Software company SAS climbed to the top of the global list this year, edging up from the No. 2 spot it held last year. So what makes this company so great to work for? Well, for one thing, its leaders are certainly accessible. CEO Jim Goodnight hosts monthly "Conversations Over Coffee," unscripted breakfast meetings that are open to all employees. Any topic is fair game. These conversations are so popular that other division heads have begun to hold similar events for their employees. SAS has an extremely low voluntary turnover rate of 2.6%, in part because of its positive working environment. "I haven't felt so intellectually alive in any other place I have worked," says one employee.
Google moved up by two spots in this year's ranking of global workplaces. The highly desirable tech behemoth receives 61 times as many applicants as they have existing jobs, and for good reason. Google (goog) seems to be all about coaching. The company's "CareerGuru" program makes 43 of its senior leaders available for one-on-one, confidential career coaching sessions with other Googlers. "Gurus" are deployed in 14 offices across the world.
Engineering employees at all levels can also get advice from "EngAdvisors," senior engineers at Google who can discuss any number of issues, like work-life balance, conflict resolution, and performance reviews. More than 900 engineers have used the program since it began in 2009.
All new employees at data storage provider NetApp (ntap) participate in the TOAST ("Training On All Special Things") orientation program, which introduces new arrivals to NetApp's senior management. The sessions are held every month and are always led by the executive team. Last year, NetApp held 20 TOAST sessions at five locations with a total of 3,000 employees.
Kimberly-Clark Colombia put a major emphasis on making sure new hires feel welcome. All starting employees at the consumer product conglomerate are mailed a box that contains a welcome letter and a symbolic key to the company. A second letter provides all the basic information that the new hire will need for their first day at work. New employees also receive an email from a coworker who will guide them through the orientation process.
As part of Microsoft's commitment to promoting women in technology, the company established its DigiGirlz program in 2000. Microsoft (msft) hosts a series of DigiGirlz Day events where female high school students meet Microsoft employees and learn about careers in technology. In 2011, some 36 Microsoft locations across the world hosted more than 2,000 girls. Microsoft also holds DigiGirlz High Tech Camps, multi-day programs where participants get hands-on experience with technology during workshops and meet with tech executives.
Marriott (mar), which edged up one spot from last year's ranking, has its hotel general managers conduct small group sessions with their associates, discussing issues such as saving for retirement, how to open a checking account, or get a car loan.
The annual FedEx (fdx) Cares Week gives employees across the globe the a chance to volunteer in their own communities. In September, more than 4,000 FedEx workers participated in more than 186 local projects in 67 countries.
During natural disasters, FedEx puts its shipping expertise and relationships with humanitarian agencies to good use, using its global logistics network to assist emergency relief efforts.
With over 151,000 employees, there is very little, if anything, that's small about FedEx. But its charitable efforts likely go a long way toward making the firm feel a little cozier. "We have become a huge organization, but we are still 'family,'" says one employee.
W.L. Gore & Associates
Every associate at Gore-Tex fabric maker W. L. Gore & Associates has a sponsor, regardless of the employee's years on the job or role within the company. Sponsors act as a go-to resource for any and all questions, feedback, or guidance on development opportunities. Sponsors also act as an advocate when it comes time for employees to be evaluated for a raise. "People give you the opportunity to really excel here," says one employee.
Diageo (deo) takes its corporate philosophy -- "celebrating life every day, everywhere" -- pretty seriously. The spirits company keeps a cocktail recipe tool on its company intranet. And the entire Great Britain business team participated in a cycle ride through Scotland and England, supporting charities for the disabled. Employees cycled in groups; some of them covered as much as 140 miles.
Autodesk's sabbatical program provides full-time employees in the U.S. with six weeks of paid time off -- every four years. The paid time off for the sabbatical comes in addition to any earned vacation time and holidays, and the software company company does not expect anything in return for the time off. Autodesk (adsk) staffers take the time to travel, spend time with friends and family, and (hopefully) come back to work refreshed.
In 2008, PepsiCo (pep) launched its "One Simple Thing" program, which gives staffers the option to add a personal goal -- like exercising more often or eating healthier foods -- to their performance review process. Employees are asked to deliver against this goal, just as they would with any work-related goal.
Ernst & Young
Interns at Ernst & Young do far more than make photocopies or fetch coffee. This year, the Big Four auditor sent more than 2,300 interns from 27 different countries to its International Intern Leadership Conference in Orlando, Florida. The annual event brings together star interns from all over the world to participate in learning and team building activities.
