15 Largest Employers in The UK

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While the UK has many multinational companies and businesses which operate throughout the world, have you ever wondered which one among them is the biggest employment provider?

Or, if you want to find out the biggest names in the game of employment creation in the Uk, and by extension in the world, we have got you covered in this blog.

But before we take off, might I mention that our blog has similar lists for other countries as well, including 

Largest Employers in Canada

Biggest Employers in Australia

Top Famous Employers in USA

to match your fancy!

Right, on to the UK’s biggest employers then.

First, let us take a brief look at the UK economy.

One of the most highly developed economies of the world today, the UK was the first nation to industrialize in the 18th century. 

It is the 6th largest economy in the world with nominal GDP, 9th largest by PPP, and twenty second-highest by GDP per capita. (Source: PWC)

It has a market-oriented highly developed social market economy. It is one of the most globalised economies – no wonder there, it was one of the biggest empires in its heydays, hence the trading connections! 🙂

UK has 3rd largest inward foreign direct investment and 5th largest outward foreign direct investment.

Now that our blog is about the largest employers, the country’s service sector is one of the largest and contributes a massive 81% to the GDP.

Of the most particular importance in the services industry, is the financial services industry, of which you’ll see many companies forming part of our list below.

The UK technology sector is valued at US$1 trillion, third behind the United States and China. (Source: Verdict)

Britain’s aerospace industry is the second-largest national aerospace industry. (Source: ADS Group)

Its pharmaceutical industry, the tenth-largest in the world, plays an important role in the economy. (Source: The Guardian)

Of the world’s 500 largest companies, 26 are headquartered in the UK. (Source: Wikipedia)

The UK is undoubtedly one of the most thriving economies in the world.

So, let us dive into our list of the largest employers in the UK now.

Compass Group

Compass Group - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 478,070

(Source: Compass Group Official Report)

Founded in



Food Service

Market cap

$38.80 billion


Chertsey, England, UK  

Stock symbol


Topping the list is not just one of the UK’s biggest UK, but globally the biggest employer, the Compass Group. 

It is based in Chertsey, England.

The company was started by Famous UK Entrepreneur, Jake Bateman in 1941 under the name ‘Canteents Limited.

Compass Group is a multinational contract food service company that serves meals in various locations. The venues which get food service from Compass Group include

  • Offices
  • Schools
  • Universities
  • Hospitals
  • Sports and cultural venues
  • Mining camps
  • Correctional facilities
  • Offshore oil platforms

Listed on the London Stock Exchange, the company is a Fortune Global 500 company and has a market cap of over $38 billion. 

While being the number one employer, it ranks 17th in the UK, in terms of market cap. (Sources: Companies Market Cap, Wikipedia)

Tesco PLC

Tesco PLC - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 345,000

(Source: Tesco Official Website)

Founded in




Market cap

$19.75 billion


Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England, UK  

Stock symbol


In a year when a lot of UK startups and businesses failed during the pandemic, the second name on the list is a British multinational groceries and general merchandise retailer, Tesco PLC. 

Tesco is not just one of the largest retailers in the UK but is among the top retailers in the world in gross revenue.

Tesco’s founder, Jack Cohen, was a migrant from Poland who arrived in England in 1919 and started selling war-surplus groceries. 

Tesco’s name came from a tea supplier‘s brand name, TES, and the first two letters of his surname, CO.

It was 1924 when he came up with the name.

His business was a success right from the outset. 

By 1939, he had more than 100 Tesco shops throughout the country.

Today Tesco has business in more than 11 countries and is now more than a grocery store.


HSBC - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 219,697

(Source: HSBC Report)

Founded in



Financial Services

Market cap

$112.82 billion


Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England, UK  

Stock symbol


The third largest British employer is HSBC Holdings plc – a multinational universal bank and financial services holding company.

HSBC was founded in 1865 in British Hong Kong. 

