But employee happiness (and retention) is a top challenge now, and starting this year Forbes is recognizing those who successfully rise to it.
The magazine released its Best Employers 2015 list in late March and has been analyzing and explaining the results in-depth since then.
Want your company to make the 2016 list? Read on for insights from the 2015 list that illuminate the future of employee happiness and what HR departments need to know to cultivate it.
It’s important to note that the Best Employers list is limited to companies with head counts of 2,500 or more, but Forbes has a separate annual survey later in the year of America’s Best Small Companies — so all employers have equal opportunity for recognition.
How to Be Forbes’ Best Employer of 2016
To understand how top employers earn the distinction, it’s helpful to understand Forbes’ survey methodology.
Statista.com partnered with Forbes to survey more than 20,000 American workers at U.S. companies, at nonprofits like hospitals and government agencies, and at U.S. divisions of multinationals, across a wide range of industries. The survey asked a simple question: On a scale of 0-10, how likely would you be to recommend your employer to someone else?
Word-of-mouth has power. Employee happiness is highest “where the workers like their jobs enough to spread the word,” writes Forbes retail writer Clare O’Connor.
Do employees at your company talk openly about how much they like their jobs? If you don’t know, start asking questions and listening. This brings us to one of the most vital components of employee happiness and vibrant workplace culture: open communication.
#1. Be transparent
There are two types of transparency at work here. The first is transparency within the company — being open with employees about where a company is headed, explaining why their work matters to company goals, and listening constantly for feedback.
The other type of transparency is with the outside world. Does your company tell its “story” to the public in a transparent way that makes employees feel proud, motivated and secure?
Google — Forbes No. 1 pick — is open about its recruiting and hiring practices. So open, in fact, that its chief HR officer, Laszlo Bock, is coming out with a book this month called Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google that Will Transform How You Live and Lead.
Bock is unconcerned with other companies “copying” Google practices.
“It’s ok if they copy us,” he tells Forbes leadership writer Kathryn Dill in a Q&A, “because if you get better at recruiting and you do the things in the book, it’s not that you’re going to hire more people in total, you’re going to hire people who are a better fit, who are happier there, and it may well be that there’s a different kind of person who’s happy at one company versus another.”
When companies stay transparent and honest to their unique identity, they’re more likely to attract people who are a good fit — and people who are a good fit are more likely to be happy employees who stick around.
#2. Reward individuals, not generations
In the same Q&A with Bock (well worth the read), he addresses current worries about attracting and pleasing Millennial employees. We’re all basically the same, he says, adding that what really matters, matters to all employees.
“Whether you’re 20 or 40 or 60 or 100 you want dignity, you want meaning, you want some evidence that what you’re doing matters, and if you do it well you want to be recognized for it, you want to be rewarded,” he says.
#3. Help employees get and stay healthy
Maine outdoor clothing company L.L. Bean comes in at No. 5 on the Forbes list. The company is thriving, and not just because the wait list for the signature L.L. Bean boot reached an incredible 100,000 in December.
L.L. Bean also has dedicated employees. One in five has been with the company 20 years or longer. Commitment to health is one factor in L.L. Bean employee happiness.
“Perhaps fittingly for an outdoor-gear manufacturer, Bean is obsessive about its employees’ health. There are gyms in every office, call center and factory,” O’Connor writes in a company profile, “How Maine Bootmaker L.L. Bean Became Fashion’s Hottest Company.”
In the call center, alarms regularly go off to remind employees to get up and stretch during their shift. The company also pays 75 percent of employee health care costs and offers a competitive, application-only health and fitness program called BeanStrong for “at-risk” workers, such as those with diabetes.
#4. Train for a worthwhile investment
L.L. Bean boots are still made by hand in the company’s Maine factory. Making the boots requires skill and training — up to six months for the stitchers — but the company is happy to invest in people by training them.
“You can’t just hire somebody off the street and say, ‘Make the boots,'” Carolyn Beem, head of L.L. Bean’s public affairs, tells Forbes.
L.L. Bean’s attention to detail and quality makes for a sought-after product, but they’re also boosting employee confidence and dedication.
According to the Oregon Health and Science University article “Top 5 Reasons to Invest in Employee Development,” employee training 1) is a small time-investment with a big payoff in the long run, 2) enhances employee and management pride, 3) increases the talent pool, 4) is appreciated by employees, and 5) furthers the overall success of the company.
#5. Honor traditions together
One of the most interesting (and inspiring) Top 20 picks in the Forbes list is the Fire Department of New York. The FDNY came in at No. 1 among government agencies and at No. 17 overall.
It’s one of the “least cushy gigs imaginable,” writes O’Connor, but the “incredible daily danger is offset by tradition, training and duty.”
Traditions bring people together and keep company pride top of mind. Especially when the work is difficult, or a company is going through a tough time, traditions keep everyone grounded and focused.
For more great tips and insights into building a vibrant culture of engagement, respect and appreciation, be sure to download our free e-book, “The Top 20 Employee Engagement Blogs You Should be Reading”.
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