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SUNDAY TIMES TOP 100

Childbase, has continued its meteoric rise up The Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies to Work For list, achieving 23rd place overall and remaining the only childcare provider to warrant inclusion.

In a record-breaking year for the contest, the employee-owned company not only built on an impressive 60 place leap last year, but excelled as never before. The Buckinghamshire-based company was ranked 1st out all 100 companies for making the best use of employee skills and took second place in the category of 'Personal Growth', which deals with ensuring employees are challenged and given opportunities for career development. Employees, who care for 4,500 children in 40 nurseries covering the South of England, were so keen to put the spotlight on their company they also have one of the highest response rates to the competition survey. In fact, the company results this year show improvement in all but one area surveyed - which remained the same - with the sharpest rise in staff satisfaction with pay and benefits. These results were achieved in a year when the competition attracted entries from 912 businesses in the private sector alone, with a total of 275,000 private, public and charity sector employees taking part. Helen Bass, HR Director for Childbase, said that while she was delighted with the results, there was no room for complacency. "The competition gives us the opportunity to celebrate our successes, but, more importantly, it is a valuable tool in assessing the general health of the company, and identifying areas in which we can come together to improve all aspects of our working life," she said. Within hours of celebrating at the awards ceremony, employees, who already have several forums within the organisation to voice their opinions and direct policy, had begun the process of analysing the results.

To make the Best Companies to Work For lists, companies must be successful in each, and every one, of the eight clearly defined areas covering no fewer than 70 aspects of their workplace. Childbase, which employs 1, 280 people, approached the competition already acclaimed as 'Outstanding' in the 'Michelin star-style' Best Companies Accreditation system. Missing out on 3 star, "Extraordinary", status by just four points, the company was, however, singled out as a case study for exemplary best practice. The company's rise in the competition rankings from 31 last year to 23 is largely due to its on-going commitment to personal growth, the category in which it achieved the second highest score of 78%. With four National Training Awards to its credit, the company's programme of refresher courses for staff, two-fifths of whom also undertake external training, is clearly paying off as employees see the benefits of this (78%) and believe the experience they gain is valuable for their future (81%). Making the most of these highly trained individuals gave the company its top rating for this question with 71% believing the organisation makes the most of their skills, and 79 % agreeing that their work is stimulating. The company, which was a finalist at the Employee Benefit Awards last year and operates under the banner "We all contribute, we all benefit", has got an enviable record in ensuring that employees are rewarded for their work as 70% are happy with their pay and benefits, which includes up to 75 per cent off the cost of childcare for children up to the age of five. The benefits extend farther than their salaries as there are a number of award schemes that recognise outstanding achievers like the nursery cook who received a cheque for £10,000 for his exemplary work attendance record. There is also a cash prize for 'The Employee of the Month' and throughout the company, staff are given opportunities to broaden their horizons with overseas travel.

Last year these 'Once in a Lifetime Experiences' saw Childbase teams, for example, running in the New York Marathon or visiting a township in Africa to witness, first-hand, how their fund-raising efforts help disadvantaged children, and this month (March) a team will visit China on a 'fact-finding' trip. There is also the popular 'Dragons' Den' scheme - modelled on the television programme - where employees can pitch for a share of a £5,000 pot to help them achieve a personal or professional goal. A human resources and payroll officer with a passion for bee-keeping was just one successful applicant last year. Keeping staff happy not only maintains the quality of their work but ensures that talent remains in the organisation. At Childbase, a very healthy 79 percent say they love working for the company. Members of the Childbase Senior staff teams operate an 'Open door' policy and this, combined with the fact that many have worked their way up the company ranks, explains why employees feel they have a good relationship with their managers, who talk openly and honestly with them (80%) and make completely clear what is expected of them (80%). It is therefore not surprising that the company achieved an 80 per cent positive score, the fifth best in the competition, for employee's feelings about job security, and why they are not worried about their company's future due to the financial climate (71%).