The name HSBC comes from its Hong Kong origins, when Thomas Sutherland, a Scottish banker opened the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in then British Colony Hong Kong. (Source: Funding Universe)

In its heyday, the bank is said to be founded in Hong Kong to capitalize on the busting opium trade on the shores of Hong Kong! (Source: Le Monde Diplomatique)

In the late 19th century, 70% of the maritime freight from India to China consisted of opium. So there surely was a big business opportunity for a bank.

The bank was established in London in 1991 as a new group holding company with the initials of its old name, Hong Kong and Shanghai Corporation.

Currently, the bank is organised into three different business groups:

  • Commercial Banking
  • Global Banking
  • Wealth & Personal Banking

Listed in various stocked exchanges (London, Hong Kong, New York & Bermuda) HSBC has 182,000 shareholders spread over 128 countries. (Source: HSBC)


Sainsbury’s - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 189,000

(Source: Sainsbury Official Report)

Founded in




Market cap

$6.01 billion


London, England, UK  

Stock symbol


Fourth on the list of largest employers in the UK is a chain of supermarkets, Sainsbury.

Sainsbury, Officially J Sainsbury plc, is the second largest chain of supermarkets in the UK and captures a 14.9% share of this sector. (Source: Kantar World Panel)

It is second only to Tesco.

But the company occupied the top slot for the larger part of the previous century until 1995 when Tesco took over the lead. 

Its planned merger with Asda Stores (another British supermarket chain) was banned by the Competition and Markets Authority in favour of consumer benefit.

The supermarket started as a retail shop for fresh foods in 1869.

However, it started expanding fast by selling packaged groceries and by the time its founder, John James Sansbury, passed away, the store had spread to 128 locations.

The company claims to have opened the first self-service store and revolutionised grocery shopping. (Source: Sainsbury’s)

Sainsbury has multiple businesses/ brands as its subsidiaries: (Source: Sainsbury’s)

  • Argos
  • Habitat
  • Tu
  • Sainsbury’s Bank
  • Nectar


Unilever - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 148,000

(Source: Unliverer Official Website)

Founded in



Consumer goods

Market cap

$121.50 billion


London, England, UK  

Stock symbol


The 5th top employer in the UK is another world-renowned company, Unilever.

Unilever is a British multinational consumer goods company that deals in a myriad of products, including food, condiments, ice cream, cleaning agents, cosmetics, etc.

Founded in 1929, Unilever emerged after a merger between British soapmaker Lever Brothers and the Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie. (Source: Unilever)

Today the omnipresent brand is available in 190 countries – almost the whole world!

Unilever has divided its business into three main sectors: Foods and Refreshments, Home Care, and Beauty and Personal Care.


Vodafone - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 96,506

(Source: Vodafone Official Report)

Founded in




Market cap

$31.55 billion


Newbury, Berkshire, England, UK  

Stock symbol


The 6th largest employer in the UK is a telco, Vodafone Group plc, or simply Vodafone.

Vodafone is a British Multinational telecommunications company that predominantly operates in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania.

Its name comes from VOice DAta FONE – a combination of the initials of voice and data service via Fone (phone).

Founded in 1981, Vodafone started as a strategic radio manufacturer for the military. 

It was a subsidiary of the largest military radio maker, Racal Electronics.

Vodafone was a joint venture between Racal Electronics and Millicom.

The name, Vodafone, is a widely known telecom brand and has various telecom and IT-related services available in 150 countries.

The success of Vodafone can be seen by the fact that Vodafone is the largest fixed mobile and fixed network operator in Europe. 

Not only that, but it has the fastest-growing 5G network on the continent.
(Sources: Vodafone, Wikipedia)


GlaxoSmithKline - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 94,000

(Source: GSK Official Report)

Founded in



Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology

Market cap

$66.56 billion


London, England, UK  

Stock symbol


Now renamed GSK, GlaxoSmithKline is a British multinational pharmaceutical and biotech company, which is among the Fortune Global 500 elite club.

The founding of GSK is an interesting story of multiple mergers over many years.

