Best Companies 2020: The Top 25 Housing Organisations

Best Companies surveys thousands of employees across the not-for-profit sector each year to determine the organisations with the highest levels of employee engagement.

Housing associations and ALMOs continue to demonstrate high engagement levels, performing well in areas such as teamwork and managerial engagement.

For the sixth consecutive year, Best Companies has used its engagement model to create a list of the 25 best housing sector associations to work for in the UK.

Using a unique methodology, organisations are measured across eight factors of employee engagement (see graphic).

Over 11,800 employees gave their views on topics ranging from engagement with leadership to personal growth opportunities and wellbeing.

All employees were invited to respond to 70 statements on a seven-point scale. Responses were combined to give each organisation a Best Companies Index (BCI) score, recognised as the UK standard for employee engagement.

These scores are were then used to compile the 24housing list.

In this year’s list, the top-scoring factors for listed organisations relate to My Team and My Manager. These factors encompass how employees feel toward their immediate colleagues and how they feel about and communicate with their direct manager.

Employees perceive they can make a valuable contribution to the success of their organisation, that team members care for one another, and that their manager talks openly and honestly.

When comparing the highest-scoring organisations versus others on the list, employees perceive that colleagues as less likely to use intimidation tactics to achieve their goals, collaboration is greater across departments, and proactivity is more common than reactivity.

The greatest differentiator between listed and non-listed organisations is the Leadership factor, where there was found to be on average a 12.52% difference in scores.

When compared with non-listed associations, employees in listed organisations felt more strongly that senior managers lived the values of their organisation, that they had confidence in the leadership skills of their senior managers, and that the leader of their organisation was inspiring.

Organisational clarity is another strong differentiator between listed and non-listed organisations. Those that are listed appear to have more visible and approachable senior managers and their employees feel profit is not the main driver of decisions.

Giving Something Back and Personal Growth have seen the greatest improvement. Organisations are becoming more socially conscious and are more supportive of the local community.

The top-performing organisations are perceived to be doing more in terms of Giving Something Back.

In addition, employees are feeling more enthused by the work they do and that the training they have received is more beneficial to them personally.

Similarly, organisations are showing an increase in scores for the statement ‘I love working for this organisation’, in turn supporting the year-on-year increase in scores for the My Company factor.

It is encouraging to see the achievements housing associations and ALMOs have made in their engagement work over the past year, with both employees and wider communities benefiting from their efforts.

If organisations can continue to improve, particularly around Leadership, these workplaces will likely see increasing engagement levels and demonstrate outstanding best practice.

1. Stockport Homes

Stockport Homes has excelled across all eight factors, demonstrating that employee engagement is thriving under the leadership of CEO Helen McHale.

She has initiated flexible and modern working practices that demonstrate her acknowledgement that everyone is an individual.

Helen personally delivers treats and rewards to celebrate achievements and meets with team members who have been nominated for staff awards, taking the time to listen, feedback, and share what she hears with the wider management team to make positive changes.

Unsurprisingly, Stockport Homes has triumphed over the rest of the competition this year in the Leadership factor.

2. Golden Lane Housing

Golden Lane Housing has secured second place after standing out in the Personal Growth factor.

Its exemplary scores within the factor can be attributed to the organisation’s appraisal system, Shape Your Future.

Conversations between managers and team members about their role, contribution to goals, and demonstrating the organisation’s values led to Golden Lane identifying rising stars and those who continuously go above and beyond.

These individuals are then presented with an opportunity to undertake a project in a different team or department to grow their talents and experience.

3. Wales & West Housing

A new entry, Wales & West Housing jump straight into third place.

The organisation posted impressive scores across the board, notably in the Wellbeing factor, thanks in large part to its culture of open communication.

Managers are trained to recognise signs of stress in their team and to be proactive in initiating difficult but appropriate conversations with staff members.

For Wales & West, enhancing the wellbeing of staff means more than offering staff free fruit or free gym memberships; it’s about ensuring staff are supported by good line managers and a caring team.

4. Melin Homes

Shining in the Giving Something Back factor, South Wales-based Melin Homes works closely with schools in the community to help develop future generations – whom they recognise to be future staff, residents, and board members.

In the last year alone, the organisation has successfully worked with over 7,000 pupils.

It has more recently extended this programme to work closer with teachers around mindfulness and mental health, with schools identifying this as a major area of focus going forward.

It’s no surprise employees believe they are having a positive impact on the community around them.

5. Weaver Vale Housing Trust

Weaver Vale Housing Trust rounds off the Top Five after posting impressive scores within the My Manager factor.

The Cheshire-based housing association continues to support the development of the leadership team through a variety of internally and externally delivered training and learning programmes.

There is a common theme within this learning that focusses on knowledge, skills, and behaviours for leaders to become inspirational, results-driven, empowering, and motivational.

