Inside Ireland’s best workplaces, according to the people who work there
LEANING AGAINST A divider among the rows of near-identical workstations in Salesforce’s Dublin corporate office is a kids’ bike in a lurid shade of orange.
“That’s our mini-bike; you get to do a lap of the office on that when you close a big deal,” Mark Stanley, the US company’s EMEA head of digital marketing, says.
Welcome to one of the country’s best places to work – as decided by the people employed there.
Salesforce, which has over 700 workers spread across its Dublin campuses in Sandyford and Leopardstown, at first glance fulfills all the cliches of the modern, millennial-friendly office space.
Free snacks, pool tables and a ‘wellness room’ for a quiet bit of prayer or meditation? Check, check and check.
But peanut dispensers do not a happy and successful workplace make, some of the company’s most senior staff from the Irish outpost are quick to point out.
“What I see a lot of great companies is that real tightness between what the vision of the company is and where the employees sit,” Sanj Bhayro, who oversees Salesforce’s SME business for the region, tells Fora.
“They’re not existing in big hierarchies, they’re very flat. The CEOs and the executives are very open and transparent about what they’re trying to achieve.”
Good companies also “foster the innovation from within”, he adds, with employees more likely to believe in what they’re doing if the ideas come from their own ranks.
Great places to work
Salesforce, which runs a range of online tools for businesses to deal with customers and their associated data, this year took the title as the best large employer across Ireland in the Great Place to Work Institute’s international programme.
The review scheme is made up of a both an employer survey, given the slightly Orwellian title of a ‘culture audit’, and a detailed employee questionnaire. The second component is completed anonymously and given a greater weighting when the final rankings are decided.
While Bhayro says the company’s top ranking is a good marketing tool for finding recruits, it pales into comparison with the benefits of actually creating a good impression among workers.
“What’s more important is what people say who leave our company and whether they leave with a great view of what we’ve done.”
One of the tools the company uses to make sure employees say nice things is to ensure they do nice things as well. A keystone of Salesforce’s approach is mandatory contributions to non-profit groups, both in staff time and other company resources.
The policy extends to giving workers seven paid ‘volunteer time off’ days per year on top of their standard leave entitlements.
While the Irish lists of best workplaces are heavy with giant multinationals like Salesforce, Intel and Diageo, not all the entrants have corporate values instilled via an office in San Francisco or London.
The Co Cork-based Barry Group, best known for supplying the Costcutter franchises and other independent grocers, features among the best medium-sized workplaces this year.
“We see a huge benefit in making sure that our team are feeling valued, that there’s high trust in the company, and that they enjoy coming to work at the company – that you can have a bit of fun, a bit of craic,” managing director Jim Barry says.
“The work has to be done to a high standard as well, but if you can get the balance right and your people become willing volunteers you normally end up with the customer getting better service.”
While the company’s 230-strong workforce makes it roughly 1% the size of Salesforce’s global headcount, many of the ideas Barry enthuses repeat common themes. Trust your staff and be open about what you’re trying to achieve, and everyone’s a winner.
One survey, published last year in the US, found respect and trust at work were cherished by an even greater share of people than those who placed high value on their job benefits or paycheques.
“Communication is probably the thing that we’ve improved the most over the years,” the Barry Group boss, who took over the 60-year-old business from his father James, says.
“I brief all of our team quarterly on the company performance and about our plans and ideas … I give them a very good understanding of where we are as a company and what our challenges are. We have a very open dialogue.”
Another shared refrain is the need to thank staff when they and the firm succeed, although how exactly that happens differs sharply depending on whether you’re based in Mallow or Leopardstown.
When Salesforce topped the workplace survey, the reward was a ‘wellness day’ of healthy meals, yoga and meditation sessions. At the Barry Group, the celebration of choice is more likely to be a company barbecue followed by a trip to the races or some zip-line action at nearby Ballyhass Lakes.
In the smartphone era of the always-on employee, how (if at all) companies help staff maintain a balance between their working and home lives is also a hot topic.
At the Irish Stock Exchange, ranked as the top employer among the medium-sized contingent with its 100-or-so workers, there is a simple solution for many of the staff – lock them out altogether.
“Not all our employees will be able to stay late in the building,” the exchange’s head of HR and strategy, David McAndrew, says. “They couldn’t, because we have alarm codes; so there’s an explicit understanding that people need to be out by a certain time.”
The stock exchange is something of an outlier in the financial sector – which, with a few exceptions, is a notable absentee from the best-workplace lists. In fact, many of the largest players like banks rank close to the bottom of the employee-feedback pile on anonymous job-review sites like Glassdoor.
“I think there are organisations where you have a culture of presenteeism and I think we don’t have that,” ISE director Aileen O’Donogue adds. “We would rather that staff are out of here at a reasonable time and going home to their families, frankly.”
There is, of course, a pragmatic driver to ensuring staff don’t feel like their jobs are swallowing their private lives whole – the well-worn mantra that a happy worker is also a productive one.
Or as Salesforce’s Bhayro puts it: “If you can get your employees to really get the right balance between work and life the productivity gains are humongous.”
However, to use the company as one example, it’s clear that not everyone is drinking the corporate Kool-Aid on work-life balance.
One former Dublin ‘account manager’ posted on Glassdoor that working at Salesforce involved being made to “sign your life away” with the expectation you were available on a whim, 24 hours a day.
Those comments though, it has to be said, go against the vast bulk of the feedback on the review site, all of which needs to be taken with a pinch of salt by virtue of its anonymity.
Back in Salesforce’s office, Stanley seems comfortable the company has found the right formula.
“I have four kids at home so my life is always going. We have flexible working hours, in some cases we allow people to work from home. It’s basically a culture where it’s more important the impact that you’re having and the success that you’re driving … more than where you are and when you’re working.”
Written by Peter Bodkin and originally published on Fora, a new business publication for startups and SMEs.