This Year’s Best Employers Have Focused on Fairness
Like to work for a company that gives every employee a bonus of $100,000? Or one that takes all employees and their guests for a weeklong trip to a Mexican resort, complete with performances by LL Cool J and Sublime? Or one that caps its top executive salary at 19 times that of the average annual wage—when CEOs at the largest U.S. firms average more than 300 times the pay of their workers?
Welcome to the 19th annual installment of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. As you read through this list, you’ll find companies with remarkable perks. But eye-popping perks are only the tip of the iceberg. What really makes a workplace a great place to work are the people practices that forge trust across the enterprise. That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t show up on company benefits lists. We select the firms on our list primarily based on the results of what employees tell us anonymously about their workplace culture. (Click here for the methodology.)
This year we were struck by the prevalence of egalitarian practices at all 100 companies. Take Hilcorp, the Houston-based oil and gas company that doled out $100,000 bonus checks after it met some daunting five-year financial goals. In December the company’s president, Greg Lalicker, defended spreading the wealth as crucial to the company’s success: “In order to create better alignment across all employees, our bonus structure treats everyone equally. We have a culture that we are all in this together.”
The big bonus checks at Hilcorp stand out because of the dollar amount, but the inclusive attitude expressed is what we see at many, if not most, companies on this list. Nationwide, the $36 billion mutual insurance and financial services giant, raised the minimum wage of its call-center workers to $15 an hour from $10.50. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff made good on his commitment to gender equity by reviewing the salaries of every Salesforce (CRM) employee and earmarking $3 million to shore up the paychecks of underpaid women. And according to the National Center for Employee Ownership, employees of six of the 100 Best Companies own all or a majority of the shares of their firms: Burns & McDonnell, PCL Construction, Publix Super Markets, Robert W. Baird, W.L. Gore, and TDIndustries.
As we compared the results from this year’s Great Place to Work Trust Index employee survey with those of our 1998 list, we saw that measures related to fairness showed the biggest improvements: The number of employees who said yes when asked if they felt they were “paid fairly for the work they do” jumped 13%; there was a 17% increase, likewise, in employees who believe they are “treated as a full member here regardless of my position”; and a 26% bump in those feeling that they have an equal “opportunity to get special recognition.”
Perhaps the 100 Best Companies have something to add to the national debate about fairness and economic equity that has become such a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail. After all, corporate America’s leadership has been ahead of much of the rest of society before on such issues as recycling and diversity. Many corporations also offered domestic-partner benefits years before courts and legislatures took action.
In fact, many leaders at the 100 Best Companies see promoting fairness as part of a social mission. Salesforce executive vice president Cindy Robbins explained its gender equity initiative in these terms: “At Salesforce we believe that businesses can be great platforms for change. Making the world a better place for everyone and being financially successful are not mutually exclusive endeavors.”
Or consider John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods (WFM), who capped his own salary at 19 times that of the average company worker. He insists that many companies today embrace a more egalitarian attitude toward workers as part of an expansive vision of business aims. These companies, Mackey says, “are keenly aware that they have a higher purpose that goes beyond making money, and they take proactive measures to respect all their stakeholders, including customers, employees, investors, communities, suppliers, and the environment.”
Looking beyond Mackey, we were curious whether other CEOs of the 100 Best Companies were more restrained than their peers in terms of compensation. So we asked Equilar, a firm that specializes in executive compensation research, to run the numbers. It compared CEO pay at the 37 publicly traded companies on this year’s list with CEO pay among the S&P 500. Equilar found that the median CEO pay at publicly traded 100 Best Companies was about 19% less than at the S&P 500 ($8.3 million vs. $10.3 million).
Obviously, reducing CEO pay by 19% will not solve income inequality. But you may find it worthwhile to look at all the ways these exemplary companies create more equitable workplace cultures within an increasingly unequal society. Maybe some of the practices you read about here can be part of the solution.
See the full list of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For at fortune.com/bestcompanies, where you can also find job searching tips, career advice, and secrets from recruiters.