Let me summarise their story for you:

  • Glaxo – a dry milk producer
  • Burrough Wellcom – a pharma laboratory
  • Both Glaxo and Wellcome merged in 1995 to form Glaxo-Wellcome plc
  • Beecham Group – a pharmaceutical and consumer products company
  • SmithKline – a merged company of pharmaceutical formed by Smith-Kline, French Laboratories, and Beckman Inc.
  • SmithKline merged with Beecham Group in 1989, forming SmithKline Beecham P.L.C
  • Glaxo-Wellcome merged with SmithKline Beecham in December 2000, forming the present GlaxoSmithKline!

GSK is the tenth largest pharmaceutical company and is listed on LSE and FTSE 100 index. (Sources: GSK, Wikipedia)

Shell plc

Shell plc - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 86,000

(Source: Company’s Official Website)

Founded in



Energy, Petroleum

Market cap

$199.68 billion


London, England, UK  

Stock symbol


Number 8th largest employer in the UK is the oil and gas giant, Shell plc.

Shell is a British multinational oil and gas company, which is known as one of the oil and gas “supermajors”.

“Supermajors” or “Big Oil” is the name given to the six or seven biggest oil and gas companies of the world to emphasise their power and impact value based on their massive revenues.

Shell was formed in 1907 after a merger between the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company of the Netherlands and The “Shell” Transport and Trading Company of the UK. 

It was the biggest competitor to American Standard Oil and ultimately became the largest producer of oil in the world in 1920.

Shell is vertically integrated into every area of oil & gas including exploration, production, refining, transport, distribution and marketing, petrochemicals, power generation, and trading.

Well, this surely explains the reason behind the company being among the top ten employers in the UK. 🙂


Barclays - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 83,500

(Source: Company’s Official Website)

Founded in



Banking, Financial Services

Market cap

$29.72 billion


London, England, UK  

Stock symbol


With 83,500 employees on its roster, Barclays is a British multinational universal bank based in London.

One of the oldest banks in the UK, Barclays was established in the last decade of the seventeenth century – in 1690. 

It was originally a goldsmith banking business.

James Barclays, after whom the bank is named, was not the founder of the original business but joined the establishment later in 1746. (Source: Wikipedia)

In 1896, twelve banks in London and the English provinces joined as joint-stock banks under the name Barclays and Co.
Barclays bank was the first bank in the world to deploy a cash dispenser in 1967.

Barclays is present in more than 40 countries in the world and is the 5th largest bank in Europe by assets. (Source: Barclays)


Linde - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 80,000

(Source: Company’s Official Website)

Founded in



Chemical Industry 

Market cap

$164.41 billion


Woking, Surrey, UK  

Stock symbol


On number 11 in the list, is a chemical company founded in Germany.

Lind plc is a global multinational chemical company domiciled in Ireland and headquartered in the UK, since 2018. It is the world’s largest industrial gas company by market share and revenue.

As with many other companies on the list, Linde was formed by a merger of Linde AG of Germany (founded 1879) and Praxair (founded 1879) of the US.

The extent of Linde’s business services is almost unlimited.

It deals in many products, including healthcare, petroleum refining, manufacturing, food, beverage carbonation, fiber optics, steel making, aerospace, material handling equipment (MHE), chemicals, electronics, and water treatment industries.

I found out quite an interesting fact about the company.

Being a chemical company involved in energy production, Linde is also a member of the Hydrogen Council – a group of companies investing in hydrogen vehicles!

The company has a strong belief in hydrogen vehicles and expects them to compete with electric vehicles. It has invested in wind-powered plants that convert water to hydrogen.

Linde is also part of the Fortune 500 Global and Forbes Global 2000.
(Sources: Linde, Wikipedia)


AstraZeneca - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 76,100

(Source: Company’s Official Report)

Founded in



Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology

Market cap

$198.67 billion


Cambridge, England, UK  

Stock symbol


Employing more than 76,000 people, AstraZeneca plc is number 11 on the list.

The company came under a global spotlight during the Covid-pandemic. It is a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biotech company.

