Editor's take: My bank's better than yours

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Sarah Butcher, editor of eFinancialCareers on why awards for being a wonderful place to work are useful for banks, but not necessarily for employees or job seekers.

This week it emerged that Morgan Stanley's UK operation has scaled the echelons of workplace wonderment to become one of a select group of 42 to achieve 'three star' status as one of the country's 'Best Companies to work for'. But will the accolade really make much difference a) to job seekers or b) to the bank's employees? Probably not.

In the words of the award's issuers, having three stars after its name implies Morgan Stanley is 'extraordinary' and that 90% of the bank's employees are 'fully engaged'. In particular, Morgan Stanley employees are apparently inclined to agree with the notion that their chiefs are non-dictatorial and that their employer is a force for good in the community.

Regardless of whether Morgan Stanley really is a tower of Jedi-like do-gooding in the Docklands, organisations winning such awards derive the fuzzy benefits that come of being known as a good place to be. "It's all about perception," says the head of HR at an investment bank that received a similar accolade last year. "It's like having a Michelin star - the mere fact that you have it is a plus and helps with marketing."

The organisers of such awards also do rather well. The granddaddy of the wonderful workplaces industry, 'Great Place to Work Institute,' is a multinational beast, running conferences and workshops alongside its bread and butter business of issuing awards for well-kempt employees.

The only people awards don't necessarily benefit are the employees themselves - they have to spend hours answering questionnaires about inspirational leaders - and jobseekers.

For jobseekers to benefit, banks winning awards would need live up to their names and be truly better to work for than rivals without. And this would require a) objectivity in issuing awards, and b) that banks that help to remove rubbish from the Thames be considered more alluring than those paying big bonuses and featuring at the top of league tables.

Workplace awards fail on both counts. There may be a few enlightened souls who value the likes of inclusiveness and community more highly than Mammon, but they're unlikely to be particularly prevalent in the financial services sector. And the Best Companies accreditation may be more objective than most, but with over 60% of entrants receiving stars and plaques (and all getting a mention in a specially compiled book on the subject), one can't help but think it must be relatively easy to get in on the awards game.

This isn't the issue according to the head of HR. "There are a few people who realise it's not the most objective thing in the world, but most people don't care," he says. "There are probably tons of organisations out there that could do just as well, but they don't volunteer themselves for it."

Morgan Stanley may therefore be able to give itself a pat on the back for winning three stars, but it's unlikely to make much difference to those in the know - or to prevent any more of its senior dealmakers defecting to Perella Weinberg Partners.

Similarly, Goldman Sachs, which didn't enter for the award, is unlikely to see a stream of defections to its rival. And Merrill Lynch, whose UK operation did enter the award and came away with a single star, can rest safe in the knowledge that its poor showing is unlikely to make a great deal of difference. For better or worse, or it's the moolah that counts.

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