Wye

Employees 120

Average staff turnover Not measured

Annual sales turnover £4m

Back in 2016 when co-founder Edmund Inkin entered EatDrinkSleep for the Best Places to Work competition, he said it had triggered a new approach for the company and highlighted areas where they could improve. He conceded that while both he and his brother Charles are good at innovating and making top-down decisions for the good of the team, for the first time they had recognised that it was good to listen to their staff too.

Clearly they have been doing just that. The pair have now introduced two team-building initiatives for the two Cornish teams. The first is a social club, which involves a cultural or team-building outing, such as a cinema, gallery or even a more edgy escape rooms experience for a group of six to eight employees. This is paid for by the company, but driven by senior members of the team. The second initiative is a supper club involving an evening meal at local restaurants, again for a group of six to eight. This one is organised by the company, but the teams pay for themselves.

The team-building events are obviously going down well, with 83% saying they work well together to produce results. Staff offer some unequivocally positive comments: “I’m incredibly lucky to work for a company that feels like a family. There’s a great sense of camaraderie among the team, strengthened by monthly social events that are a lot of fun. I feel there’s plenty of opportunity for me to grow in my role, which gives me a sense of longevity within the company.”

Respect for work-life balance at the company is above the norm too, with a score of 88% against a benchmark of 68%.

16 Coworth Park

In a nutshell A 70-bedroom, five-star country house hotel operated by the Dorchester Collection

Location Ascot, Berkshire

Employees 180

Average staff turnover 42.5%

Annual sales turnover Undisclosed

Employee engagement is seen as being as important as guest engagement at this luxurious hotel and spa. To this end, the HR team recently gave its engagement survey process a thorough shake-up to improve the response time to employee feedback and to create a more user-friendly platform.

The resulting online survey can now be accessed via mobiles, tablets and computers, and has a live dashboard allowing managers to receive employee feedback immediately and to take action on it. The surveys can also be tailored for specific departments – to check the dynamics of a new team, say. It has been received warmly by teams and managers alike as an effective tool to gauge engagement throughout the year. In fact, the appraisal system has proved so successful it will be rolled out across the Dorchester Collection.

Development is a hot topic throughout this group, starting with three months of core skills training and progressing through leadership programmes right up to executive level. All training is based on developing self-knowledge to inspire and lead others.

As you might expect, “good communication with managers” is one of the higher scoring areas for Coworth Park in the Best Places to Work survey. Another was that it offers great benefits – as more than 87% agreed.

17 Auchrannie Leisure

In a nutshell An employee-owned resort comprising two four-star hotels with 85 rooms, 30 five-star self-catering luxury lodges, three restaurants, a shop, two leisure clubs with pools, a destination spa, an outdoor adventure centre and a children’s playbarn

Location Isle of Arran

Employees 168

Average staff turnover 65% in 2017/18

Annual sales turnover £7.7m

Until recently, Auchrannie was owned by the Johnston family, which has worked hard to earn a place in the Best Places to Work listing over the years. Last November, the family went one step further, and the resort became the first Scottish hospitality business to become employee-owned, giving the whole Auchrannie team a stake in its future.

Claire Johnston, HR and people development manager, says: “We continue to work to build an efficient, sustainable and profitable business. Our teams have received this exceptionally positively and, along with dedicated training programmes across all departments, this has contributed towards a huge 22% year-on-year improvement in staff turnover.”

And if that’s not enough, on 1 April 2018, Auchrannie became an accredited Real Living Wage employer, further enhancing its already high reputation.

“This, along with being employee-owned, will further improve our staff turnover, reduce recruitment costs and enhance our existing productivity,” says Johnston.

With 92% of Auchrannie respondents to the survey agreeing they work in a great environment, it seems the only way for the resort is up.

18 Cheval Residences

In a nutshell Operator of luxury serviced apartments and residences

Locations London (with plans to open in Doha, Qatar, in 2020)

Employees 230

Average staff turnove r 23% for 2017

Annual sales turnover Not disclosed

Tip-top service is the name of the game at Cheval Residences, a luxury serviced apartment company, so staff retention/development is crucial to keep its discerning corporate and private guests happy. With the company looking to expand to Doha, Qatar, in 2020, succession planning is becoming even more important too. 

To address these issues, the company launched its Cheval management and supervisory academies last year, having invested in a state-of-the-art training facility equipped with the latest presentation technology and a separate break-out room.

