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2012 Trends of the Best Workplaces

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The 2012 list marks the 15th year that GPTW has partnered with Fortune magazine to produce the "100 Best Companies to Work for" list, but the original research on what defines a great place to work goes back to the early 1980's, when Robert Levering and Milton Moscowitz toured the US talking with employees and leaders of companies about what made their workplaces great. It's been 30 years since then and a lot has changed about how work gets done, and the kind of work that gets done. What hasn't changed, though, is that people in 2012 are still seeking work that is meaningful, and challenges that make them excited to get up in the morning. They crave transparency in communication with management and want to feel respected as human beings - not just as employees or cogs in a wheel.

When we look at the 2012 US list, what stands out the most? A few trends emerge...

Trust remains the foundational element in best workplaces. This has only increased over the last 15 years.

  • The Best Workplaces are talking about workplace culture and realise that creating a unique culture that supports business strategy is a critical talent advantage.
  • Employees are treated as brand ambassadors who promote the company, and increasingly through social media and volunteering.
  • With increasing healthcare costs, more of the best companies are focusing on employee wellness for employees and their families, and also increasing investment in dependent care.
  • And finally, not only are the best workplaces increasingly more diverse, they are taking care to promote inclusiveness through non-discrimination policies, coverage of benefits for diverse families and promotion to management and leadership positions.

Creating a great place to work, in 2012 as in 1998 (the first FORTUNE list), as in 1983 (the first "100 Best" book), is about building relationships more than anything else. Sure, the pay counts - to the point that people feel it's fair compensation for the work they do. And  the perks are great, but they're icing on the cake for a company where people trust in management's integrity and feel safe in taking risks, making the occasional mistake and openly discussing it with the team.

Trust remains the core of any great workplace, 30 years later. And employees' trust in management has increased a lot over the past 15 years since the first FORTUNE list. In fact, trust at the Best Companies is at an all-time high. This contrasts sharply with research out there that places engagement at a low. Why? What we've learned is that while the norm may be to squeeze employees and break trust in the pursuit of profit, there are a lot of companies out there - the "100 Best" chief among them - that have become expert at building trust with their employees and benefiting from that trust, even as work gets faster, more complex and more demanding year after year.

What else do this year's 100 Best Companies tell us? For one, people are craving a sense of community at work. More than any other survey statement, "we're all in this together" is correlated to people's overall sense that the workplace is great. It's also more important than ever to employees that management has integrity people can trust in. They want to have a say in decisions that matter to them, and they want to be treated as human beings. And they want to feel that whatever role they might hold, they are a part of the team. Best Companies are expert at creating an environment that treats people in every role like a member of the community. (And it pays off - voluntary turnover, growth in headcount and stock returns are strongly favorable at the "100 Best" over the market.)

And this trend extends to other types of diversity as well. Looking over the past 10 years, the Best Companies have become increasingly more ethnically diverse. And they are tapping into this diversity through programs that develop employees of diversity, and promoting them to positions of leadership. In 2002, only 4 of the Best Companies had non-Caucasians making up more than 30% of their managers. In 2012, 29 of them do. And this goes for women as well - in 2002, 22 of the Best Companies had women in more than 30% of their executive positions; that number has increased to 45. Plus, every one has a non-discrimination policy in place that includes race, age, sex, and sexual orientation.

Other noticeable trends include changes to how companies are shaping policies and benefits:

  • Almost every Best Workplace is talking about wellness, and half of them pay employees for enrolling in wellness programs.
  • 10 years ago just half of the Best Workplaces covered benefits for same-sex domestic partners. Now almost all of them do.
  • In the past 5 years, the number of companies offering employees paid time off to volunteer has gone up 50%, making this an increasingly common benefit among Best Companies.
  • The number of companies offering paternity (or non-birth parent) leave has almost doubled over the past 10 years (paid time is offered at about half of the companies on the list).
  • And increasingly, companies are subsidising childcare, whether onsite, offsite or backup childcare. Most also financially support employees who are adopting children - to the tune of over $5000 on average.

Perhaps the most talked-about change in best companies, as elsewhere, is the rise of social media. Some companies are embracing it, some are shutting it down for fear of releasing company secrets or losing control of brand management. But at the best companies, the high degree of trust between employees and management gives these companies an edge. The truth about social media is that it gives employees a virtual megaphone for broadcasting their experiences - good or bad - and it's become ubiquitous. Social media itself does not change how people feel about their workplace, it just enables people to communicate. Many of this year's Best Workplaces have embraced external social media, often devising some guidelines for their employees to blog, Facebook or tweet about their workplace experiences but encouraging people to be themselves and simply to use good judgment.

Internally, companies are using the same tools to communicate with their employees. Two-way communication has entered the virtual sphere, and blogs, intranet portals and other tools (e.g. Yammer, Chatter) allow employees to respond to leaders' communications and also to collaborate with one another in a way not possible before.  At Deloitte, for example, more than 3,000 employees maintain blogs on the company's internal networking site "D Street."

So what critical lessons can you draw from this year's Best Companies to apply to your own workplace? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Trust: How consistent is trust between employees and management at your company? Are you measuring and acting on results?
  • Workplace culture: Can you articulate the unique aspects of your organisation’s workplace culture that attract talent and differentiate your company?
  • Brand ambassadors: Are you treating your employees as ambassadors for the brand, empowering them with opportunities to promote their pride in the organisation?
  • Caring for employees: How are you demonstrating genuine caring for your employees and their families through programs and communication?
  • Diversity: Are you actively supporting, developing and promoting an increasingly diverse employee workforce?

Lindsay Nelson, MSOD is a Consultant for Great Place to Work®. in San Francisco. Lindsay brings a systems-based philosophy of consulting, helping organisations to align workplace culture with strategy and business purpose to enable positive change.

 
 
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