has announced the winners of its 2021 Top Employer Awards, celebrating how employers have responded to the huge challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Awards, now in their 11th year, were presented at an online ceremony on 26th January which was followed by a Q & A on embedding diversity and inclusion, sponsored by Roche, with experts including Rob Hopkin, co-founder of Axis, Diana Parkes, founder of Women’s Sat Nav to Success, diversity and inclusion expert Salma Shah and consultant Dr Suzanne Doyle-Morris.

The categories in this year’s hotly contested Awards, sponsored by MTR Elizabeth Line, were adapted to reflect the extraordinary events of the last year. There were six categories: Best for Mental Health, Best for Line Manager Support, Best for Flexible Working, Best for Family Support, Best for Employee Engagement and Best for Diversity and Inclusion.

Winner of the Overall Top Employer Award, based on the winners of all the other categories, was McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd. The judges felt that, in a year when hospitality has been so badly hit, McDonald’s was a very strong performer in all the categories it entered, showing experimentation with a breadth of different ways of connecting with employees and franchisees with the statistics to back up their success.

McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd also won the Best for mental health award, sponsored by Kearney. The award celebrates employers who have been exemplary in the way they have sought to protect their employees mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. The judges were really impressed by the broad and inclusive range of support McDonald’s offered in such a challenging environment for retail and the way the company went out of its way to support staff and franchisees and to make sure they felt safe.

The judges also highly commended Capco in the mental health category for its long-standing, holistic focus on mental health and employee empowerment.

Other winners included:

Best for Line Manager Support, sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank: UBS

This award is for employers who demonstrate initiatives aimed at supporting and equipping line managers to deal with these unprecedented times.

The judges felt UBS offered a broad range of support for line managers across mental well being, flexible working and diversity and inclusion, from toolkits to webinars and training, for instance, a line manager toolkit focused on resilience, including mindfulness leadership and positivity.

Best for Flexible Working: PwC

This award is for employers who show how they have used flexible working to respond to the challenges created by the pandemic, how an existing flexible culture has helped them respond to the crisis and/or any long-term impact on their working practices.

The judges were really impressed by the way PwC had introduced a time off for dependents time code to recognise that parents in particular were balancing other issues during lockdown, by their innovative Virtual Park to support remote onboarding and their ongoing commitment to flexibility.

Best for Family Support, sponsored by McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd: Teach First

This award is for employers who demonstrate initiatives aimed at helping parents and carers at work during and following lockdown. The judges really liked the way Teach First openly embraced a diverse range of families and their broad range of policies to support them, from premature birth policies and paid carers’ leave to compassionate leave policies and a fully flexible approach.

Best for Employee Engagement: Sky Betting & Gaming

This award is for employers who demonstrate initiatives that have promoted engagement between employer and employee.

The judges were really impressed by Sky Betting & Gaming’s positive, holistic and proactive approach to employee engagement, based on their three pillars of physical and mental well being and good vibes based on positive, interactive engagement, including the way they encourage employees to give something back to the community.

Best for Diversity and Inclusion, sponsored by PwC: IBM UK Ltd

This award is for organisations who demonstrate actions taken to ensure equality of opportunity for all.

The judges praised IBM UK Ltd’s broad focus on diversity and inclusion, including hidden disabilities and neurodiversity, the way they monitored progress and how they recognised the importance of the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter with their comprehensive training and support on both topics provided with the IBM Emb(race) pledge.

The Award judges were: Gillian Nissim, founder of WM People*; Andy Lake, editor of; Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership at Bright Horizons Work + Family Solutions; Dave Dunbar, Head of Digital Workspace at the Department for Work and Pensions; and Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield School of Management. They spoke after the ceremony about their personal highlights among the entries and about what they see as the major issues for 2021.

Gillian Nissim, Founder of WM People*, says: “This has been the most challenging of years for HR and yet we know that many teams and individuals have gone above and beyond in the way they have supported their employees through so much uncertainty. We feel all that hard work deserves to be celebrated. The quality of entries to this year’s Awards has been the highest ever, making shortlisting and choosing a winner extremely difficult. Many employers have demonstrated a deep commitment to embedding diversity and inclusion, to ensuring the well being of their people and to building resilient organisations and have been able to demonstrate the business benefits of doing so. We hope that the high standards shown this year and the increased focus on diversity and inclusion will continue to drive innovation and progress so that everyone is able to fulfill their potential at work.”

A spokesman from MTR Elizabeth line said: “MTR Elizabeth line has enjoyed a strong relationship with since 2015. We are committed to opening up opportunities for under-represented groups in the community and challenging stereotypes regarding career prospects for women in the rail industry. The Top Employer Awards are a strong fit with our own values and as a sponsor, we wish to reflect the important role employers play in actively seeking ways to support their employees.”