5 Hidden Secrets Of The Best Companies List

5 Hidden Secrets Of The Best Companies List

Small is beautiful, small is happier…

Earlier on this week, the Sunday Times published the first of their annual lists of Best Companies to Work for in the UK.

This weekend’s list was The 100 Best Small Companies to Work For. In their definition, “small” here means an organisation employing anywhere between 50 and 249 staff.

From reading the published analysis, the key take-away for me is that “people in SMEs give a 75% positive score for being happy with their pay and perks, 12 points higher than the result in medium-sized firms.”

This is quite a coup, no doubt linked to the feeling of involvement with the business, proximity to the management and perceived contribution to the business success.

The full Top 100 list is published online. The link is given at the end of this post.

I thought I’d spend a little time uncovering some of the 5 hidden secrets within the list. I’ve been tracking these lists since 2004 and have a little database of material that I explore each year. Here are the 5 secrets that I’ve found this year.

1. Fewer small companies were interested in being part of this Top 100 list than any of the 3 previous years. Applications to be included fell by 8% since 2011.

This may seem trivial, but it’s possible that smaller businesses are diverting resource away from this type of exercise into more bespoke and tailored approaches to employee engagement and morale.

2. Only 9 of the Top 100 companies in the list have been ever-presents since 2008 (ie. have appeared in the last 5 lists). 48 of this year’s Top 100 companies were not in the list last year.

This is slightly surprising. Admittedly, as competition for places in the Top 100 hotted up during the period 2009-2011, it would have been more difficult to achieve and maintain your position in the list. However, competition has eased slightly. If you are a good company in 2011 isn’t it highly likely that you’re still a good company in 2012 ? Therefore, the only explanation can be that companies who made the list in 2011 didn’t attempt to be part of it in 2012. Is attaining a position in the Top1 00 merely a PR stunt or another corporate ‘badge of honour’ ?

It’s not based on relative success either. Where you appeared in the 2011 list is not a strong predictor of whether you’d try again and succeed in 2012. Of the 52 that re-appeared in 2012, 29 were in the top half in 2011 and 23 in the bottom half.

3.  40 of the companies in the 2011 list have NEVER appeared in any of the lists in the last 5 years.

This is an indication of new companies being attracted to the list each year. But, if we accept that there are a batch of new companies trying to get into the list and that overall applications have dropped, this only serves to confirm the suspicions above that companies do use this process as PR.

4. Astonishingly, 25 of the Top 100 companies are Recruitment Consultancies.

Now either this type of organisation really is the ‘Holy Grail’ of corporate life and workplace morale, or there is some kind of industry sector competition going on here. There surely must be an imbalance in the sample that comes from the simple fact that Recruitment Consultancies just want to be in this Top 100 list more than other types of business.

A further 28 of the spots in the Top 100 list are split between companies that work in or around either Marketing (agencies, consultancies etc) and Professional Services (property management, legal etc). So that’s more than half of all the places taken up by 3 industry sectors…

5. Organisation size is important – the smaller the better

You can only be considered for this list if you have between 50-249 staff. The average number of employees across all the companies that made it into the final list was 89. Interestingly, amongst the 25 Recruitment Consultancies that elbowed their way in, the average size of these companies was just 76 – the lowest average figure for any industry.

I am confident that the Best Companies methodology is sound, thoroughly tested and reliable. However, common sense does suggest that it’s easier to be considered as a successful (read “best”) company by your staff if you have fewer of them to impress in the first place.

Summary (don’t take this too seriously)

If you work in a small recruitment consultancy and you’re NOT in the Best Companies list, then you’re either missing a trick or doing something seriously wrong,


The Best Companies list for larger organisations is released soon. I’ll post about that on here too.

The Best Companies published lists are found here.