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How to Create a Best Place to Work

It’s neither luck nor rocket science, but a focus on key factors, including trust, support and compassion

How to Create a Best Place to Work

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if you think that becoming a Best Place to Work is a popularity contest or a matter of luck, you’re wrong, and we have the data to prove it.

To build a highly effective workforce, the Holy Grail is to have engaged employees. Employee engagement is measured by a composite score on five measures:

  1. Whether or not the employee is satisfied with the organization as an employer.
  2. If the employee is willing to give extra effort to help the company succeed.
  3. If the employee plans to stay with the company for at least two more years.
  4. Willingness to recommend employment at the company to a friend.
  5. Willingness to recommend the company’s products and services to a friend.

If that’s how you measure employee engagement, then the question becomes: How does a Hawaii company create such employee satisfaction, willingness to give extra effort and willingness to recommend its workplace to others?

Hawaii Business partners each year with Best Companies Group, experts in the field of measuring employee engagement. BCG manages 38 programs across the U.S. and Canada and now has two programs in the United Kingdom.

As in the past, employees at participating companies in Hawaii were sent extensive questionnaires and asked to submit their answers anonymously. This year, 6,665 employees from more than 100 participating companies submitted their answers to the 72-question survey. For instance, for the statement, “I can trust what this organization tells me,” workers were asked to describe their feelings from agree strongly to disagree strongly. A space for comments was included.

Because they are guaranteed anonymity, employees are honest in their survey answers, sometimes complimentary and sometimes brutal.

When all the data were sorted and crunched, their responses to just a few of the questions stand above the others as most important in leading to employee engagement.

In statistical language, these factors are “key drivers” and the top three key drivers remained unchanged in the 2011 and 2012 Best Places to Work surveys.

In 2012, the key drivers in creating engaged employees are, in order of importance:

  1. I have confidence in the leadership of this organization.
  2. I feel I am valued in this organization.
  3. The leaders of this organization care about their employees’ well being.
  4. Overall, I'm satisfied with this organization’s benefits package.
  5. I like the type of work that I do.
  6. I can trust what this organization tells me.
  7. I am able to maintain a reasonable balance between work and my personal life.
  8. I believe there is a spirit of cooperation within this organization.
  9. I understand the long-term strategy of this organization.
  10. I trust that if I do good work, my company may increase my pay.
  11. This organization treats me like a person, not a number.

Statistically, those 11 factors account for 55.8 percent of the variation in whether employees are engaged or not engaged. Because of the huge sample of 6,665 surveys, there is statistical probability of less than 0.1 percent that these results occur by chance.

Last year’s Best Places to Work list, based on 6,228 anonymous surveys, had a similar list of nine key drivers that created 55.6 percent of the weight of whether employees were engaged. The first three factors were exactly the same and in the same order as in 2012. The four factors that varied in 2011 from 2012 are marked with an *:

  1. I have confidence in the leadership of this organization.
  2. I feel I am valued in this organization.
  3. The leaders of this organization care about their employees’ well being.
  4. My pay is fair for the work I perform.*
  5. Staffing levels are adequate to provide quality products/services.*
  6. This organization’s corporate communications are detailed enough.*
  7. My job makes good use of my skills and abilities.*
  8. This organization treats me like a person, not a number.
  9. I understand the long-term strategy of this organization.

That shows remarkable consistency from year to year, with some of the variation possibly explained by the gradually improving overall economy.
If we look simply at whether an employee is willing to recommend his or her company as a workplace to a friend, the key drivers in 2012 were not exactly the same as in the previous two lists, but there was a lot of overlap. Those four factors that were not on either of the previous two lists are marked with an *:

  1. I can trust what this organization tells me.
  2. I feel part of a team working toward a shared goal.*
  3. The leaders of this organization care about their employees’ well being.
  4. There is room for me to advance at this organization.*
  5. Overall, I'm satisfied with this organization’s benefits package.
  6. I believe there is a spirit of cooperation within this organization.
  7. I like the type of work that I do.
  8. I have confidence in the leadership of this organization.
  9. I feel I am valued in this organization.
  10. Tuition reimbursement benefits.*
  11. My pay is fair for the work I perform.
  12. I understand the importance of my role to the success of the organization.*


With each company, a large enough sample of returned surveys was required to ensure a statistically valid sample size. The size of that valid sample varied with the size of the company’s workforce, with the smaller the company the larger the percentage of the overall workforce that was required to return surveys.

Peter Burke, president of Best Companies Group, says every Best Place to Work has a unique way of getting there, but there are common denominators. “That includes effective communication and creating an environment where employees love to come to work, but there also needs to be trust and respect, especially with an employee’simmediate supervisor. When managers and supervisors make that personal connection with those who work for them, great things will happen.”

Best Places to Work find many ways to build the connection each employee has with the organization, Burke says, including:

• Avoiding inconsistent messages;
• Being truthful;
• Adding benefits that are needed by the workforce, as opposed to what is the latest and greatest trend;
• Creating experiences for the team, instead of just giving them stuff.

“Most Best Places to Work know the financial and other benefits of employee engagement,” Burke says, “but they also do it because it is integral to any sound, long-term human resources plan, and it’s the right thing to do.”


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