Senior management is offered an additional programme called ‘Ignite’, which further develops leadership qualities and an in-depth understanding of culture and values at Weaver Vale.

6. Regenda Limited

In order to meet its goals of supporting residents to fulfil their potential and ensure the best quality of life, North West-based Regenda Homes places huge emphasis on the way its teams communicate with each other.

Through its intranet site, The Club, colleagues can communicate a wide range of ideas on corporate processes, such as effective procurement methodologies, to support on mental health conditions and other issues.

Working practices like this allow different parts of the organisation to collaborate effectively, in turn leading to excellent scores in the My Team factor.

7. Spring Housing Association

Spring performed particularly well in both the Wellbeing and Leadership factors.

The association’s wellbeing policy promotes the health, safety, and welfare of employees, encouraging them to open up to their managers if they’re experiencing any form of stress, at home or at work.

All employees are given a supervision contract when they join Spring to demonstrate the management team’s commitment to holding regular supervision meetings.

On top of this, Spring has signed up to the Time to Change Employers Pledge and identified a frontline member of staff who’ll be taking on the role of mental health champion.

8. Fife Housing Association

Located in the East of Scotland, Fife Housing Association has made the list after posting impressive scores in the Fair Deal factor.

Employees are supplied with a personalised ‘Passport’ that communicates the content of Fife’s Rewards and Recognition Strategy in an easily accessible format.

Incentives range from providing cakes for team meetings to additional holidays for employees who go beyond what would usually be expected of them.

The past year has also seen a continued focus on raising awareness of the four volunteer days available to all staff to contribute to their tenants and the local community.

9. Curo

Curo’s management team pays particular attention to the development of colleagues and provides close support when they move into a new role.

Mentoring is on offer for all new managers as well as any manager who wishes to progress or develop certain skills or explore future options.

Curo runs its own in-house blended learning management development programme, consisting of two-hour workshops and coaching sessions hosted on its intranet. The programme runs for as long as the manager needs.

10. Swan

Swan rounds off this year’s Top Ten after achieving notable scores in the My Manager, Personal Growth, and Giving Something Back factors.

Within its Talent and Development strategy, insights have been utilised to offer employees understanding around why they work the way they do, why others make different choices, and how this influences the effectiveness of a team.

By applying this understanding, these insights help employees build relationships with one another, improving many fundamentals that contribute to team success.

Employees are also given time to develop within working hours if they are studying for a particular course.

11. Gloucester City Homes

City Homes (GCH) engages with its local communities, in turn contributing to its fantastic Giving Something Back factor scores.

In partnership with the Police, GCH has set up a Junior Warden scheme that engages children to look after their local area by picking up litter, reporting problems and meeting with high-profile local figures.

The organisation also scored highly in the Leadership factor; CEO Ashley Green visits schemes, attends daily staff meetings, and greets all new starters at Welcome Breakfast meetings to talk about their experience of joining GCH and discuss their ideas.

12. Honeycomb Group

With Personal Growth an emphasised factor, Honeycomb Group has scrapped appraisals and introduced ‘My Check-In’.

Using this, employees take ownership of their development, leading to a cultural shift where people have the confidence to instigate meaningful conversations about their personal development.

All staff went through a coaching conversation training programme, highlighting what good conversations looked like and encouraging feedback between employees to help them open up honest, two-way conversations.

Honeycomb has also moved away from probation periods, favouring a ‘Settling In’ approach that encourages a more supportive environment for new starters.

13. Thrive Homes

Performing well in the My Team factor, Thrive Homes utilises its ‘One Thrive’ platform for communication, enabling field-based teams and those on long-term sick or maternity leave to keep in touch with colleagues while away from the office.

The platform is used for peer-to-peer recognition, sharing team developments, broadcasting news releases and briefings, and fundraising, wellness, and social events.

Staff participation is high (92% in September 2019), helping keep colleagues in touch with what’s happening in the business.

14. Cairn Housing Association

Cairn Housing Association scored highly in the Wellbeing and Fair Deal factors, in part down to its commitment to colleagues’ work-life balance.

Where appropriate, employees can build up flexi-leave to take a day off once every four weeks, and the removal of core hours ensures employees can work around commitments such as doctor appointments and the school run while still committing to their contracted weekly hours.

Tying in with a nationwide focus on mental health, all staff are offered mental health awareness training, with six fully trained as mental health first aiders.

15. Orbit Group

Orbit Group’s ‘Stars in Orbit’ scheme allows employees to reward colleagues for outstanding work, positive actions, exceptional behaviours, and exhibiting the organisation’s values.

Each team has a specific budget in place for when a financial reward is appropriate, and all employees recognised are reviewed by the organisation’s executive team, who select outstanding individuals.

These employees are then invited to lunch at a top London restaurant with Mark Hoyland, Orbit’s CEO. These initiatives will have impacted the Fair Deal factor for Orbit and contributed to its overall engagement levels.