AstraZeneca is headquartered in Cambridge, England. It emerged after a merger between Swedish Astra AB and the British Zeneca Group in 1999.

As a pharmaceutical company, its main products cover major diseases in the fields of oncology, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, infection, neuroscience, respiratory, and inflammation.

Against Covid-19 the company produced the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which was considered the best vaccine.

The merger made it one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. 

With the newfound strength of the merger, the company also carried out numerous acquisitions.

It can be said with confidence that the company owes its success to strong research and development base, carried out in three strategic centers in the UK, the US, and Sweden.
(Sources: AstraZeneca, Wikipedia)

The British Petroleum Company (BP)

The British Petroleum Company (BP) - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 60,000

(Source: Reuters)

Founded in



Oil and Gas

Market cap

$103.58 billion


London, England, UK  

Stock symbol


With 60,000 employed members, BP plc ranks 12th on the list of largest employers in the Uk. BP is a British multinational oil and gas company.

Another one of the “supermajors” like Shell, BP is one of the world’s largest companies measured by revenues and profits. (Source: Reuters)

Like Shell again, it is vertically integrated into all areas of the oil and gas industry, from exploration and extraction to trading and power generation.

The company was founded in 1908 as a subsidiary of Burmah Oil Company to capitalize on oil discoveries in Iran. It was called the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

It adopted its current name, British Petroleum, in 1954. (Source: Wikipedia)

BP has operations in 80 countries in the world and produces around 3.7 million barrels per day (as per Dec 2018 figures). (Source: Company’s Official Report)


Anglo-American - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 62,000

(Source: Statistica)

Founded in



Metals and Mining

Market cap

$52.91 billion


London, England, UK  

Stock symbol


Anglo American is a British multinational mining company with more than 62,000 employees.

Like many others on the list. Anglo-American is one of the world’s largest!

It is the world’s largest producer of platinum – contributing around 40% of the global product. Apart from platinum, it is also a major producer of diamonds, copper, nickel, iron ore, and steelmaking coal.

Anglo American is spread out in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas.

The company is part of the Forbes Global 2000 list.

It was founded by a German, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, in 1917 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He had secured financial baking from an American bank, J.P. Morgan.

Contrary to being the biggest platinum producer, the company was initially formed as a gold-mining company.
(Sources: Anglo American, Wikipedia)

Lloyds Banking Group

Lloyds Banking Group - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 58,000

(Source: Company’s Official Website)

Founded in



Banking and Financial Services 

Market cap

$34.47 billion


London, England, UK  

Stock symbol


Another bank on the list!

Lloyds Banking Group is a British financial institution formed through the acquisition of HBOS by Lloyds TSB in 2009.

Founded in the late eighteenth century (1765), Lloyds has even deeper roots than this. It has links with the founding of the Bank of Scotland founded in 1695.

It is one of the oldest banks in the UK.

Lloyds owns various brands and subsidiaries, including Halifax, Bank of Scotland, and Scottish Widows. The bank proudly cherishes its 300 years old history and has kept these separate brands owing to varying customers’ expectations with each.

The bank focuses on retail and commercial customers.
(Sources: Lloyds, Wikipedia)

British American Tobacco

British American Tobacco - Largest employers in UK

Number of employees: 52,000

(Source: Company’s Official Website)

Founded in




Market cap

$86.27 billion


London, England, UK  

Stock symbol


The first tobacco company on the list!

British American Tobacco plc (BAT) is a British multinational company that deals in cigarettes, tobacco, and other nicotine products.

BAT was established in 1902 and is one of the world’s largest tobacco company in the world based on net assets. (Source: Statistica)

The cigarette brands produced by the company include

  • Dunnhill
  • Kent
  • Lucky
  • Strike
  • Pall mall, and
  • Rothmans

BAT also produces Vype and VUde and Glo – modern cigarette alternative devices.
(Sources: BAT, Wikipedia)

So, here we are.
I Hope, you found your favorite biggest employer in the UK. 🙂

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