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Best Companies to Work For Myth vs. Reality

February 2, 2001
Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Featured Article
I’venow had time to reflect upon Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies To Work For” in the United States. It is anevent that many companies set as a goal and a process Fortune has down toa tee. In addition, it is one of Fortune’s most read issues of theyear. 

   This year has some newcomers like Xilinx,Vanguard Group, Bright Horizons and Immunix. It also includes some long-timewinners: Synovis Financial, Edward Jones, SAS Institute and Cisco Systems. Fromreading the piece, it appears they are all deserving. 

    My basic question is this. How much ofwhat we are reading is truth, versus how much is simply the result of greatpublic relations spin? 

Ingreat companies, their corporate heart is where it should be and they trulyattempt to practice what they preach.

   Years ago I was in a conversation with an executive of one the companies thatwas on Fortune’s list. We were discussing the fact that I had heardthis particular company did not truly work toward equality with women, as hadbeen published. The executive’s comment was simply, “It’s one thing whatwe tell the media, it’s another thing what we do behind the scenes.” Wow! Tosay I was stunned is an understatement. 

    Further, as a frequent speaker andfaculty member of WorldatWork, I sometimes run across people -- usually employeesor former employees -- of companies that are on Fortune’s list. Thesepeople have no clue how the companies make the list either. But, they willcontinue to let everyone (within earshot) know it definitely wasn’t them whowas interviewed about the company. In addition, they don’t know anyone whowould have had a positive thing to say regarding the company -- so they wonderabout the validity of the study. 

   I usually counter that many of the companies on the list, which I know aboutfirst hand, are really very amazing. Companies like Southwest Airlines, TheContainer Store, Enron, Alcon Laboratories and Whole Foods Markets are greatcompanies. They have great cultures and whether you are talking to employees,vendors, etc., they all agree these companies are top-notch. Oh, everyonerealizes that no company, including these, is perfect. What separates these companies from others is that their "corporateheart" is where it should be and they truly attempt to "practice what theypreach." 

   However, I am still convinced Fortune could do a better job in theirresearch to ensure the companies they are considering actually “walk thewalk.”  New research that could beincluded is: 

  • Spousalsurveys -- with everyone "spouting off" about work/life family balance,why don’t we send some surveys home to the spouses and get theirviewpoints?  They probably knowbest. Interestingly, I proposed this to a large company around a year agoand they said it wouldn’t work because they knew the results would not begood.
  • Job/Stress-- related death ratios -- here is another one no one wants to talk about. I know of places where it is not uncommon to get e-mails/voicemailson a monthly basis about someone passing on -- and we are not talkingvoluntary termination either. Some people I’ve met actually act like deathis a “badge of honor.” They are still going strong, while others not as“Darwinian Strong” just could not handle the stress.

   I’ll go ahead and stop with these two, but surely there are more ways Fortunecan validate they are not being “snowed” by these companies. As for me,I’m proud to be associated with a company that does try to do the rightthing for its people.  For thiscompany and all the companies like it across the U.S. -- keep up the good work!

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