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The UK's best tech employers: And the winner is...

High-tech companies have not only made it into the top ranks of the UK's best companies to work for, one has taken the top spot
Written by Andrew Swinton, Contributor

An annual survey by The Sunday Times tracked Britain's best companies to work for, with 10 tech companies in the top 100 -- including the top spot.

To be eligible companies had to be at least seven years old and have a minimum of 250 employees.

Top place goes to Microsoft (up from second place last year), with 1,595 'ecstatic' employees on three sites in the UK.

The way Microsoft treats its workforce is unmatched in this survey with a 93 percent score of staff feeling proud to work for the company and say that "it makes a positive difference to the world we live in". Ninety-two percent are excited about where it is and where it is going.

The software giant scores highly on many levels and is top of the list of companies giving pre-tax profits to charity. Few companies give more than one percent of pre-tax profits to charity, but Microsoft with £17.62bn in (global) sales gave away 9.58 percent of its UK profits. Staff charity fundraising efforts are matched by up to £7,500 per person, per year.

An initiative last year proved popular to give 10 pence to the NSPCC charity every time an employee left work before 5:30pm. Maxine Edwards, a "readiness programme manager" for Microsoft said: "One of our directors sent an email saying he doesn't want to see us after 6pm. I've never seen anything like that before."

The Reading campus, where 90 percent of UK employees are based, has a crèche with 50 spaces, a lake where charity rowing takes place and a forest with picnic tables. Sports activities are given a £260,000 social budget, and there are subsidies to shows and trips abroad. To keep Microsoft employees alert, the offices have a ventilation system that changes the air eight times an hour. After four years at Microsoft, employees are entitled to a four-month unpaid sabbatical.

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In fourth place is Peoplesoft, which is the world's sixth-largest software company. In the UK, the company has 257 employees with 93 percent earning over £30,000. Peoplesoft consultants typically have a salary of £44,750, with a performance-related bonus ranging from £1,200 to £100,000. All employers are able to work flexitime, and maternity pay is six weeks at full salary. Last year the company had to make 32 redundancies. More than half the staff have been there more than five years. Five out of six praised the company's open management and fun atmosphere.

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Computer and video games developer Electronic Arts is in 9th place with 494 staff based in a Norman Foster-designed building in Chertsey. EA makes more than 50 interactive games, including the popular Harry Potter, James Bond and Fifa football titles. Permanent staff are given shares and 10 days of paternity leave (three-quarters of the staff are male).

They also get seven weeks sabbatical after seven years' work. The downside at EA is long hours. Matt Birch, game director, says: "I'm a bit of a workaholic, but I design games for a living: how cool is that?"

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Business Intelligence software company SAS UK is 11th and claims to have the lowest staff turnover in the industry at 9.6 percent. The company spends £1,250 on training per employee per year (£600,000) and has an £80,000 social events budget. The largest staff group is consultants with starting salaries at £35,000 and individual bonuses from £1,200 to £32,000. Sales staff make a sixth of the workforce and can earn up to £130,000 a year in commission.

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The other tech companies to make the top 100 companies list are Cisco Systems in 14th place, with 1,238 employees in the UK. The innovative network company has been hit hard by the downturn and made 5,000 redundancies in 2001. Systems engineers earn £44,000 and can receive large performance-related bonuses. Every Cisco employee has a stakeholder pension, health insurance, including family, four times salary life insurance, and boosted maternity pay and leave. There is a subsidised canteen and £15-a- month gym.

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Computer software company SAP came in at 17th place. There are 23,000 staff in 50 countries, with 615 in the UK. Last July 126 employees in unprofitable areas were made redundant but staff training is continuing at a cost of almost £2m a year. In 2002 the staff shared a £2.1m profit with awards ranging from £3,000 to £98,000.

SAP contributes to the local community, offering paid leave for charity work including up to six months off to work on overseas project in partnership with VSO. SAP also sponsors the well-regarded Donmar Warehouse theatre run, until recently, by Sam Mendez.

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At software company Computer Associates (23rd place) you can get a company mountain bike and a bonus for cycling to work. There are 950 CA staff in the UK. There is an on-site crèche, gym, sports courts and health centre. Last year sales dropped by 7.5 percent and staff numbers were reduced by a sixth. A fifth of employees have a salary of more than £55,000.

Sun Microsystems at 78th place has 3,710 staff at 16 offices in the UK. In 2002 Sun made losses of £373m which meant redundancy for 278 people or 9 percent of the workforce. Sixty-five percent of the workforce say they love working for Sun and praised the benefits including a gym, fitness and wellbeing centre.

There is hot-desking everywhere and people can work from home or from any of the offices including the London drop-in zone. Last year's annual address given to the entire UK operation was by the human resources director, Mike Dunlop, lying on a leopard-skin covered bed, on stage and interviewed by Lily Savage.

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