Why I Hate “Best Places To Work” Lists

Last week I was surprised to receive a press release from Fortune Magazine announcing the publication of their annual list of “100 Best Companies to Work For”. (How did they find me? Was it from the post I wrote blasting their Gen-Y expert? ). This instantly stirred up some negative feeling on my part because frankly,

I think “Best Places To Work” lists are a HUGE SHAM!

Why do I feel this way? Because I once worked for a company that would routinely end up on these “Great Places to Work” lists and let me tell you, it was anything but great. My company’s placement was more a testament to how skilled our PR person was at promoting the company than a true representation of the company’s quality of life.

However, most of the publications who publish these types of lists boast about how comprehensive their survey criteria are. For example, here is what was listed in the Fortune press release:

“To select the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” FORTUNE works with Levering and Moskowitz of the Great Place to Work Institute—a global research and consulting firm with offices in 30 countries—to conduct the most extensive employee survey in corporate America. More than 81,000 employees from 353 companies responded to the 57-question survey created by the Institute. Two-thirds of a company’s score is based on the survey, which is sent to a minimum of 400 randomly selected employees. The remaining third is based on the Culture Audit, which includes detailed questions about demographics, pay and benefits, and open-ended questions on philosophy, communication and more.”

Note how only “two-thirds of a company’s score is based on the survey” of its employees, while the extra third is based on some nebulous “Culture Audit” which is most likely a buzzword-infested love fest where management and HR get together in one room and espouse how they promote “work-life balance” and “family-friendly” policies (when in reality, they probably offer neither).

If a company offers such great perks and benefits, wouldn’t it show through in an employee survey?

I remember one such survey I was forced to take on behalf of my company (and when I say “forced” I mean they mass emailed us every week to “remind” us to vote and put up fliers all over the office about the survey. They even posted them in the bathroom stalls!), where I literally gave them negative values (on a scale of 0 – 5) and they still managed to make it onto a “Best Places To Work” list. And this was after my company “extended” the deadline to vote because they didn’t even garner the 50% response rate on the survey needed to submit to the publication.

It’s also interesting to note how many companies made it onto Fortune’s list who are now suffering from mass layoffs. In my home-state of Washington, 2 of the 6 “Best Corporate Headquarters” based in Washington (Microsoft  and Starbucks) just announced massive layoffs. Other struggling companies that made it onto the Top 100 list also included Whole Foods Market and eBay. Are layoffs not considered to negatively impact employee morale or company perks, bonuses and performance?

So when it comes to “Best Companies To Work For” lists, I take the advice of Brazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk:

“You can forget the lists. The bar is so low to get on the lists that which company is on and which company is off is statistically irrelevant.”

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5 responses »

  1. As I was reading this I was actually thinking about Gen-Y Friendly Places to Work and Mom-Friendly Places to Work lists. Those are usually complete crap – I’ve worked with companies that sponsor women groups (like the graduate women in business groups at my school) and then get to say they are “Women-Friendly.” Like many things in life you can usually pay your way to the top of those lists.

    Also, your quote at the bottom amused me, in light of the topic. Working at P’s company, I found that most of the advice she gives about Gen Y in the workplace is completely opposite of what she actually practices in her company.

    Thanks for the post! I shared it on Twitter.

  2. I agree 100%. The thing that made or broke my enjoyment of a job was:

    1. The actual work. If it dealt with blood, dangerous chemicals, or sick people, it sucked. Office work was good.

    2. Coworkers. If they were bitchy, back-stabbers, it sucked. If they were funny, it was good.

    3. The boss. If he was an annoying prick, it sucked. If he was funny, it was good.

    Note that this has nothing to do with the actual company itself. A company, to me, is a piece of paper and a couple of buildings depending upon who you ask. A company is legally, what a legal fiction?

  3. Ugh, I’m totally with you on this one. I worked for a similar company and it was such a sham. The best way is to talk to people that work there already I think.

  4. It’s true that there are no guarantees, and that these lists do not mean that you are assured a terrific experience at work. However, statistics actually do indicate that award-winning employers are better for workers.

    While some of these award-winning companies are experiencing hard times, compared to “regular” employers, our study shows that companies recognized as great workplaces conducted layoffs at a rate of less than half that of a general sample of companies. Only 35% of excellent employers laid off workers in 2008, as opposed to a shocking rate of 73% of regular companies.

    The revenue growth rate at great workplace companies in Q3 2008 was 27.4% higher than the rest of the Fortune 100 and the average stock price of the excellent employers was close to 10% higher at the end of 2008 (compared to the beginning of 2008) than typical Fortune 100 companies.

    Take a look at the summary of research:
    http://tinyurl.com/9h8h9k

    At GreatPlaceJobs.com, we believe that award-winning organizations are the best companies for job seekers to target and we offer the only job search platform and community dedicated to helping those hoping to join these organizations.

    Of course, the best information is gathered by the job seeker directly, which is why we are growing a community for job seekers and current “great place” employees and recruiters. Check us out at http://www.greatplacejobs.com!

  5. Pingback: “Best Places To Work” lists are a HUGE SHAM! | The WorkZine

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