Telefonica's Global Rotation Program allows employees to spend six months at a Telefónica office in another country to work on a specific project. All employees who have been in their position for more than one year are eligible to apply for the program. Those making the trip abroad get some international business experience on their resume, and the team that receives these staffers get an opportunity to learn from someone used to operating in a different part of the globe.
Ever year, agribusiness giant Monsanto (mon) runs a Sustainable Yield Pledge Awards contest where hundreds of teams from all across the company put together projects to support sustainable agriculture. Judges weigh each project's economic, environmental, and societal benefits. Winning teams receive a $15,000 grant that they can give to a nonprofit organization to support their efforts.
Every new addition to Intel gets the celebrity treatment during their first few months on the job. On their first day at Intel (intc), new employees have dedicated greeters and gifts waiting for them. They even get to walk a red carpet, complete with photographers, journalists, and fans, at the company's quarterly Red Carpet Experience.
The company also places a priority on making sure staffers' concerns are considered. "Employees' appeals are heard and answered and we are made as comfortable as possible so that we can [contribute] to our fullest," says one employee.
National Instruments CEO James Truchard built the company in 1976 to refine how companies collect data. Since then, the process has been digitized, and National Instruments (nati) has managed to keep pace. Truchard still tries to keep tabs on his nearly 7,000 employees by checking in informally during meetings, a tactic he calls "sneaker management." Truchard and other senior managers frequently drop in on staff meetings in any department to stay updated on how things are running.
General Mills (gis) tries to hold on to top talent -- 85% of its officers have been promoted from within the massive food company. The company is responsible for 39,000 employees across five different countries. One way of keeping them all in touch is through "Connect," an internal global social networking site open to anyone who works there. Already, workers have used it to form more than 600 online communities.
American Express has gotten the word out that it's a solid place to work. As one of the 100 largest companies in the U.S. by revenue, it has little problem receiving applications for vacant jobs. In fact, it has about 13 times the number of applicants for its current existing jobs. Once there, AmEx (axp) employees tend to stay -- voluntary turnover is 9.5% and about 16% of its U.S. workforce has been at the company for two decades. AmEx has also made sure it has a diverse mix of executives up top -- women make up 33% of senior management.
French-based hotel group Accor allows its employees to use the company's various locations to see the world, should they like. "What I really like at Accor is the fact that you can transfer easily from one [location] to another upon request," says one employee, "which is allowing me to discover new countries, cities, and cultures." Accor also has a young workforce -- the average employee age is under 30, and it has an impressive gender balance at the top -- women make up 43% of senior management.
This year, McDonald's (mcd) lost the man credited with its impressive turnaround. Former CEO Jim Skinner stepped down in June 2012 and was replaced by former McDonald's president Don Thompson. But the company's emphasis on training has not gone anywhere. The fast food giant has seven Hamburger Universities all across the world to introduce new hires to the ways of the Golden Arches.
The most common job at the giant tech company is software engineer, and it pays well. Those working even hourly positions can earn about $90,000 per-year, and they get good benefits including the use of Cisco's onsite childcare and fitness centers. But major layoffs in 2011 shook up the company's reputation for employee care. Between 2011 and 2012, Cisco (csco) dropped from the top 20 on Fortune's Best Companies to Work For list down to No. 90.
Novo Nordisk leads the pharmaceutical industry in making insulin treatments for diabetics, but it also encourages its employees to help advance treatment of the disease in other ways. Over 80% of its employees invest personal time in diabetes awareness events, health fairs, and fundraisers. Besides being enthusiastic about extracurricular activities, Novo Nordisk staffers also show up for work: the company only has a 2.3% average annual rate of absenteeism. "This job is so much more than a 9 to 5 position," says one employee. "Every day we are helping people with diabetes live a longer and healthier life. It brings so much pleasure to know you are making a difference in someone´s life and saving lives."
Quintiles has had to cook up some innovative hiring methods to attract top talent in the pharmaceutical services industry. The company's approach: trust its employees. Quintiles' employee referral program accounts for about one-fifth of new hires. Once on board, employees can work for incentives including an adventure vacation with National Geographic Expeditions, a $5,000 shopping spree at Amazon.com, and even home makeovers. The word is out, though. Quintiles receives 15 times as many applicants as they have existing jobs.
The company that makes iconic cleaning products like Windex and Shout aims to take care of its own. The Wisconsin-based, family-owned company has a system where any employee can give a peer a "Now Thanks!" award for good performance. If a manager approves the nod, the lucky recipient can get up to $500 worth of gratitude.
The company behind brands like M&Ms candy, Orbit gum, and Whiskas cat food tries to get its people on board with the corporate mission early on in the game. Mars provides all new employees an "Essence of Mars" training course within six months after they start. To reach its personnel in all 14 countries, the course has been translated into 22 different languages.