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Creating a Best Place to Work: Lessons from 2009′s 50 Best Small and Medium Companies to Work for in America

I just sat through a great session at SHRM 2009 given by Michael Burchell, Ed. D., vice president for Global Business Development, Great Place to Work® Institute. In addition to compiling the 50 Best Small and Medium Companies to Work for in America list, the Great Place to Work® Institute is also responsible for assembling the FORTUNE® 100 Best Companies list.

While talking about how a company becomes a best place to work is not a new topic to The Hiring Site, Burchell was able to share some enlightening tips.

Burchell started his presentation saying that any company could be a best place to work – regardless of industry, employee demographics or work status. Through his company’s 20 years of research on this topic, Burchell found the one thing all these companies have in common: Trust…These companies are all places where employees “trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with.”

The Three Components of Trust:

  1. The relationship between employees and management.
  2. The relationship between employees and their jobs/company (pride).
  3. The relationship between employees and other employees (camaraderie).

Building this kind of trust enables companies to reap positive business benefits and increased productivity through increased caliber of employees, increased quality of products and increased levels of risk taking and innovation.  It’s an investment, but a worthwhile one.

Having this kind of trust also decreases costs by lowering turnover (best companies typically have a voluntary turnover of 9% or less) and lowering  resistance to change.  Surprisingly, it also lowers health care costs: Employees who feel trusted – and trust their companies in return – tend to have healthier lives outside of work because they leave work at work, leaving them with more to give to their personal life (family and community). This also means that when they are at work, they show up because they want to and are ready to contribute. (Bonus!)

Building Trust
Trust between employee and company (and vice versa) begins during the pre-hire stage; although the treatment employees get on their first day of work really sets the stage for future trust. Employees who feel welcomed and appreciated generally foster a genuine level of trust much faster than those employees who are just shown to a desk to begin working right away. Makes sense, right? You’d be surprised how many companies overlook these little details. Burchell continued by saying that employees who have the opportunity to interact with senior leadership very close to their hire date are better informed and feel true value and connection immediately.

Best Companies to Work For also…

  • Motivate
  • Empower
  • Listen
  • Thank
  • Develop
  • Care
  • Celebrate  
  • Share

Common Benefits that Best Companies to Work For Offer:

  • Job sharing
  • Telecommuting
  • Compressed work weeks
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Phased retirement
  • Paid sabbaticals
  • Child services
  • Dry cleaning
  • On-site mailing
  • Free beverages or snacks
  • Personal travel experience

And while this list of perks is impressive in and of itself, what truly makes the difference is how the company communicates these employee benefits, supports them and enables employees to take advantage of them.

The Hidden Benefit to Being  a Best Place to Work
Earlier, I mentioned the benefits a company gains by striving to be a best place to work – such as higher productivity and profitability - but there’s also this other (kind of huge) perk: Once word gets out that your company is a great place to work, you’ll really start to see more qualified applicants applying to your open positions.  I’m talking about people who understand your company’s unique culture and want to be a part of it because they feel a connection to your values. 

2009′s Best Small Company to Work for in America, Badger Mining, was also present at today’s session and commented on how “they hire for potential and character based upon a match with their company’s culture. People are trainable, but soft skills are the true foundation.” Go here to learn even more about what makes Badger Mining the 2009 Best Small Company to Work for in America.

Managing Trust in Today’s Challenging Economy
Burchell wrapped up his session by with the following insights into becoming a best place to work in our present economic situation:

  • Layoffs need to be a company’s last resort.
  • Survivor guilt lowers company productivity.
  • If your company does have layoffs, turnover will be higher when the economy turns around. You must plan ahead for this.
  • Continually communicate about the state of the business.
  • Focus on team building and community building.
  • Manage talent wisely.
  • Now is the time to start recruiting and building a qualified bench of talent again.
  • Pay attention to your high performers.

While much of this information may not seem new, it is wonderful to see so many companies really trying to step up their game to become a best place to work. To see the full list of the 50 Best Small and Medium Employers to Work for in America, revealed today and SHRM, and the details around this contest, go here.

Remember, employees are your greatest asset. If you build around this model, everyone benefits. Hiring gets easier. Top talent is retained. Production increases. Profits grow. Build a best place to work and you build a foundation for ongoing success.

Explore our previous Building the Best Place to Work article series to gain insights on our five basic building blocks and other tips for creating the best working place. As always, we welcome your feedback in the comments section of this post. Tell us more about your own hiring and employee engagement experiences.

Stephanie Gaspary

About Stephanie Gaspary

Stephanie is the managing director of content strategy at CareerBuilder, tasked with creating opportunities to share the CareerBuilder story across job seeker and employer channels. Stephanie, a lifelong learner, holds a Master's in Business Administration and a Master's in Management - both from North Park University and a Bachelor's degree in Art from Bethel University. A Minnesotan at heart, Stephanie has lived in Chicago for nearly 20 years, is the doting mother to two wacky german shorthaired pointer pups, looks forward to her morning run *almost* as much as that first cup of coffee and vows to one day live in the mountains.
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