Are the “Best Places to Work” Really the Best?

best places to work

The Clout of the “Best Places to Work” List

Companies like Fortune and Glassdoor have been dedicated to naming and honoring the ‘Best Places to Work’ for more than 10 years. And these awards have gained more and more clout with time. Much like colleges treasure their rankings, workplaces hold these awards like badges of honor.

The ‘Best Places to Work’ emblem is hung from work walls, integrated into recruiting and new hire materials, pushed on social media, and celebrated by the press, employees, and company executives alike. Our work building employer brands with companies looking to attract the best talent out there has showed us first-hand how much businesses today really value these rankings.

And for good reason – as a group of people who believe meaningful brands must be built from the inside out, we’re all for the pride. Focusing on culture and employee fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness is key to building a business in the right way. The question is: What story do these rankings tell? Is it the whole story? And just because a workplace is deemed one of the ‘Best Places to Work,’ should recruits be jumping on the celebration wagon and signing contracts just like that?

First, Let’s Look at the Patterns

When you look at the companies who make the cut, yes, a bunch are big brand names you’d expect on the list. But many are less expected. So what ties them all together? Here’s what we noticed when we dug deeper.

1. They Lead with Purpose:

These are companies who are clear, aligned, and proud of who they are, what they stand for, and what they care about. Leaders have a vision for the future that everyone shares. The brands help employees live by the mission of the company every day – something we’ve always believed defines successful business today. Purpose-led companies who integrate purpose into their culture inspire and empower their employees to move the company forward in a meaningful and sustainable way.

2. They Offer Opportunity and Growth:

These are workplaces that celebrate employee accomplishments, foster a growth-mindset, work with employees to co-create the optimal work experience, and motivate employees to set high goals and help them actually meet those goals. This helps employees build a more meaningful relationship with their work along the entire employee journey. Above all else, employees feel as though they are invested in and valued – that people want them to grow, learn, be challenged, and succeed.

3. They Behave with Transparency:

Saying you value transparency is no longer enough. You have to live it – and not just externally. What ties many of these ‘Best Places to Work’ together is their leadership. Leaders don’t work in silos – they share challenges and successes with employees, hold open forums, have open door policies, and embrace honesty (even when it’s hard.) And it’s this kind of transparency that drives employee trust.

4. They Listen and Adapt:

The power of listening is huge. Being a good listener as an employer means you can better build empathetic, meaningful, and productive relationships with employees. This requires humility from leadership and openness to new ideas, perspectives, and opinions. And in turn, listening to employees creates more creative, innovative, diverse, and open work environments. Employers who not only listen – but act on what they hear – are able to flex to changing demands of employees, stay relevant and meaningful to the people who matter most, and never get stuck in past best practices.

It’s important to point out that what brings the companies in these lists together isn’t solely perks and benefits. Yes, a lot of the workplaces on the lists give out a lot of free food. Even free concerts, gym memberships, the most cutting-edge health benefits…But benefits and perks only get you so far. They have to tie back to employees – their purpose, their goals, what helps them grow.

Forget About Benefits and Perks, “Best Places to Work” Is About Something More

Because ‘Best Places to Work’ is often used in recruiting it’s important to remember that making any list of great places to work isn’t enough. Potential employees and current employees need to understand why you are not only great, but why you are a perfect match for them.

The employees who are going to drive your business forward not only care that you’re a great place to work (sure, that might be a plus), but they also care about connecting with you. A good fit means that they understand and admire what you do and why you do it. They feel aligned and connected to your business because it connects to their passions, expertise, and ambitions. Your purpose is a purpose they want to latch onto.

Yes, from 1984 to 2011, those that won ‘Best Places to Work’ outperformed peers on stock returns by 2.3% to 3.8% per year. But that’s because they did more than just display ‘Best Place to Work’ on their walls – they lived up to it. They committed to their unique workforce and their careers. They committed to their community. And they helped their community commit to their purpose with pride. In the end, those might be more worthy causes than any award out there. That being said, we wouldn’t be surprised if you made the list if you did just that.

If you need help evaluating your workplace and what you offer employees, give us a call and we can help you build a more meaningful workplace that will help you drive your business forward.

You may also want to download and read The Meaningful Workplace which has been downloaded more than 7000 times.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy and design agency.

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