16. South Yorkshire Housing Association Limited

Formed in 1972 to provide homes for those most in need, South Yorkshire Housing Association put great emphasis on managerial engagement this year, resulting in fantastic scores for the My Manager factor.

All managers were offered a two-day Psychology for Coaching programme, targeted to support managers in helping employees through upcoming transitions into different ways of working.

The organisation removed its structural annual appraisal process two years ago, refocussing on improving the quality and impact of one-to-one conversations.

This change reflects the organisation’s agile style of working and supports colleagues more effectively.

17. Thames Reach

Thames Reach performed exceptionally in the Personal Growth factor, and it comes as no surprise given the opportunities for development the organisation affords.

For example, Thames Reach contributed to the costs of a Post Graduate Diploma in Community Dance for one employee.

While this seemed beyond their remit, the skills gained benefited their daily role by enhancing their leadership and coaching qualities.

The employee now runs a movement session at work that encourages older service-users with poor mobility to engage in light exercise, and the employee now makes dance available to inner-city communities outside of their work.

18. Accent Group

Accent Group’s people strategy can be attributed to its high scores in both the My Company and My Manager factors.

Focussed on creating a culture of empowerment and ownership, Accent utilises an initiative called Shape the Journey, where employees submit proposals for making a difference to working practices and culture.

A series of Employee Representative Forums, focussing on health and wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion; and team and social activities provide another avenue for employees to collectively impact Accent’s culture and develop pride in the organisation.

19. Loreburn Housing Association

The Personal Growth and My Team factors are strong for Loreburn Housing Association.

The organisation utilises protected learning time, which is dedicated paid time where every third week staff can catch up on their learning and development.

Available to all staff, this can be used for self and professional development and e-Learning.

To boost camaraderie, Loreburn operates Culture Clubs, groups focussed on improving specific themes of workplace culture comprised of employees from across the organisation who are keen to help shape new initiatives.

20. Port of Leith Housing Association

Performing admirably in the Wellbeing factor this year was Port of Leith Housing Association.

An integrated approach to encourage daily practices such as physical activity and healthy eating, combined with an easily accessible employee-assistance programme, creates the foundation that has led to fantastic engagement scores in this area.

20% of all employees are trained as mental health first aiders to support colleagues, and the organisation’s Healthy Working Lives Group promotes all health, wellbeing, and social-engagement initiatives.

This helps connect people, encourage active lifestyles, take notice of others, continue learning, and promote giving.

21. Flagship Housing Group Ltd

Flagship demonstrated good engagement levels in the Wellbeing, Fair Deal, and Personal Growth factors. In launching its Returners programme, anyone going on parental leave has a mentor to support them when going on leave and when they return to work.

The mentor will have been through the experience before. Flexible working is promoted across the organisation, and agile working is offered where possible to enable employees to flexibly manage their work-life balance. The organisation also has its own mental health first aid trainer, driving its mental health first-aid availability for all employees.

22. Cartrefi Conwy

Cartrefi Conwy achieved good feedback from employees in the Giving Something Back factor and scored well in the My Team and Personal Growth factors.

In partnership with the Creating Futures Academy, Cartrefi offers paid employment opportunities for its tenants and has delivered free programmes for unemployed people to develop their skills and find a job.

As a result of its fantastic work, Cartrefi has supported over 200 local people into paid employment and volunteering opportunities, with over 2,000 individuals benefiting from the service since 2018.

23. Ongo Partnership

Ongo scored particularly well in the Giving Something Back and My Company factors.

These scores can be attributed to the organisation’s multiple fundraising events, which are held throughout the year for charity; and the annual Ongo Carnival, a free event for people of all ages, designed to bring together the community.

The CEO meets with each new starter, who are also invited to a new starter lunch that all senior management attend, helping reinforce the organisation’s purpose and values from the very start of an employee’s tenure.

24. Stonewater

Social housing provider Stonewater performed well in both the My Manager and Leadership factors and has moved up one place from last year’s list.

CEO Nicholas Harris engages with employees in a variety of ways: from weekly blogs about the organisation’s strategy to ‘brown bag’ informal lunches with employees from across Stonewater, ensuring employees understand the vision for the organisation and have opportunities to voice any questions or concerns.

Stonewater has now developed its own Managers Modules, providing training for managers who want to increase their expertise in areas ranging from performance development to recruitment.

25. Maryhill Housing Association

The My Manager factor is notable for Maryhill Housing Association, due in part to its Behavioural Science in Leadership programme.

Established in 2018, the programme encourages managers to think about their behaviour surrounding motivation, empowerment, and performance management and is incorporated into new manager’s inductions to maintain consistency across the organisation.

Maryhill also scored well in the My Team factor; the organisation includes work shadowing as part of an employee’s corporate induction process and runs interactive planning sessions three times a year to tackle issues such as change management.