I’m just back from yet another conference—this one, the annual Great Place to Work (GPTW) conference in New Orleans. And I want to start by making clear that after four or five days in the Big Easy, I am now able to pronounce its name correctly (“New OR-lins”) at least 50 percent of the time.
GPTW is the group that administers Fortune magazine’s annual “Best Companies to Work For” lists and I knew from experience that their conferences tend to be both fun and inspiring. This year’s was no exception. The conference has grown from maybe 400 people at its launch to over 1,100, and in my opinion that’s not to its advantage. Nonetheless, I learned a lot, and I once again want to share some fun ideas, sobering facts and startling statistics, before filing them for expansion in future posts.
Don’t let the Top 10 format fool you—in fact I had dozens of interesting factoids and quotations to choose among, and this list is almost random:
10. Great workplaces don’t all do the same things, but they all have a strong sense of identity and are true to it. As GPTW’s CEO, China Gorman, puts it, “no practice is plug-and-play when it comes to culture.” And by the way, being a great workplace doesn’t have to involve a lot of cash. Sometimes, it doesn’t even take much time. At SC Johnson, bonus checks are delivered in person, boss to employee. At the law firm Alston & Bird, office name plates, which in traditional firms use honorifics to distinguish among lawyers and non-lawyers, have been replaced with first name, last name plates for all. The Vice Chair at NetApp instructs employees to email him when they catch someone doing something right. He then personally calls to thank the person in question.
9. Just creating a fun environment doesn’t ensure either a great place to work or business success. You have to keep your eyes on your mission. “Don’t lose the plot line” is how Terri Kelly, President and CEO of W.L. Gore, put it. On the other hand, “People lead. Numbers and money follow,” according to Bill Emerson, Quicken Loans’ CEO.
8. Employees with high work demands coupled with low work control have twice the risk of dying from a cardiovascular incident. Perceived injustice at work is associated with a 41% increase in absence due to sickness for men and a 12% increase for women. (I wonder what that disparity’s about?) People who lose their jobs are 44% more likely to die within the next four years than those that don’t, and being fired or laid off is associated with a 97% increase in the chances of developing a new health condition—even in people who find a new job. All of these statistics—and many more—come from a stunning presentation by Stanford University Professor of Organizational Behavior, Jeffrey Pfeffer.
7. When Accenture introduced a 4-week unpaid sabbatical, usage was low. It became clear that employees couldn’t afford to take a month without pay. Accenture couldn’t pay, either, but it could create a “future leave” program, establishing a fund its people could pay into over time that would later turn their sabbatical into paid leave. Another neat take on sabbaticals: Intel combines job rotations with leaves; those employees interested in trying something new can rotate into vacancies created when other employees are on leave.
6. When Credit Acceptance first applied to the Fortune list, it found that employees in one particular department were unhappy—only 24% of surveyed IT workers said it was a great place to work. So leaders started surveying that department monthly. When employees responded negatively, they’d follow up with the question “what would you change?” Those responding positively got the question, “what is it you like?” The leaders responded candidly to what they heard and took action where appropriate; within a year, they’d brought the department’s GPTW survey scores up from 24 to 90 percent. This year, they’re #52 on the list.
5. The average employee in the U.S. works 36 hours/week. The average Wall St. employee works 100 hours/week. At least I think that mind-blowing statistic is true. I’m confirming it as I write.
4. An idea from Insomniac Games, to get people in your organization mixing across disciplines: have interested employees drop their cards into a fishbowl, then regularly pick four at random and send them off to lunch together.
3. When it comes to your organization’s reputation, you can’t control social media, you can only do your best to turn it to your advantage. According to GPTW, employees in high trust environments are twice as likely to express their pride on social media. (Of course, you can guess what happens when employees don’t feel the love.)
2. Adobe has decided traditional performance reviews are negative and backward-looking, and as a result completely ineffective. So they’ve scrapped them, replacing them with a new system of performance management based on continuous feedback.
1. And the number one lesson I learned last week (drumroll, please): When planning a trip to New Orleans, choose an airline that gives you at least one free bag check. Otherwise, how will you be able to lug home all that hot sauce?
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