How Companies Become a ‘Best Place to Work’ is Changing…

The Glassdoor Best-Place-to-Work list saw a fall of High-Tech companies, such as Facebook, Google, and Apple, while Amazon didn’t even make the list! The ranking of these High-Tech firms fell for different reasons but data privacy scandals and and falling work-life balance are some of the reasons. The top three spots on the 2020 list are held by HubSpot, Bain & Co. and DocuSign, respectively.

What did the new top three do so well? HubSpot concentrates on inclusion and diversity and allowing each employee to bring their true self to work. Bain and Co. focuses on personal growth and development and having a supportive culture. DocuSign targets work-life balance and treating employees fairly.

As a table sponsor at the Phoenix Business Journal’s Best-Places-to-Work recognition last week, I heard the winners talked about their focus on creating an inclusive and supportive culture, employee development, and selecting employees who fit the company’s values.


What does the current empirical research tell us about how the changing characteristics of Best Companies to Work?

According to a current article in the Harvard Business Review by Michael O’Malley, there are five characteristics of the Best Companies to Work For. The companies they studied appeared perennially on one or more of the “Best-Companies-to-Work-For” lists in reputable business publications, such as Fortune and Inc., between 2014 and 2018. In addition, each company had to agree to let O’Malley and his team come in for a day to interview executives, meet with Human Resources departments, conduct focus groups with employees, and tour the facilities.

HBR’s selections included businesses in both the private and public sectors, ranging in size from 250 employees to more than 7,000, in industries such as technology, financial services, consumer products, publishing, and pharmaceuticals, among many others.


Here is what they learned:

  1. Put People First. The best places to work provide people with life satisfaction as opposed to job satisfaction alone. Almost all of the corporate founders and CEOs we spoke with told us that they built their companies with people in mind. To them, a healthy culture is as important as a healthy balance sheet. Their benefits go far beyond minimum wage.

Consider San Francisco grocer, Bi-Rite Market. In addition to $15.59 an hour and full health insurance coverage, Bi-Rite matches dollars on all employee 401(k) plans up to 4% of their income and pays profit-sharing that ranges from 2-6% of worker salaries. Anyone who works at least 20 hours a week, including part-time workers, has access to these benefits.


  1. Help Workers Find and Pursue Their Passions. The companies studied found ways to rejuvenate employees by helping them identify their “calling,” or the area of work that provides them with the greatest fulfillment. Doing so not only increases productivity, it also makes people feel happy — lucky even — to be at work. The methods companies used to accomplish this generally differed, but all the organizations we spoke with provided workers with opportunities to pursue their passions.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals has a mission to develop new medicines for patients in need. Many of these medicines may never make large sums of money, but their goal is to relieve people in pain without binding qualifications such as ROI. But perhaps the biggest driver of productivity is the company motto: “Follow the science.” Rather than exclusively focusing on particular disorders, scientists are pushed to explore the problems for which they have the greatest interest and ability. Many employees told the researchers that they found their dream jobs at Regeneron. “Being here is like being back at MIT,” one manager said. “I have room to satisfy my curiosities.”


  1. Bring People Together on a Personal Level. The companies studied realized that their effectiveness relies upon the goodwill and solidarity of groups, so they put quite a bit of effort into bringing people together — but not in the traditional ways you might think. Before beginning this project, the researchers considered life events, rituals, and rites of passage — such as marriages, birthdays, and anniversaries — as trivial to the work environment. But the companies O’Malley and his researchers visited gave them a new perspective. In fact, they made a big deal out of significant dates. Why? Because it is the human, or considerate, thing to do.

BambooHR, for example, treats birthdays as paid holidays. Insomniac Games provides new parents with a custom onesie, art books, and toys, as well as a baby briefcase to help them keep their newborn’s details organized.


  1. Empower People to Own Their Work. The executives interviewed repeatedly said that they want their employees to think and act like owners. Allowing them to control aspects of their work, O’Malley and his researchers learned, is the key to accomplishing this. Employees who have the leeway to rearrange, modify,and improve their assignments feel possession over them, and once this happens, their mindsets begin to change. Instead of focusing on what cannot be done, they become preoccupied with what can. As a result, they are more easily able to grow, innovate, and push their companies forward.

For example, Clarus Commerce has a philosophy resembling that of a winning sports team: hire good people; train, practice, and prepare; coach teammates to back each other up, learn from their mistakes, and accept wins and losses together; get off the field and let the players, play. Once play begins, or once people have proven they are capable of tackling projects on their own, there are a limited number of times that a manager will step in. The field of play at Clarus is set by goals and budgets. Within these boundaries, it is up to the workers to execute. This empowerment enables Clarus to move quickly according to conditions on the ground and to diligently meet changing customer needs. (This empowerment is also a characteristic of some of the most innovative companies).


  1. Create a Space Where People Can Be Themselves. Employees, of course, realize that they will forever bump up against conventions, others’ preferences, and miscellaneous confinements that restrict what they can and cannot do at work. But these do not necessarily have to prevent them from acting on their passions and beliefs. In a word, employees within O’Malley’s sample of companies have found a place where they can be their “authentic” selves.

How? N2 Publishing, for example, find ways to integrate people’s natural talents into the regimen of organizational life. Their employees emphasized how satisfying it is to be able to share a personal piece of themselves with others at work. “N2 is a place where you can relax and just be yourself,” one person told the researchers.  The head of the mail room is a superb rapper who composed and performed the theme song for N2.


Back to Facebook, Google, and Apple. The Glassdoor scores for these companies is still above the Glassdoor average of 3.5, but their data privacy scandals and clumsy responses to them, preventing bad actors on their social media sites, as well as declining work-life balance and dedication to their original purpose for improving humanity, has led to lowered scores.

Do you value your employees and believe that your culture is as important as your balance sheet? What steps are you taking to be a best place to work?


Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and works with companies to improve their recruiting, HR operations, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and cultures. His new book is Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. You can buy it online at AmazonBarnes and NobleArchway Publishing, and now The SHRMStore. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at


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