Australia's best place to work revealed

A Dutch-owned algorithmic trader, Optiver, has been named Australia's top workplace by BRW magazine in its annual Best Places to Work study.

Its Sydney-based Asia-Pacific headquarters has only 203 employees in Australia, but BRW says its victory in the 2013 study is proof that creating an engaged, happy workplace is not the preserve of big companies with millions to spend on perks.

Optiver managing director Paul Hilgers says the company has a genuine open door policy and a philosophy that working with “brilliant minds attracts brilliant minds”.

Part of Optiver’s approach in keeping their people happy includes ensuring new recruits are teamed with a buddy to help them learn the ropes, giving ethics training and making a real effort to cut “red tape” and bureaucracy.

The company was ranked No. 22 in the 2012 study.

Following Optiver in the top five best places to work were three IT companies - Atlassian, which develops software for software developers; NetApp, a data management firm; and Salesforce, which must walk its own talk as a vendor of staff collaboration tools.

In fifth was The Physio Co, a Melbourne company which sends physiotherapists out to aged care homes.

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BRW editor James Thomson says smaller companies fared well in the 2013 results. "Employees are telling us that atmosphere and the work itself are key," he says.

“For example, something as simple as giving prominence to the shared experience of eating – whether it’s for a special event such as celebrating the national day of staff from different cultural backgrounds, a regular Friday afternoon catch-up or simply to take a brief pause from the day’s work – shows how companies are seeing past the perks to focus on building real relationships. 

“Pool tables and stand-up desks are nice, and frequently used as a perk by companies on the list, but they won’t change the way a company engages its staff.”

BRW's 2013 study was made up of 179 competing workplaces and their 25,905 employees nationally.

IT companies made up 20 of the best 50 workplaces, a domination that has persisted through all four years of the study, and testament to the skills shortage in that industry.

Good human resources departments are now focused on what motivates employees, and hiring the right ones, according to Zrinka Lovrencic of Great Place To Work Australia, the consultancy which conducts the study.

“You really need to understand who is working for you, why they are different and why they should work for you,” she says.

With Lovrencic estimating the cost of a hire that doesn't work out to be 3.5 times the annual salary involved, it's little wonder Optiver designed an eight-minute interview test legendary in its difficulty.

“It's intentionally designed to be very hard and filters out not only those that are not technically proficient, but also assesses cultural fit. Optiver seeks very driven characters,” the company says.

Policies friendly to families are also a distinguishing feature of the best 50 places to work in the BRW list.

Parental leave longer than the statutory requirement is offered by 17 of the top 50, with some standouts including IT consulting company Thoughtworks, which offers 18 weeks' maternity leave at full pay.

Free lunches, meanwhile, might be dismissed as a way of making sure workers never leave the office, but for the 42 out of the top 50 companies which offer them, they are a tool to build camraderie and trust.

Other details helping employers to stand out include clothing allowances, the latest technology, discounts on mortgages and giving employees a stake in the company.

A general business trend towards "customisation" of workplace arrangements comes out in the shift towards flexibility among the BRW study participants.

Employers need to have a range of options to attract and retain staff – working from home, flexible working hours, even flexible work spaces. There is also huge flexibility around training and personal development, trends that seem certain to continue.