Potential high-flyers were identified at their annual performance review and encouraged to join the nine-month programme, which includes workshops, e-learning and shadowing days on topics such as personal leadership style, change management, coaching, resource management, communication, motivation and performance management. There is also a “train the trainer” course, where employees can get feedback on their psychometric profile.

The lucky candidates are also paired with a senior Cheval manager who acts as their mentor, providing support and career guidance. This year’s first intake will graduate in October 2018 after participants have been assessed on coursework and a final project presented to senior management.

Cheval seems to be a happy ship, with mutual respect among managers and teams indicated by a score of 83% and an even higher score for respect for work-life balance.

19 Ziferblat

In a nutshell A pay-per-minute café, shared office space and events venue

Locations Liverpool, Manchester and London (14 in total worldwide)

Employees 38

Average staff turnover 8%

Annual sales turnover £1.5m

Here’s an employer that genuinely wants its staff to enjoy work as much as guests enjoy its facilities. Ziferblat’s pay-per-minute café concept is the first of its kind in the UK and, as a result of its unusual model, the social interaction with guests is seen as the most important element in the role of the “hosts”.

Ivan Meetin – who founded Ziferblat in Moscow – urges employees to experience the hip product first-hand so they can authentically share it with guests. All staff can attend for free any event being held at Ziferblat – from yoga and tai chi classes to secret live acoustic gigs, book groups, knitting clubs, industry meet-ups and thought-provoking talks. Not only are staff encouraged to attend these events, they are also expected to mix with Ziferblat’s growing community of customers.

“With such an eclectic mix of events, this employee initiative is unique to Ziferblat and our company culture,” says its head of marketing Ben Davies.

Clearly, it’s a bit of a perk. Certainly, the team appreciate it, with an impressive 94% saying they work in a great environment.

There’s a “great team spirit – it’s hard work sometimes but we all pull together” is one comment that stands out.

20 Buzzworks Holdings

In a nutshell A family-run portfolio of bars and restaurants

Locations 11 venues in the west of Scotland

Employees 409

Average staff turnover 239 leavers (58.4%) in the year to date

Annual sales turnover £16.5m (forecast running to April 2018)

Launched by the Blair family in 2003, Buzz­works’ bars and restaurants have steadily infiltrated Ayrshire towns such as Prestwick, Troon, Largs and Kilmarnock, and show no sign of stopping. Along the way, Buzzworks has picked up several awards, notably scooping The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For in the UK in 2016 and 2017.

As one of the biggest hospitality employers in Scotland, Buzzworks puts staff recruitment and retention high on its list. Understanding that a good work-life balance is important to many people today, the company supports flexible working practices, including flexible shift arrangements as well as reduced contractual hours and working days per week.

The company has also introduced a “live life” option. Staff simply fill in a form requesting a specific time off on a weekly basis to dedicate to family – or even themselves.

What’s more, Buzzworks managers tend to be aware of their employees’ individual circumstances and support them accordingly, thanks to a policy of open communication between the operational support team and the people development department.

No doubt, it’s this sense of being treated like an individual that makes 89% of Buzzworks respondents to the Best Places to Work survey, against a benchmark of 78%, agree that they work in a great environment.

21 The Idle Rocks and St Mawes hotels

In a nutshell Boutique family-friendly hotels with seven and 19 bedrooms respectively, owned by the Richards family

Location St Mawes, Cornwall

Employees 50 during the winter, rising to 80 in the summer

Average staff turnover Last year the figure was 50%, inflated by short-term contracts and student interns who complete their contract period but leave within 12 months

Annual sales turnover £3m

The location of the Idle Rocks and St Mawes hotels on the beautiful but remote Roseland Peninsula makes recruitment challenging, but a policy of investment and flexibility has brought success to this employer. Niftily tapping into nearby Falmouth’s labour force and student population, the business offers work around the ferry timetable. Likewise, as live-in accommodation is crucial, it has invested in six properties. And to ensure staff integrate with the community, day-trips are organised to show them how best to spend their leisure time, including forays on the hotel yacht.

“Being in Cornwall makes recruitment very challenging. I am impressed our managers never employ out of desperation – our new team members are always like-minded,” says one employee. Nearly 81% of Idle Rocks and St Mawes survey respondents feel they are part of a team that respects each other.

