Chicago’s Midwestern Niceness? The Data Show It’s Good for Business

May 25, 2017, 11:00 AM UTC
Courtesy of Ultimate Software

If Chicago were a country, it would have the same population as Sweden with a bigger GDP. The third-largest metro area in the U.S. contributes more than $600 billion to the economy each year, and 36 companies in the Fortune 500 call it home.

So, it’s no surprise the region is also filled with top employers, driving an incredible employee experience.

The Best Workplaces in Chicago—recently announced by Great Place to Work and Fortune—reflect the best their city has to offer, including compassionate people and a healthy dose of pride. At these companies, more than nine in 10 employees say their colleagues care about one another, and over 95% say they have a friendly workplace.

“Chicago is a competitive city for business, but that never gets in the way of a collegial team culture at these organizations,” says Holly Petroff, executive vice president of consulting at Great Place to Work. “In fact, we found there’s a link. Winning companies were noteworthy for both their friendly, caring cultures and their impressive average revenue growth of 25% last year, compared to 15% at contender companies.”

You might not immediately associate a “friendly workforce” with a competitive advantage in the marketplace. But the strong bonds forged at these companies are driving a range of business benefits.

Take the connection between employee pride and employer branding. About 94% of employees at the Best Workplaces say they’re proud to tell others where they work. That pride not only reinforces a sense of commitment and teamwork at the company, but leads employees to act as brand ambassadors for the organization.

There’s no simple formula to building this kind of workplace. But we’ve seen the Best Workplaces focus on a few key things.

Many winning companies help colleagues form personal connections to their shared organizational mission. At Integrated Project Management Company, a mentor introduces every new employee to the firm’s work and culture over the course of a year. The business supports that relationship further with funds for coffee or meals, and it calls out the completion of mentorships at its quarterly meetings.

The Best Workplaces in Chicago also take time to recognize employees’ work. Flavorings manufacturer Fona International treats its entire team to a formal Thanksgiving dinner every year where supervisors distribute personal notes and certificates for extra vacation days or cash to their team members. Says one Fona employee, “When you walk in the door, you feel like part of the family. When I got hired, the HR director gave me a hug and welcomed me to the company. They are all great people to work with.”

That kind of camaraderie has a clear impact on a company’s rates of productivity and retention. Our research into Chicago-based companies found that employees who feel their colleagues care about each other are 18 times more likely than their peers to say they’re willing to give extra at work. Additionally, coworkers who feel they’re “all in this together” are nine times more likely to say they plan to stay at their jobs for a long time.

“My favorite quality of this company is its energy and camaraderie,” says a team member at UpRight Law. “I also thoroughly enjoy our open-door policy we have with managers and leaders. Our managers have desks on the sales floor, and I never hesitate to come over and ask them questions. Even our CEO is approachable and open to new ideas. He takes groups consisting of all levels (sales, legal, etc.) out to lunch every couple weeks just to get to know each other better, see how things are going and see what we can do in the future to grow as a company.”

That confidence in leadership was another common thread among the Best Workplaces. More than nine in 10 employees at these organizations voiced confidence in their management’s ethics and ability to run the business.

The same way a few friendly gestures can make a big city like Chicago feel much smaller, the Best Workplaces show that thoughtful actions from company leaders and colleagues can make an entire workforce feel closer to its mission—and drive a more profitable business.


Ed Frauenheim and Sarah Lewis-Kulin are director of research and content, and vice president of the Certification Program, respectively, at Great Place to Work, the longtime research partner for Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and other best workplaces lists.

Click here to see the 50 Best Workplaces in Chicago list.