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Survey reveals East Anglia’s small firms catching up with the big boys on staff development

PUBLISHED: 12:00 02 October 2018 | UPDATED: 12:36 02 October 2018

The Best Employers Eastern Region 2018 Awards Conference is taking place this week. Left to right, Pauline Smith, Dawn Taylor, Lynn Walters, Jeanette Wheeler and Dee Willmott.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The Best Employers Eastern Region 2018 Awards Conference is taking place this week. Left to right, Pauline Smith, Dawn Taylor, Lynn Walters, Jeanette Wheeler and Dee Willmott. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

The region’s smaller businesses are catching up with their larger counterparts when it comes to investment in employee training, a new survey has revealed.

Findings from Best Employers Eastern Region 2018, which saw businesses seek opinions on their performance from their staff, show that employees of small firms rate their companies higher in terms of staff development and say that levels of motivation have increased in recent years.

This compares to “minimal” changes in these measures reported by the employees of large and medium businesses.

Since the launch of the 2018 survey, the fourth in the biannual Best Employers initiative, hundreds of companies around the region have asked their employees how well their company engages staff and keeps them satisfied.

The 2018 scheme has been delivered by psychometric experts Eras and recruitment agency Pure, which founded Best Employers Eastern Region in 2012, with publishing company Archant and law firm Birketts.

READ MORE: Region’s ‘Best Employers’ to be revealed at awards conference

Alex Pearce, director of assessment at Eras, said the leaps made by small businesses in terms of engagement was one of the report’s most significant findings.

“It is obviously becoming more important in smaller organisations,” he said.

Good communication from the higher ranks was also found to have a “profound effect” on employee engagement and satisfaction, Mr Pearce said.

“One of the biggest things we found for engaged employees was that one of the key factors was having access to the senior people in the organisation – for them to make themselves known to different levels in the organisation costs nothing.

“In a large company it can be difficult to give people access to the executive team but they can get access to a couple of levels up.”

READ MORE: Four tips to get your staff more engaged, according to Best Employers bosses

The increase in scores for learning and development among small companies – defined by the scheme was those with less than 25 employees – was also flagged by Lynn Walters, executive director of Pure.

The launch of the Best Employers Eastern Region 2018 survey at Tattersalls, Newmarket. Picture: GREGG BROWNThe launch of the Best Employers Eastern Region 2018 survey at Tattersalls, Newmarket. Picture: GREGG BROWN

She said: “Smaller companies have smaller learning and development budgets and when times are tight that is the thing that tends to get cut.

“What I have seen from the smaller companies is a lot of them are digital or professional services which are really ‘people’ businesses. There has been a big shift towards those businesses realising that they need to invest in their people and they have increased their learning and development.”

Ms Walters said the number of people who had taken part in the 2018 survey – around 15,000, more than double the amount of the previous survey in 2016 – was “heartening”.

“About 15,000 people have been able to have their say about what it is like to work in the Eastern region. That is some pretty amazing, valid data and the organisations who have taken part are going to get some really good benchmarking,” she said.

“It is a ringing endorsement that the young companies are realising the link between an engaged workforce and better performance.”

Mr Pearce said the survey offered an opportunity for companies to hear from the “silent majority” who are “happy with their lot”.

Lynn Walters, executive director of Pure, speaks at the Best Employers Eastern Region 2018 survey launch at Tattersalls, Newmarket. Picture: GREGG BROWNLynn Walters, executive director of Pure, speaks at the Best Employers Eastern Region 2018 survey launch at Tattersalls, Newmarket. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“For the people who do not normally speak out this is a chance for them to have their say on the performance on their organisation,” he said.

“There is still an argument over whether the increase in engagement is because companies are more successful, or whether the increase is driving success.

“I think the truth is a bit of both. Obviously if the company is doing well it may have more in the pot to share with the staff but the other side of the coin is if people are more engaged and motivated they are more likely to go the extra mile for the business.”

Mr Pearce said changes to improve employee engagement and perceptions could be inexpensive, such as providing more in-house training or holding more regular staff briefings to improve communication.

“There are very simple things that people can do to make sure employees know they care,” he said.

“The first step is to identify the areas that are important for the business to improve and then to engage your staff – the executive team cannot make the changes without all employees pulling in the same direction.”

He added: “The worst thing organisations can do is put the [survey] results on a shelf and ignore them. It is meant to be a foundation for change even if you are a company that did well.”

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