Arguably, the business’s hardest-hitting programme is training. There are weekly language lessons for overseas staff and cross-training so that employees can work across both hotels, safeguarding full-time employment in what is a seasonal part of the world.

Links with Truro College ensure those with ambition have a clear career progression plan. Recent successes include placing a restaurant supervisor on a finance apprenticeship – two days a week in the finance office, a day at college and two days in the restaurant.

This has helped inspire ambition in others and encouraged investment in online training programme Lobster Ink. This allows staff to develop managerial skills by learning at their own pace or following a fast-track course. Staff are also encouraged to follow modules in other departments to gain an understanding of how to make the whole business a success. 

22 Bliss Hotels

In a nutshell A hotel venture from Bliss Investment Partners

Location Southport Waterfront

Employees 110

Average staff turnover Undisclosed

Annual sales turnover £4.5m (2017)

Following its takeover in December 2016 of the 133-bed Ramada Plaza hotel at the Waterfront in Southport, Bliss Hotels went on last year to acquire the head lease for the entire Waterfront development.

Top of the list after this mammoth couple of years is to rebrand the hotel to create Bliss Hotel Southport. To keep employees onside and informed, Bliss recruited a team of eight change champions from all departments to attend regular meetings on issues such as new systems, culture, and so on.

This groundforce kicked off with a brainstorming session in February to draw up a new mission and vision statement that employees could buy into. They then share the ongoing changes with their colleagues, rather than policies being dictated from the top.

Last October also saw implementation of the Workplace by Facebook tool to facilitate communication across shifts and departments. Regular monitoring shows a promising 92% of employees use it every week to, for instance, send messages after a shift. A quick peek reveals comments such as “Thank you Barbara and Tomas for your support today”.

Recruitment of locals is a priority, and to prevent talent from disappearing off to the bright lights of Liverpool and Manchester, the company has launched an online BlissLife webpage to highlight what’s on offer to Bliss employees – an ice-skating night is just one example. The page is also linked to internal job advertisements and has prompted a number of job enquiries.

Bliss Hotels may be new, but 62% of its Best Place to Work respondents would “always” recommend this hotel as a good place to work – well above the 47% benchmark.

23 The Ampersand Hotel

In a nutshell A chic privately owned, 111-bedroom hotel, opened in 2012

Location Harrington Road, London

Employees 60-65

Average staff turnover 4-5% (or less) a month

Annual sales turnover £9m

From the moment this beautifully designed luxury hotel opened, general manager Roberto Pajaras has put significant emphasis on creating an “own and deliver” culture. He explains: “With guest satisfaction at the Ampersand’s heart and the freedom to make decisions and gets things done… it’s what our customers say about us that really counts.”

This is a positive work environment – one in five recruits are recommended through referrals from other members of the team. “We have a hands-on approach to everything we do, which clearly works for us,” says HR director Bushra Masood, “and our people are what makes this a truly nice place to work.”

There is certainly tangible evidence that staff are very well treated. Not only are they treated to shoulder and back massages from professionals to keep stress at bay, but last year the health and wellbeing programme was expanded to include chiropody sessions to help staff to relax at the end of a long shift.

This employer believes it’s the small things that make the most difference. That’s why staff are also able to take the day off on their birthday to spend with friends and family.

No wonder employees really want to do a good job here, with 84% of respondents (against a Best Places to Work benchmark of 76%) showing their commitment, and more than 90% feeling well treated by the company.

24 Georgian House

In a nutshell A privately owned, luxury B&B hotel

Location St George’s Drive, London SW1

Employees 49

Average staff turnover 18%

Annual sales turnover £2.8m

Since taking over in 1987, Serena von der Heyde has transformed a two-star, 28-bedroom guest house into a 63-bedroom boutique B&B with a five-star guest accommodation award from Visit England.

To do that as successfully as she has, she has constantly invested in motivating her team. Last year, she introduced an employee benefits service to make it easier to reward and motivate staff. In previous years, she set up a staff committee to give the team ownership of staff welfare and events as well as to ease communication between staff and management. This is clearly working, as 89% of Georgian House respondents to the Best Places to Work survey say there is great two-way communication – a notable result for this category.

Always looking for ways to improve staff welfare, the business has this year introduced Hospitality Action’s employee assistance programme to provide the team with further support and advice on health, wellbeing and personal challenges.

