According to this Raconteur article published in The Times recently, research carried out last year revealed the UK ranked 18th out of 20 countries for employee engagement. This dismal statistic came from an ORC International survey which questioned 7,000 employees about how engaged they felt. The same article refers to only 37% of UK workers surveyed feeling they’re encouraged to be innovative. Less than half feel valued at work. What’s going on?

There’s a huge amount of evidence out there about the importance of progressive company cultures when it comes to engaging your employees. And no one’s disputing the value of having engaged employees. Which begs the question why are many UK leadership teams unable to grasp the massive business opportunities a progressive culture would give them?

It’s not all doom and gloom of course. Progressive cultures used to be the preserve of the elite of Silicon Valley; more recently some UK companies have started grabbing the headlines too and there are plenty of household names out there who have led the way in terms of culture change. Just look at Virgin. They were one of the pioneers of the shift towards a collaborative, innovative culture emphasising the value of treating everyone as capable adults, bringing fun into the workplace and concentrating on the wellbeing of employees.

In fact, a quick glance at this year’s Sunday Times Best 100 companies list demonstrates there are quite a few companies who have made the transition – or are in the process of making the transition – successfully. At TGI Fridays, voted Britain’s best big company to work for, 82% of employees felt a strong sense of family. 86% said their teams were fun. 80% said their jobs were good for personal growth. This engagement’s meant consistent growth and low staff turnover for the company.

But it’s interesting to note that it’s an American company heading up a UK list. Take a good look at what is happening around the globe and the bigger picture does seem to suggest the UK is lagging behind when it comes to building company cultures where employees thrive.

9 companies across the globe who rock at culture

Zappos (USA)

Shoes and clothes retailer Zappos has become well known for its culture, with a collaborative mindset that encourages everyone to ‘deliver wow’. It takes its role in the community very seriously, feeding over 1,000 families at Thanksgiving last year as well as giving away shoes and socks to anyone who needed a new pair. Its financial and time contributions have helped create a culture that puts purpose firmly alongside profit.

Forbes Marshall (India)

Forbes Marshall has been named this year as India’s Best Manufacturing Workplace. The company’s consistently ranked in the top 10 Best Workplaces in the country in the last five years. Why? According to this article, for their open and accessible communications as well as for the sense of integrity, wellbeing, trust, camaraderie and respect that prevails in the organisation. Employees cite the welcoming and friendly atmosphere at the company which has created a feeling of ‘family’ and ‘team’.

Leading edge (New Zealand)

Leading Edge is a sales channel management company delivering sales and support services to some of New Zealand’s leading organisations. They’ve been finalists and won several awards in the IBM Kenexa Best Workplaces annual survey (New Zealand’s largest annual workplace climate/employee engagement survey, regarded as the country’s most definitive measure). Why? Employees point to the blend of autonomy and collaboration within a truly supportive environment as being the reason for their continued success.

Southwest Airlines (USA)

Southwest puts its employees first, customers second and shareholders third. This doesn’t mean they don’t care about their customers; while the airline puts employees first, it expects employees to put customers first. As the airline explains in this article, that approach has led to increased business and profits.

Vector consulting services (Germany)

Vector has made several appearances on the international ‘Great Place to Work’ listings for Germany thanks to its employee-oriented workplace culture. It emphasises mutual trust and creating a great team spirit by making the culture one where ‘brainwork is combined with a certain fun factor’.

W.L. Gore & Associates (USA)

Gore-Tex fabric is their most well-known product, but they’re also famous for their approach to employees. Employees frequently refer to the strong sense of involvement and peer camaraderie that has resulted in the company appearing on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list every year since 1998.

Inmobi (India)

InMobi, the India-based mobile ad giant, puts so much emphasis on the importance of company culture they’ve even given it a name and company festival to celebrate its existence. ‘The three basic ingredients that bring culture to life are the scripts – how we should operate. The rituals are the second. And the third are the festivals that we are to celebrate from time to time’ says InMobi's chief revenue officer Abhay Singhal.

Rei (USA)

Rei puts a great deal of effort into operating sustainably and ethically; its emphasis on workplace values is a major factor in explaining why it’s another company that’s appeared on Fortune magazine’s Best Companies to Work For list every year since the list began in 1998. Rei also emphasises getting its employees to feel passion for what they do; that includes an extra paid day off when employees are invited to ‘try something new, challenge themselves in a favourite activity, or work on an outdoor stewardship project.’ It may be a feel-good day but as this article explains it also helps staff ‘reconnect with the outdoors and prepare them to deliver great knowledge and service to customers’.

AustralianSuper (Australia)

AustralianSuper is one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds and the company has been particularly noted for its commitment to a providing a diverse and inclusive workplace and for having a vibrant and supportive culture. They’ve held the country’s Employer of Choice for Women citation for four years.

Is the UK’s appetite for progressive company cultures really lagging behind? Should your UK employer be making the list? Or are UK companies just not shouting about it in the media? I would like to know your thoughts.