Top 3 lessons on employee happiness from the UK’s top 25 startups

The annual LinkedIn roundup of top 25 hottest startups in the UK uncovered the young companies commanding professionals’ attention in 2019 — from mobile banking platform Revolut to modern electric vehicle maker Arrival. There is a reason why these startups are so appealing to prospective employees: they all directly address their workers’ happiness at work in unique and progressive ways.

What is it that these companies offer employees that make them stand out and what lessons on employee wellbeing or happiness can all entrepreneurs learn from these startups?

1. Continuous learning and education on the job

The future of work calls for continuous reinvention, which means we need to be prepared to reskill and upskill consistently from now on. Employees, particularly those of the millennial generation and younger, understand the importance of non-stop learning to keep up with rapid changes that our digital future (and therefore workplace) will bring.

In a report by Manpower Group, of 19,000 working millennials across 25 countries, it was found that 80% rated the opportunity to learn new skills as a primary factor in considering a new job and 93% would spend their own time and resources on further training. Over half of today’s employees will even consider moving to another job if they feel their current employer is not doing enough to keep their skills current.

Young companies in the LinkedIn top 25 recognise the urgent need for continuous learning. Take workout wear company Gymshark for example, which offers a financial education series for its “mainly millennial” staff. The financial workshops are carried out in partnership with HSBC, which tackles topics such as ‘how to budget’ and offers one on one appointments with employees to discuss financial queries. This is an attractive policy for many people in a world where 375 million workers—or roughly 14 % of the global workforce—will need to be re-trained for the future of work.

Another startup that keeps its workforce happy with learning opportunities is specialist management consultancy firm Gate One, which operates an in-house incubator. The incubator  allows employees to have a go at being entrepreneurs and launch their own startups. Recognising that there is now a move to people having a side gig or hustle, Gate One doesn’t discourage its workers but instead helps them to achieve success in their own projects.

The takeaway for growing businesses here is to think about what to offer employees in terms of learning opportunities, whether it’s a simple lunch & learn series or a bigger scheme like the aforementioned examples. If your business is not yet investing in learning, it needs to start soon before it’s too late.

2. Freedom of location and ways of working

With the ballooning of the gig economy, the other aspect of work life that has changed immensely in recent years is the idea of working flexibly and remotely. The demand for flexible and remote working is growing. Two in three workers (68%) would like to work flexibly in a way that is not currently available.

The Office of National Statistics believes that 50% of UK employees will be working remotely by next year. What’s more, up to 90% of staff say they’d like to work remotely at least part-time. Employees can be more productive and efficient by taking out the commute to work for at least part of the week.

Fintech startup 11:FS is one of the top 25 that embraces this change. Employees at the startup are allowed to choose how and where to work, as well as which tools they need to get the job done. In the company’s words, this is what makes it “a workplace fit for the 21st century.”

Does your business offer employees the option to work flexibly or remotely? It’s something to start thinking about in not.

3. Everyday perks inside and outside the office

Employee perks are not to be underestimated, as every little helps towards happiness of your colleagues. The key is to make your company perks practical and realistic, so people will make use of it and have the time to use them up at work and in their personal lives.

The 25 top startups list includes all sorts of perks. For example, Gymshark upped its investment in employee benefits and uses Perkbox to add to workplace happiness. Perkbox is a platform that lets employers give employees a number of benefits and rewards to enrich their work and personal life, such as cinema tickets or fitness plans. The broader aim is to improve retention and staff wellbeing.

Other startups have taken a different, less organised approach: for example Curve, the financial services company has a policy that allows workers to order as many books as they want. This is a unique perk for staff development and also ties in with the continuous learning point made above.

Meanwhile Moneybox, the DIY investment startup founded by the man behind Bloom & Wild, welcomes all its new employees in a novel way. After a job offer is accepted, all new team members receive a personalised surprise gift in the post. Finally, digital bank Monzo, which topped the LinkedIn list as the number one startup to work for in the UK, has dogs in the office to keep workers happy. While this may seem like a trivial thing to do, research has repeatedly shown that furry friends in the office have a significant impact on overall happiness levels. In one study, workers with an office dog reported feeling significantly less stressed throughout the day compared to those who did not bring a dog to work.

In conclusion, employee happiness needs to be taken seriously by growing businesses. Now more than ever, people change jobs and the freelance world is growing to meet people’s demands of wellbeing and freedom. Developing a culture where employee wellbeing is baked into everything your business does — where it is a shared mindset rather than an afterthought — is not only valuable but vital to futureproof your business.


Gemma is founder of Career Compass Club. As a chartered organisational psychologist, she has worked with global organisations (Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Disney, Starbucks) for over a decade, focusing on enhancing performance, managing career transitions and creating career success.