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FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For: What’s Their Secret, Anyway?

Yesterday, FORTUNE released its annual list of the Best Companies to Work For.

Simply looking at the profiles FORTUNE provides for each company, which includes such big names as Google, Whole Foods Market and Goldman Sachs, you might be thinking, Well, sure, if my company had an annual revenue of $23.6 billion, we could afford to give our employees on-site dry-cleaning and free gourmet lunches, too.  But it’s important to remember that the perks FORTUNE highlights in its profiles of these companies are just that – perks.

Sure, things like Google’s free laundry services, Zappos’ no-charge vending machines, or the state-of-the-art gym at SAS are nice – very nice, in fact – but those things don’t even scratch the surface of what makes these companies great workplaces.  In other words, it’s not the benefits themselves, but rather the implication that employees and their work are valued that keep employees happy, engaged and productive.

Building a Great Workplace: Think ‘How,’ Not ‘What’
Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking with Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin, researchers at the company behind FORTUNE’s list, The Great Place to Work® Institute, to discuss what differentiates great places to work from other companies.

As they note in the opening pages of the new book they co-authored, The Great Workplace: How to Build It, How to Keep It, and Why It Matters, when it comes to creating a great place to work, “it’s not what you do, but how you do it.” And these companies execute their employee benefits in such a way that says, “We value you.”

It should also be noted that these companies don’t treat their employees well because they can simply afford to offer a bunch of perks, but they can afford to offer perks precisely because they treat their employees well.

“The research we’ve done on the business benefits are pretty clear and compelling that great workplaces just do better financially [than their competitors],” Burchell says.

Aside from the financial impact, however, Burchell notes that a lot of leaders simply believe creating a culture that recognizes and rewards employees for their hard work is just the right thing to do.  The fact that it happens to be good for the bottom line, too?

Well, that’s just a perk.

FORTUNE’s Best Companies to Work For 2011: Top 10
Get a peek at what makes these places so great…or check out the entire list here:

  1. SAS: While perks like on-site healthcare, high quality childcare, summer camp for kids, car cleaning, a beauty salon, and access to a state-of-the-art, 66,000-square-foot gym are nice, the real reason employees stick around is because – as one manager told FORTUNE – “they feel regarded — seen, attended to and cared for.”
  2. Boston Consulting Group: Employees here have the chance to work with the U.N. World Food Program and Save the Children through the company’s Social Impact Practice Network (SIPN), contributing to a larger community effort.
  3. Google In addition to recognition from executive leadership (Google employees recently received a surprise 10 percent pay hike and $1,000 bonus for their service), peer recognition is also emphasized here: Googlers can award one another $175 peer spot bonuses.
  4. Wegmans: Combining the tenants of camaraderie with wellness, Wegmans holds a companywide challenge to eat five cups of fruit and vegetables a day and walk up to 10,000 steps a day for eight weeks. Wegmans also covered the costs of flu shots and H1N1 vaccines for its employees.
  5. NetApp: Even hourly employees have it good here, with executive assistants making $76,450 a year, supplemented by a $21,917 bonus.
  6. Zappos: Zappos follows through on its promise to “create fun and a little weirdness” by offering, among other benefits, a full-time life coach on hand.
  7. Camden Property Trust: When economic pressures forced budget cuts, Camden gave its employees a say in how it should trim $6 million in costs, which ultimately entailed renegotiating contracts and reducing pay.
  8. Nugget Market: Nugget embodies the ‘Communication is key’ idea, as management uses a big flat screen computer monitor in each store to deliver important information about products, messages from the leadership team, employee awards, and pump up the troops.
  9. REI: Employees get a none-too-shabby 50-75 percent discount on merchandise and free equipment rental – as well as the chance to participate in an outdoor adventure for $300 in grant money.
  10. Dreamworks: Any DreamWorks employee can pitch a movie idea to company executives — and can take the company-sponsored “Life’s A Pitch” workshop to learn how best to do it.

What makes your company a great place to work?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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