General manager Adam Rowledge reports: “We have had a positive reaction to the programme, and the advice and information provided by it has encouraged many of the team to adopt a healthier lifestyle.”

Clearly staff don’t feel burned out, either, with good work-life balance scoring 92%, well above the 68% benchmark.

“They are very good with my flexible hours, and they care,” says one employee.

25 St Ermin’s hotel

In a nutshell A 331-bed property, part of the Autograph Collection – Marriott International’s portfolio of upscale, independent hotels

Location Westminster, London

Employees 186

Average staff turnover 46% (down from 52%)

Annual sales turnover £26m

St Ermin’s has a small team of experienced senior managers, so when director of people and development Simon Evans joined the hotel last year, he set out to nurture a complementary level of expertise among junior managers. “Our supervisors are impacting our team members far more directly day to day, many of them being relatively inexperienced or newly promoted from within,” he explains. 

In February the hotel launched a one-year supervisory development programme for a group of 36 supervisors, team leaders, assistant managers and “aspiring stars”. The programme spans topics from coaching skills and “train the trainer” to revenue, sales and marketing, finance, and employment law.

It’s early days, but initial results augur well, with staff turnover dropping to zero in March, customer reviews showing improvement and the Tea Lounge’s Trip­Advisor ranking jumping by nearly 1,100 places in two months. Overall, employee engagement looks sound, backed up by the fact more than 88% of respondents would recommend St Ermin’s as a good place to work all or most of the time.

Employee comments to the Best Places to Work survey indicate the business is respectful of its staff. One team member puts it succinctly: “Great hospitality offered, not always focused on bottom line. Supports the community and charities, and takes care of its staff.”

Another adds: “I have a fair share of experience in hospitality and I believe St Ermin’s is one of its kind. I could not recommend a better place. It is still a working project but it can only get better. It is run by the people for the people.”

26 The Vineyard

In a nutshell A five-AA-red-star hotel with 49 bedrooms. Privately owned by the Michael family, it is famed for its wine collection and three-AA-rosette restaurant

Location Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire

Employees 127 staff

Average staff turnover 10% (to date in 2018)

Annual sales turnover £5.2m

As with most respected businesses, the Vineyard has always recognised that people are its most important asset. It’s also mindful that although it has successful initiatives in place, it can never afford to be complacent. Indeed, as uncertainty swirls around the consequences of Brexit, the hotel is working harder than ever to offer employees recognition of their hard work, inspiring them to continue to contribute towards the success of the business.

For example, as of January 2018, the hotel decided to close its fine-dining restaurant on Sunday evenings and all day Monday, while still offering a brasserie menu in the California Bar. On the face of it, it may look like a poor commercial decision, but the initiative is reaping rewards, allowing the team adequate downtime as well as creating space to improve training and development, all of which result in better consistency of service and a reinvigorated team.

The Vineyard also makes a point of empowering new staff. Some 98% of its staff respondents to the survey singled out the company’s great induction programme, with 82% saying they want to do a really good job. One employee comments: “Induction is amazing at this hotel. All new starters feel at ease and comfortable straight away, and this feeds back to having a strong HR person who knows what she is doing and is fair.”

27 Rapport Guest Services

In a nutshell A boutique provider of award-winning guest services, from reception management to concierges

Locations The UK and Ireland (additional business in New York and Hong Kong)

Employees 460

Average staff turnover 23% (excludes implications of new contract gains)

Annual sales turnover Undisclosed

Working with a team that respects each other is the priority rated highest by employees. Almost 90% of Rapport respondents to the Best Places to Work survey agreed that this is true of their workplace.

In the past year, there has been plenty of investment to reinforce this achievement. Notably, Rapport has underlined the fact it takes mental health seriously by introducing a wellbeing ambassador, who highlights issues such as the Time to Talk campaign, raises awareness of mental health and encourages colleagues to have open conversations. 

The company demonstrates a commitment to career development too, introducing a dedicated business coach in 2016 followed by leadership coaching masterclasses.

Rapport also believes frontline staff deserve a strong career path. Some 90% of last year’s internal development programme graduates have already been promoted.

To take this all-encompassing culture forward and ensure its staff have the tools they need to provide service to all guests, Rapport promotes diversity through training. The training suite includes “start to sign” (sign language learning) and diversity, disability and protocol awareness courses.

