San Francisco, Calif. -- America's best employers are creating jobs, absorbing high health care costs, and improving internal communications. These are the most important trends gleaned from the data for FORTUNE's "100 Best Companies to Work for" list by Great Place to Work Institute, the global research and consulting firm that compiles the list for the magazine each year. The list appears in FORTUNE’s January 24th issue on newsstands January 17th.
The “100 Best” companies showed a net increase of 22,590 jobs this year, as opposed to a net loss of 14,679 jobs last year. Marriott added the most new jobs, with a net increase of 3,679 positions; while Genentech had the largest percentage increase, with 24 percent growth by adding 1,286 jobs.
On the healthcare front, 20 of the “100 Best” companies do not charge some or all of their employees any premiums for their health insurance. Of the 38 firms that changed their coverage policies over the last year, 13 of the “100 Best” actually decreased the portion that is paid by employees. Of the firms that did increase their premiums, most did so by less than 2 percent. Stew Leonard’s, a Connecticut supermarket chain, only charges premiums to its most highly compensated managers.
One trend that’s increasing among the “100 Best" is the active sharing of information throughout company ranks and increased accessibility of leaders. For example, Genentech’s website allows employees to pop questions to the seven top executives. Cisco CEO John Chambers meets with all new employees within four months of their hiring. Goldman Sachs has introduced a new online photo directory showing the faces of colleagues around the world – on opening day, nearly half the firm accessed the site. At Starbucks, Executive VP Dave Pace runs a monthly “Dave’s Diner,” hosting a lunch for up to a dozen employees.
“'100 Best’ companies’ focus on improving communications is crucial,” says Robert Levering, co-founder of Great Place to Work Institute and co-author, with Milton Moskowitz, of the FORTUNE list. “The single most important factor in creating a great workplace is establishing trust between management and employees, and the best companies know that formal and informal communication mechanisms are the cornerstones for building this trust.”
Great Place to Work Institute established its model for great workplaces through more than 25 years of research and testing.
“There is not a single defined set of benefits and programs that makes a great workplace,” says Brooke Huston, Vice President of Consulting Services at Great Place to Work Institute. “In fact, the challenge of becoming a great workplace is less about making sure you have a specific set of benefits and programs, and more about building an environment of trust between employees and management. Organizations who seek to build great workplaces need to have a clear understanding of how to build trust in their workplaces in an authentic way, and need to integrate those behaviors with the rest of their business model. Employee benefits and programs are just one piece of the puzzle.
“What you find when you look at the nation’s best employers,” says Levering, “is that being a great place to work is not a separate workplace initiative exclusively relegated to the HR department. Instead, it is an essential part of the companies’ business activities. This integration allows companies both to be more successful in creating their unique cultures, as well as explains some of the many business benefits companies report from building great workplaces.”
In selecting the companies for the FORTUNE list, the Great Place to Work Institute distributes its proprietary employee survey instrument (Great Place to Work Trust Index) to a random selection of at least 350 employees at each of the candidate companies. The companies also must fill out an extensive management questionnaire (Great Place to Work Culture Audit) that details the firm’s workplace policies and practices. A report containing data from employee surveys is provided to each participating company upon conclusion of the assessment process.
US-based companies that are at least seven years old and have more than 1,000 employees are eligible to apply to FORTUNE’s list. This year, a record 356 companies out of the original pool of 1,000 candidates participated in the full assessment process and competed for inclusion. 304 participated the previous year. The Great Place to Work Institute evaluators give the most weight to employees’ own views about their workplaces, with two-thirds of a candidate company’s score based on responses to the Trust Index survey. A team of eight evaluators dedicates four months to the analysis of companies’ submissions.