The Journey to Become a Top Employer

7 minutes read

Tell us about yourself and your role at Top Employers Institute

Greetings, I'm Sebastiaan ter Horst, stationed at the headquarters in Amsterdam, where I have been the face of the Certification team since 2021 for Top Employers Institute. Leading a dedicated team spread across the globe. I take pride in steering the Certification process and ensuring optimal service delivery for our Participants.

As the Certification Director, my primary commitment lies in upholding the quality of our Certification program. Collaborating with diverse teams worldwide, I continuously strive to enhance our services and support our teams and individual members in their journey towards success. It's not just about maintaining standards but also about empowering every team and team member to achieve excellence.

Can you give us an overview of the Certification Process?

The Certification Process consists of four stages: Service kick-off, Survey, Validation and Certification. It is designed to help the Participant benefit from our programme.

The first stage is the Service kick-off, as the words suggest, the start of the programme. The purpose is to set the right conditions for our participants to complete the Survey and be prepared for the validation process. Participants are provided with an overview of the upcoming Certification Process and what is required, receive a high-level look at the HR Best Practices Survey and any updates, plus be introduced and updated to the Top Employers Portal and supporting tools and materials.

The following stage is the Survey. Here, the Participants will answer the HR Best Practices Survey questions. Participants who are new to the program have the opportunity to answer all questions. Participants who have completed a Survey in the previous year have the chance to update their answers from last year and answer all the new HR Best Practices questions. When ready, the Participant submits the HR Best Practices Survey answers for Validation.

The Validation stage is the third stage in the process. The Validation stage aims to ensure the answers submitted in the survey reflect the HR practices and conditions provided to the employees within the company. By checking the consistency of interpretation and proactively correcting potential errors or ambiguities, Top Employers Institute ensures that all submitted data provided for certification is correct and reliable.

The Participant is contacted to schedule a Validation session. An overview of questions within the survey to be discussed will be provided before the session so you can prepare for your session with the HR Auditor. Additional clarification and/or evidence to illustrate that a practice has been implemented according to our definitions and requirements may be requested before or based on the Validation outcome. Typical examples of such requests for further evidence are employee handbooks, technology screenshots, policy documents, etc.

The Certification stage is the fourth and final stage after the Validation stage is completed. Certified Participants are invited to attend a Certification Activation session where Top Employers Institute will take them through all the communication tools available to leverage your employer branding activities as a certified Top Employer. In this session, Top Employers will also be taken through the structure and navigation within the Results Dashboard, including Benchmark data from other Participants of the Certification Program.

What makes the Top Employers Certification Methodology unique?

The Certification Methodology applied is unique in many ways.

The Certification methodology is a holistic and fact-based validation approach to the people practices available for the employees of Certified Top Employers and is not based on opinions or perceptions. It is a single methodology applicable to all participants in the program, ensuring that all Top Employers are held to the same standard, thus providing a global benchmark.

The quality of the validation process is ensured by a team of highly qualified auditors who went through a rigorous qualification process and are subject to ongoing learning and calibration. In addition, our quality process, including system, quality checks and monitoring, ensures that the highest level of quality for our Certification Program is ensured.

Lastly, our Certification program, including our processes and Certification Results, is subject to an annual external audit.

How often are the HR Best Practices Survey questions updated, and what drives those updates?

The HR Best Practice survey is updated yearly to ensure it syncs with the ever-evolving HR landscape. On average, 10 percent of the questions will be updated every year. A survey update is informed by (external) research into HR trends and developments as well as reviewing client data (trends in practice adoption) and input and feedback received by our clients during the various stages of the certification process (survey, Validation, results, ad-hoc feedback). Changes to the survey can be incremental, e.g. small tweaks to the description of a practice, or more significant (e.g. adding a completely new practice or even a topic). We always aim to find a good balance between stability and staying up to date.

How does Top Employers Institute decide how to weigh the importance of the different questions in the survey?

The centre of gravity in our HR Best Practices survey is the employee experience.

60% of the overall scoring points are in the domains Attract, Develop and Engage, as these domains represent the end-to-end employee journey. In addition, you will see that individual practices that directly impact the employee experience have a higher weight than practices that are supporting or conditional.

About 20% of the survey consists of benchmark questions, which are included for contextual purposes and benchmarking and are not scored. The weighing of the different questions in the survey aims to be effective in setting a meaningful threshold for certification.

Several standard and fundamental practices have a relatively high weight. These practices are seen as essential for any Top Employer. In contrast, 'advanced practices', which refer to practices commonly seen in organisations with slightly more mature HR practices, could have varying relevance depending on the organisation's size, industry, or region. Although these practices might be inspirational to most, their weight and impact on scoring are relatively limited.

As the year-over-year adoption of practices is changing, the weight of individual practices is reviewed on a yearly basis, too. When needed, the weights are adjusted to reflect changed importance. Commonly, a new practice, when just added to the survey, will be given a low weight (or even introduced as a benchmark question), and when we see the adoption levels of these practices rising, we increase the weight.

How does your team validate the answers given by organisations in the survey?

First of all, with a lot of passion and motivation! For the validation moment itself, established criteria and standards apply to each practice and assess the level of maturity of a participant's processes and procedures against these requirements, including looking at the supporting documentation. After initial review through the Top Employers Institute portal, the HR Auditor has a validation session with the Participant to discuss a selection of practices in more detail and clarification.

What upcoming topics and questions are Top Employers Institute looking at for future surveys?

Allow me to mention the latest World of Work Trends report based on the responses from our Participants in the 2024 program. The trends mentioned in the World of Work Trends report illustrate the expected future changes in our HR Best Practices Survey. I want to mention some other perspectives as well:

  1. Human Centricity (already captured in the WoW trends report, but also as a more general theme)
  2. Continuous focus on (Digital) Employee Experience, including leveraging AI in a human/responsible way,
  3. Employability
  4. GenZ
  5. Contingent / Flexible Workforce

What one piece of advice would you give an organisation taking part in the Top Employers Certification Programme for the first time?

Reach out to us when you have a question or if something needs to be clarified. Our team is committed to enabling our participants to have a successful Certification experience and will support them when appropriate. They will provide tips and guidance for efficient completion of the Survey that is appropriate to the needs of each Participant. For instance, how to organise the internal team to answer the HR Best Practices Survey in a timely manner, clarify Survey questions and what sort of supporting evidence is needed, how to use the tools provided in the Portal, etc.


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The Journey to Become a Top Employer

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