So What Makes A Best Company “Best”

I admit it…I love reading the annual “best company” lists.   Seeing what new organizations have finally reached the holy grail and those that continue to rise to the top year after year by setting the employee engagement and retention bar high.   It’s an added bonus to read about the “perks”, or what I call “mini-benefits”, companies provide for employees.  They get more creative (or outrageous) year after year.

This year’s Fortune list is no different.   To not share a few of my favorites would be like recommending a vacation spot sans photos so yes, a handful follow below.  But first is a shout-out to the tenacious HR and work/life pros whose efforts to sell these ideas to the C-suite when budgets are being cut is exactly what HR is all about…remaining firmly focused on meeting and exceeding the needs of their employees.

So which companies really grabbed my attention this year and why?

  • Boston Consulting Group – issues a “red zone report” to flag when an employee is working excessive long weeks (now *this* is a genuine focus on work/life balance and concerns for the health/stress of employees).
  • Salesforce.com – provides 48 hours of paid time to volunteer (great way to support having a life and involvement outside of the office).
  • Alston & Bird – provides health coverage for autism, infertility, and marriage counseling (talk about an organization that understands and is willing to support life’s “real” issues and complexities).
  • ARI – offers unlimited tuition reimbursement (this is career development on overdrive and supports the importance of continuous learning).
  • Teksystems – encourages employees to “share almost everything” about their personal lives (not sure how this is implemented, but it definitely establishes an environment geared toward breaking down barriers on issues that are typically left unspoken).

It’s easy to see why these organizations achieved “best company” status.  Their bottom-line success is directly tied to an organizational culture that “walks the talk” when it comes to understanding and supporting the diverse nature of their respective workforces and their needs.  HR may have “made the case,” however these organizations clearly have leaders who set the tone. But wait…there’s more.

The dog talent show and bring your dog to work day (not sure why all the focus on dogs – what about cats or rabbits).  Horseshoe throwing lessons.  “Pie your manager” competitions.  Mid-morning cider and donuts.  Steak cookouts.  On-site farmers markets (very cool, I must say).

Are these fun?  Unusual?  Great fodder for social media photos?  You bet, but there’s a huge difference between providing health coverage for infertility and offering donuts with cider (and I enjoy cider too).  The former drills down into issues – often complex, messy, and human – whereas the latter is like sprinkles on a cake – they may make things look better, but don’t necessarily change the taste.

Companies that have achieved “best” status have done so because they’ve addressed the real needs and tough issues facing their employees.  They’ve met employees where they are in their lives with an honest recognition and response, demonstrating their willingness – and desire – to do something about the life cycle challenges their employees are facing today or may face tomorrow.

Ask any employee who works at these organizations and I guarantee that a nod of approval to volunteer in their community or to be told to reduce their work hours to better manage their stress trumps bringing their dog to work for the day anytime.  We’re a culture that often uses words without really understanding their meaning.  For this year’s 100 “best” companies, the meaning is as it is intended … “that which is the most excellent, outstanding, or desirable.”

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