Is pay the main component of employee engagement at Fortune 100 Best Places to Work For ?

Last week, Fortune published its famed annual ranking of 100 Best Places to Work For with this introductory comment :

“Fat paychecks, sweet perks, fun colleagues, and over 70,000 jobs ready to be filled — these employers offer dream workplaces. Like Google, which reclaims the top spot this year to become a three-time champion.”

Here is the top 5 list of Best Places toWork For in 2012 in the US :

  1. Google
  2. Boston Consuting Group
  3. SAS Institute
  4. Wegmans Food Markets
  5. Edward Jones

It is interesting to note that 4 of them are in trendy high tech / professional services firms, with only one in the retail industry (and family-owned, too).

Google is famous for its perks : the free food, extensive fitness equipment and parks, unconventional working environment (the latest craze is the made-to-measure standing desks), massages etc. has a very relevant article on the topic, trying to ascertain whether the focus on employee well-being makes the company successful, or whether it is possible to focus on this well-being thanks to the company success. Classic chicken and egg debate :-).

One comment they add is :

But that’s not to say Google, despite all the workplace benefits, is nirvana. It can be a pressurized place to work, even with micro-kitchens stocked with free food.

“It’s not about bringing these perks to work, and you work a 40-hour week” at Google, said Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group. “It’s that you have all these perks that enable you to work much more than 40 hours a week.”

It is very true. Years ago, I was a Compensation consultant for Microsoft, covering the EMEA region. The pay was nice, the benefits were excellent, and the location was nice too. In every major country of operation, being in the top 10 Best Places nationally was one of the major annual goals of the HR Director, as well as of the Country General Manager. That’s how seriously this was for the company.

What better way could there be to make the organisation focus on the well-being of its employees through holistic, comprehensive approaches that were supported by the top management ? The results were great. Working there was truly a transformative experience, for the working conditions, for the quality of the people working around you, for the exciting and challenging, make-you-grow assignments… and yes, for the pay and benefits too, even though they were not the main driver for the motivation and engagement that most of us felt every day.

Why did the company do that ? Well, there really was a philosophy of caring for the employees. But at the same time, we all had access to the offices 24/7. We were expected to deliver results, no matter how much time it took. I regularly finished at 11pm and worked at weekends. Yet I never resented it, it was part of the “deal”, a compromise made in exchange for being in such a stimulating environment, feeling I was making a difference to the lives of my coworkers.

So yes, the great Places to Work For offer a superb environment. They offer stimulating work with smart and interesting colleagues. They offer “fat pay checks” and “sweet perks”. But as I have experienced, the latter are not what makes people engaged and motivated there.

So next time your top management tells you to increase pay or allowances, or provide better healthcare in a bid to reduce attrition and improve productivity, well… go for it – but make sure to point out that integrated approaches focusing on the total employee experience will make a bigger difference. Look for your overall Employee Value Proposition, building a culture of trust and openness, and providing challenges and growth opportunities.

… And by the way, don’t forget to check the 12 unusual perks listed from the Top 100 list – some fun ideas in there !


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