There are good companies to work for, bad companies to work for, and there are great companies to work for. What is it that makes a company the “best”? What is their company culture like? Harvard Business Review (HBR) researched the best places to work in the United States looking for these answers. We’re not just looking for what they do differently, but why the things they do see success.
In this research, they chose companies known for impressive cultures, have been continually named on reputable “Best Companies to Work For” lists (i.e. Fortune and Inc.), and agreed to interview with HBR. Among this sample were companies of both public and private sector, employees ranging from 250-7,000, and a wide array of industries like technology, finance, publishing, etc.
Across the board, the best companies to work for put people first. They seek to give employees life satisfaction rather than just job satisfaction. Almost all founders and CEOs interviews said their companies were built with people in mind. These companies believe that a healthy culture is as important as any other work output.
Many of these companies have benefits that far exceed a minimum wage paycheck. In addition to salary, companies offer matching 401ks and full health insurance coverage for all employees, including those who work part-time. Some take it a step further and provide supplemental programs to encourage optimal mental and physical well-being. These programs include stress-reduction workshops, nutritional consultations, financial planning courses, or counseling services. Some give extra time off as needed or help pay medical bills. One company mentioned paying the college tuition of a deceased employee’s child. The stories of compassion and generosity are countless. Many of those interviewed follow the belief that while profit is necessary for a company to survive, their purpose is to enrich and better people’s lives, including their employees.
Secondly, these companies help workers find and pursue their passions. These companies help employees find the area of work that gives them the greatest fulfillment. This not only increases productivity, but makes employees happy to be at work. There are several different approaches to accomplishing this in the workplace, but still common among these best companies to work for was an effort to encourage workers to find their calling. Some offer special programs or sabbaticals or, like PURE Insurance, offer a program that gives employees $1,500 per year to explore whatever they choose. The best way to improve performance is to have employees that enjoy the work they do.
Another common practice is encouraging personal relationships among employees. It’s not uncommon for companies to have rare or artificial “team-building” events, but these companies go much deeper. Socializing at these companies is frequent and spontaneous. They host family events like Halloween festivals or summer barbeques, they sponsor employee outings like comedy clubs, sporting events, or theater shows. Typically, people have a degree of separation between work and personal life, and as such, weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays are extremely insignificant in most offices. But, these companies think differently. Humans are a big deal and therefore all the little things about the human experience are important. Just like in a healthy family, we celebrate and sympathize with one another. We care about their feelings and well-being. As such, some of these companies give birthdays as paid holidays, give baby gifts to new parents, etc. Personal relationships improve team performance and prevent breakdowns.
These companies seek to empower people to work on their own. Allowing control over one’s work is key to optimal performance. When employees are treated as owners, they will think, act, and perform as such. When an employee has the power to modify or improve assignments, they take ownership of them and will focus on what can be done rather than what cannot be. This lends way to greater innovation and growth in the company. One company, SAS, assigns projects to workers that all employees can see. Employees are given goal and budget parameters and are left to pursue to project however they see fit. They have peers and management to seek advice or support from when needed. When employees know what they’re doing matters, they feel a sense of responsibility, not just to clients, but to one another.
And lastly, they have a space where people feel like themselves. A thriving company seeks authenticity and honesty. In order to obtain that, they seek to create a work environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves both physically and verbally. Innovation happens when people share what they like and don’t like and what they believe. Limiting the dress code allows employees to outward express who they are and what they stand for. People who behave in accordance with their values are more morally engages and will more likely choose ethics over enticement.
Still today, too many businesses operate with only the bottom line in mind. When you put money before people, everyone suffers. These organizations succeed by recognizing the heart of the workplace are humans. If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of everything else. Simply having someone to perform a list of duties is asking far too little. With proper cultivation of employees, all aspects of the workplace and personal lives can flourish.