No wonder that 85% of employees state they are proud to work for Rapport.

28 Blue Apple

In a nutshell An independent contract caterer, operating since 1998, that brings café culture to workplaces

Locations 60-plus contracts in the South East, South West, Midlands and North West

Employees 370

Average staff turnover 24%

Annual sales turnover £15m

Blue Apple strives to bring environmentally friendly practices into the workplaces where it operates – for instance, by recycling oil and using only line-caught cod. But on the basis that best practice begins at home, it has now introduced “Green Apple ambassadors” to drive sustainability initiatives in the business.

Training in coaching skills, these ambassadors are going back to their work sites and using meetings, presentations and facilitated sessions to make sure everyone is on board with the sustainability programme.

Not only does this bring benefits for the environment, it also gives responsibility to those employees who become ambassadors and helps develop their influencing skills. Better still, it increases their knowledge. For instance, they work with Blue Apple’s development chef to understand how to reduce waste.

This company listens to its people. As one member of staff points out: “I have found that in the years I have been with the company, any problems that have arisen have been dealt with immediately, and any courses that I have wished to undertake in order to further my skills have been approved. We are not treated as numbers, but as people.”

The results show that over 80% of staff are happy at work all or most of the time, and feel that the company treats them well.

29 Starhotels

In a nutshell 29 four- to five-star hotels owned by the Fabri family

Locations Italy, New York, Paris and three hotels in London

Employees 160

Average staff turnover 73%

Annual sales turnover £10m in 2017 (for UK)

Founded in Italy in 1980 by Ferruccio Fabri, Starhotels has grown to 29 hotels, including the Franklin, the Pelham and the Gore in London. The group is now run by the founder’s daughter Elisabetta, but although it has grown, the family ethos and a sense of la dolce vita is engrained in the business’s philosophy.

Always looking to improve its staff treats, the company has substituted the after-work birthday drinks – which colleagues could attend only if they were off-duty – with a more inclusive work anniversary afternoon tea. The initiative is also aligned with Starhotels’ retention strategy for the year, so the aim of the work anniversary celebration is to generate gratitude and optimism among employees and thus reduce staff turnover and drive performance.

“We will monitor the results at the end of the year, but so far we have received great feedback from our employees, praising the fact that they are given time off from work to attend and have a chance to get to know other employees in our three properties over delicious afternoon tea in a relaxed environment,” says HR co-ordinator Laura Johansson.

It certainly seems to be helping to create good communication links between teams and their managers, with 81% of staff highlighting that as being particularly successful at the company and the same percentage saying it is a good environment to work in.

30 SBE London (Morgans Hotel Group)

In a nutshell Morgans Hotel Group, comprising Mondrian London, Sanderson and St Martins Lane, was bought in 2016 by SBE, a privately held, lifestyle hospitality company that develops, manages and operates award-winning hotels

Locations London

Employees 750

Average staff turnover 45%

Annual sales turnover Undisclosed

The acquisition of Morgans Hotel Group in December 2016 by boutique lifestyle hotel company SBE has made it part of a global portfolio. Happily, SBE’s engagement strategy is rooted in ensuring the wellbeing of its people. It strives to create a fun environment where all employees feel recognised and have the opportunity to learn and develop.

To achieve this, it has a huge number of staff initiatives, ranging from complimentary yoga classes, running club and ice-cream machines in staff restaurants to quarterly employee awards, annual staff parties and mental health awareness workshops.

On the training front, new starters are given an in-depth induction in all departments to learn the ropes and meet their peers before joining their own department. As well as being a great welcome, this gives newbies an overview of operations and empowers them to get involved and engage with guests.

Warm and cuddly events include monthly surprises whereby two departments are given a budget and tasked with treating the whole hotel. Surprises have included breakfast deliveries to offices and cocktail-making in each department. The initiative effectively creates 12 extra events a year where employees are thanked for their hard work. Plus, by choosing two random departments to organise the surprises, it increases collaboration and friendships at work.

“These initiatives have helped us build on our engagement and guest satisfaction scores and overall employee happiness,” says HR director Christian Oliver. “It promotes great team spirit and makes work fun and enjoyable.”

The proof is in the Best Places to Work survey, with SBE respondents scoring “working well with a team to produce results” at 81% compared with a benchmark of 75%.