FORTUNE — According to Gallup’s 2013 State of American Workplace Report, only 30% of the 100 million American workers who work full-time are actively engaged in their work. This lack of engagement can lead to lost productivity to the tune of $450 billion to $550 billion annually, the report states.
How can employers, especially those managing workers in multiple countries and cultures, combat the ennui? We asked China Gorman, CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute to help us understand, well, what makes a a company a great place to work. Gorman is especially qualified to help employers think about improving their workplaces and bolstering employee satisfaction. Gorman spent many years as the chief operating officer of the Society for Human Resource Management, and her current organization helps produce Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, and more recently, The 25 Best Global Companies to Work For.
Creating “one culture”
“The world’s best workplaces face the daunting task of creating ‘one workplace culture’ from the myriad of local cultures in which they operate,” Gorman says. All successful organizations or companies have mastered the art of creating this culture. These organizations take in talented people, mold their identities, and assimilate them into their organization’s way of life. For the Yankees, the most successful baseball franchise in history, it’s called the “Yankee Way.” To be a Yankee means to be professional off the field and clutch on it. Similar sports models include the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA and the New England Patriots in the NFL. To be a part of these teams is to be welcomed into their culture, shaped and enhanced to fit into the larger framework of the organization.
(No. 1 on the 25 Best Global Companies ranking), Gorman says culture is the idea of being “Googley”: “No matter where in the world, employees, or ‘Googlers’ as they are called, work. They universally understand that to be ‘Googley’ is to be unique, true to yourself, collaborative, and comfortable being around people that may be smarter than you.” Creating “one workplace culture” also extends to setting individual goals, toward which every member strives to achieve.
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At FedEx (FDX) (No. 20), Purple Promise Rewards are handed out to 25 FedEx employees who go above and beyond in providing customer service. At a ceremony, the 25 employees are recognized with a lapel pin and trophy. “The Purple Promise encompasses FedEx’s vision and strategy, but is, more importantly, the promise from every employee that they will consistently deliver an outstanding customer experience,” Gorman says.
In order for a company to thrive, both company leaders and their employees must be on the same page, with a sense that they are all working together toward a common goal. Direct and open communication is essential for this. Gorman points to manufacturing firm SC Johnson (No. 19) as an example of excellence in communicating with employees. “SC Johnson, wanting to be open and transparent with their employees, recently printed and distributed a 50-page guide on the company’s long-term objectives to each employee,” Gorman says.
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Such inclusion allows companies to be successful because it facilitates trust between employee and workplace. Being one of the most successful companies in the world, Google also exhibits this core value. “Google hosts a weekly town hall meeting known as TGIF — which is a bit of a misnomer, since the meeting is now on Thursdays so team members in Asia can remotely attend. Employees from anywhere in the world can submit questions for the speakers to address,” Gorman says.
Creating human connections
Employers must continue to find ways to leverage changing technology to allow their companies to prosper. When it comes to the World’s Best Companies, their ability to envision and create technology makes them successful, but success ultimately lies in remembering that, after all, human connections are what set a company apart from others. “These companies also keep an eye on how to facilitate human interactions, whether through the use of technology, global training opportunities, job exchanges, social networks, and more.” Gorman says.
(No. 11) has a unique way of doing this. Gorman points to its innovative job program as a means for employees to understand and be inspired by common threads: “Autodesk offers employees face-to-face interaction through a job swap program, in which employees with similar roles swap lives (jobs, homes, and cars) for a set period of time.”
SAS (No. 2) has used technology to maintain employee ties; its internal social platform the Hub “connects employees through a social networking function, blogs from leaders and gives the ability to ask questions or leave comments during webcasts and town halls,” says Gorman.
She believes these types of initiatives help to build a sense of connection among employees no matter where they are working: “These companies excel at creating ‘teams’ out of global employees and have great practices in place to enable more personal interactions among employees who may be half a world away.”