The November 1, 2015 issue of Fortune featured the 50 Best Small and Medium-size companies to work for. A look at the listing for medium-size companies, with employee populations that ranged from 292 two nearly 800 featured a single thumbnail highlight accenting one of the representative attributes that landed it on the list. It’s interesting if we take a look at those highlights of the top 10 in the medium size workplace listing.
- Intuitive Researdh & Technology: on-site training boot camps to help employees prepare for job-related certification exams.
- Atlassian: beer carts on Fridays, free lunch every day, a week off to volunteer.
- ESL Federal Credit Union: fun social events and activities including an “ESL’s Got Talent! Competition.
- 4imprint: workers get accumulated hours to assist anyone dealing with an emergency
- Squarespace: free breakfast, lunch and take-home meals every day.
- Etsy: annual Hack Week when employees take time away from regular work to devote special projects.
- Assurance: quarterly Assurance casino events for chance to win $300 cash
- Cirrus Logic: happy hours and rock concerts at the office and offers of free tickets local music festivals
- Centro: employees encouraged to take a three week sabbatical every four years.
- HubSpot: theme “always be growing” encourages staff to teach classes to one another and host “mystery dinners”
My initial expectation about this tally, or summary, was that it would reveal a set of common cultural attributes that resulted in the Best Place to Work organization’s survey of more than 88,000 employees at 450 small medium-size businesses … to determine which are the best employers. As soon as the list above was down on paper, I was amused by what the writer or survey revealed as a key to a great workplace. On the surface it looks like a lot of partying and a seemingly laissez-faire attitude about leading people in today’s knowledge economy. In the listing above those organizations represented provide a variety of services and products. Maybe the common thread throughout is that there is an allowance for work to be fun which gives a high level of ownership to employees. It also occurs to me that in those cultures there is a leadership respect and balance around high expectations of work performance, blended with family like periods of relaxation and organized expressions of camaraderie. Throughout the listing for both small and medium-size companies there was evident intention on the part of the founder/owners/executives for multitasking and collaboration. In one small company example of a home-based software startup company in Austin … when growth required expansion to the home next door and the newer employees began referring to “HQ” next door as the “red house” the CEO moved everyone back into the “red house” and designated house #2 only for meeting room space. So that’s one take-away from this listing and from the thumbnail descriptions of what qualified these companies to be listed … in this example, removing the “us-and-them”.
Remember the movie “9 to 5” with Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dabney Coleman? The ladies “house-arrested” the boss Dabney and the morale and attitudes at the company soared.
So what comes across to me is that there is a high degree of leadership awareness about giving people ownership of their work, using planned activities to build camaraderie in collaboration. And finally, all organizations have a high attention around cultures that makes the work fulfilling to the degree that a paycheck would never equal. While company “free stuff” looks like perks, but maybe it really lands on the in the context of comforts and conveniences that allow greater morale, innovation and productivity.
And, the “bottom line” is that none of this is manifested unless endorsed by the owners/founder/chief executives … which boils down to “attention from the top”. We are all inspired by attention from those we hold in high esteem.