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The US Great Place to Work Institute examines elements that make for a standout workplace and has released its first-ever list of multinational companies most successful at keeping their employees happy.
Tech giant Microsoft, software firm SAS and data management company NetApp took the top three slots, respectively. Google was No. 4 and FedEx No. 5.
Each had individual attributes that made it stand out. For instance, Microsoft's Canadian division gives workers 40 paid hours each year to use on volunteer activities. NetApp Vice Chairman Tom Mendoza calls about 30 employees each week to thank them for their work.
Yet, while those practices can boost morale, much more goes into creating a standout work environment, says Great Place to Work Global CEO José Tolovi Jr. Exceptional company leaders "think on a higher level," beyond individual workplace perks.
Firms that rank high on the consulting and research group's lists of great employers have three traits in common, he says: employee trust in management, pride in the company and camaraderie with colleagues.
"At the best companies, even the lowest-level employees know they are part of the team," Tolovi says. "They know that they have a common goal."
To pick the best multinational workplace, the Great Place to Work team evaluated applications from 350 firms that have at least 5,000 employees worldwide and 40% of workers, or 5,000, based outside their home country. The contenders also had to have made at least five of the group's regional "best workplace" lists.
The goal, Tolovi says, was to pick winners who were able to keep up a "consistency of culture" in various regions. They examined factors such as health benefits, employee turnover and use of flex time.
The Great Place to Work group also wanted to honor companies that maintained employee trust during rough times.
"How do they treat employees when they have to fire them?" Tolovi says. "Are layoffs done in a respectful manner?"
NetApp passed that test. In 2009, when it cut its global workforce by 5%, leaders sent out e-mails, hosted in-person meetings and distributed a video in which CEO Tom Georgens explained why they had to downsize.
"When you inform employees on what you're doing vs. keeping them in the dark, they can understand why you've made the decisions that you've made," says Rob Salmon, NetApp executive vice president of worldwide field operations.
While management attributes such as great communication skills make a big difference, pay factors in as well.
Employees do "mental arithmetic" on areas such as pay, benefits and company culture to figure out "how much am I putting into this and what am I getting in return?" says Pete Foley, North American employee research leader at consulting firm Mercer. "If pay is way out of line (with industry norms), it can be de-motivating," he says. "But pay really hasn't been a big driver of employee motivation."
A new Mercer global analysis found that non-financial factors usual play a more prominent role in influencing employee motivation and engagement.
Most workers say that being treated with respect is most important, followed by work/life balance, type of work, quality of co-workers and quality of leadership. For U.S. respondents, pay ranks below all of those items.
Firms that don't understand the importance of those hard-to-quantify benefits risk losing the employees they've invested in, Foley says. "That turnover can be very expensive," he says. "You spend time and money bringing someone on board."
Benefits of being first
SAS CEO Jim Goodnight says that one of the best benefits of being known as a Great Place to Work winner is that it helps in retaining employees as well as hiring "the best and the brightest." (SAS was first on the Great Place to Work U.S. list, which came out earlier this year.)
Shawn Boyer, CEO of job website Snagajob, which earlier this month won the top Great Place to Work slot for small companies, says he pays competitively and gives rewards for those who outperform, but "the real difference-maker is the culture."
That includes serious endeavors such as recruiting people who would work well with other employees, as well as wackier activities such as the annual office Olympics where folks compete in games such as chair soccer.
He warns one-off activities — no matter how great — won't improve a company. Managers need to focus daily on employee satisfaction. "You've got to match up whatever perk you are offering with how you're really living out the culture every day — otherwise it's pretty hollow."
Author: Laura Petrecca, USA TODAY