HR Lessons from Fortune Magazine’s
100 Best Companies to Work For

by Barbara Mitchell, Managing Partner, The Mitchell Group

Each year when the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For issue is released, I pour over it to see if something new is revealed that HR professionals need to be doing or advising their organizations to consider.  While I always learn something, what really comes from reading the list is that it isn’t the things these firms do for their employees—it is the organization’s culture that really makes the difference.

Learn More About HR Degrees OnlineYou may not know that the primary tool Fortune uses to select and rank organizations is the Great Place to Work’s Trust Index.  It is sent to a sample of employees at each nominated company so, as Fortune puts it, “in effect, the workers vote their companies onto the list using criteria related to their workplace cultures.”  It really makes the ranking meaningful to know that the organizations aren’t selected just by what their leadership says—the employees themselves participate and share how they feel about their company.

One of the lessons from this year’s list is that the best employers are focusing more attention on workplace culture as a competitive tool.  And the great news is that most of the companies on this list are also doing really well financially in their business segments.

One thing that amazed me is that 12 companies have made the list every year since it started in 1998.  That is a real achievement.  Since 1998, the 100 best companies are "shining examples of a different way of doing business that puts to rest the old notion that treating employees well might hurt the bottom line." It is just the opposite!

“The true meaning of a company is how they treat their lowest-paid employees.” - Scott Scherr, CEO, Ultimate Software

I worked in HR for Marriott (and they are on the list again this year as a great place to work) for many years and we followed the advice we all learned from the founder of the company, JW Marriott, who said, “Take care of our associates and they will take care of the customers.”  It was true when he said it and it certainly is true today.  As HR professionals, we need to be working with the leadership in our organization to ensure that we treat our employees with dignity, pay them fairly, and provide them with opportunities to grow and contribute.

Each of the companies on the Fortune list this year has leaders who sincerely listen to their employees.  They hear what is important to their work force and then do their best to provide benefits and policies that meet their employees’ needs at this point in time.  Some of these companies have amazing perks for employees but none of them add things to their benefits package just to be nice—they do it because it makes good business sense to take good care of the people who take care of your customers.  Fortune quotes the founder and CEO of Ultimate Software, Scott Scherr who says, “The true meaning of a company is how they treat their lowest-paid employees.”

Of course, many organizations on the list do amazing things for their employees but nothing stands out to me more this year than Google (six years as number one on the list!).  This year they increased their parental-leave benefits—new parents, regardless of gender, can now get up to 12 months of fully paid leave, along with $500 of “bonding bucks” to use during the first three months of a child’s life.  That is the kind of commitment to employees that really says “we value you!” 

There are valuable lessons to be learned by HR from the Fortune list but the most important lesson is that the culture really matters and HR plays a significant role in helping to mold and model the culture.

Barbara MitchellBarbara Mitchell, Managing Partner of The Mitchell Group, is co-author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential HR Handbook.