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Why the top companies on Fortune’s 2022 Great Places to Work list are choosing personalization and empathy over broad policies

April 12, 2022, 6:34 PM UTC

In a nutshell: the ones who care.

No more proof is needed than Fortune’s just-released annual ranking of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, now in its 25th year. “The events of the past two years have prompted a massive reprioritization of American lives, fueling an epic labor shortage. Workers are reevaluating their lives, quitting to find more rewarding jobs, taking career sabbaticals, or starting their own businesses. They’re no longer tolerating bad bosses, inequities, burnout, and lack of purpose and meaning at work,” writes Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work, which partners with Fortune every year to collect employee survey data that informs the list.

What he describes is a global role reversal that has put employers back on their heels. Now, they are on probation.

“[Employees] are demanding to be supported and seen—their full selves and their full lives—by their employer. They don’t need your job anymore. You need them to want to work for you.”

This year’s analysis of 870,000 confidential employee surveys finds that happy people work for aspirational companies that foster a culture of inclusion, purpose, caring, and empathy. Effective leaders have found smart ways to listen to employees, and have used those insights in ways to meet employee needs and help them grow.

This year, big business got personal, says Bush.

“They focused less on broad policies and more on what each person needed—in real, tangible ways. This transformed mental health assistance, elder care support, childcare, and isolation support resources. From candid listening sessions to employee resource groups, they showed up for their people and strived to ensure everyone felt included. They created a workplace ‘for all’—even when more and more of their employees work separately.” 

What I find interesting (and a bit discouraging) is that so many of the companies on the 2022 list had been there before—meaning, they were already deep into the work. (Congratulations to Cisco, who is not only number one on the list, but has found a way onto the list for all 25 years. Following Cisco is Hilton at No. 2, Wegmans Food Markets at No. 3, Salesforce at No. 4, and Nvidia at No. 5.)

So, what will it take for others to break through?

Bush offers a must-share blueprint for companies who are serious about transforming company culture. But I’ll flag just one here, since it’s an important tool for leaders, regardless of where they sit in an organization:

Listen deeply. This isn’t accomplished by handing out an employee survey and responding by adding a perk or two. That’s good, but what’s great is listening to employees in a variety of ways. The best companies support employees through various listening sessions to better understand them. They ask: What is your story? What is it like to be you? What more can we do?  

That goes a long way. Companies with great listening programs hear from employees who are typically marginalized. And companies that pay attention to marginalized workers historically thrive during financial crisesOur research shows their stock performance increased 14.4% across the Great Recession years, while the overall market dropped 35.5%. 

Below are, as usual, are more resources on culture, inclusion, and identity. And as usual, I’m interested in what’s on your mind. What makes your workplace great? What misses the mark? Or better yet, what reporting can I provide that will help you with your own leadership?

Let me know, subject line: Getting to great

Ellen McGirt

RaceAhead will return on April 19th. This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On background

We need to talk about belonging  It has become the ultimate quest for anyone looking to build an inclusive culture and yet, its very nature is elusive. But, reminds author, researcher, and powerhouse Brené Brown, it does have a simple starting point. “The opposite of belonging, from the research, is fitting in,” she says. “Fitting in is assessing and acclimating…Belonging is belonging to yourself, first. Speaking your truth, telling your story.” If you don’t have time for her Netflix special or TED talk, start with this short interview with CBS This Morning to get you thinking. For majority culture folks, here’s a question: Of all those high-performing, blended-right-in “diverse” employees you are so proud of, whose truth have you not yet heard?
CBS This Morning

Walk the inclusion walk and we'll show you the money  Research shows that Black and African American consumers are more likely than other demographic groups to support companies and brands that express inclusive values, including commitments to diversity and justice. In fact, Black consumers are more than twice as likely as the general population to that “commitment to diversity, equality and social justice is important when choosing a product or service.” How big is Black buying power, you ask? It’s pretty impressive.
Ad Age

Black and Latinx workers and the quest for equity. While the Silicon Valley bubbles ebb and flow, one thing remains constant: When a valuable employee has equity in a successful company, the exit event can be life-changing. But, points out J.J. McCorvey, substantial research shows that people of color hold far less equity in their companies than do their white peers. “At the same time, research suggests the equitable distribution of company stock could be a significant tool in narrowing the racial wealth gap,” he says.
Wall Street Journal

Nice people can be biased, or: Proximity is good for your brain Jennifer Eberhardt, a leading bias researcher and author of Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, has been conducting training sessions with law enforcement for over 15 years. She also did a great job breaking down the subject, including addressing the racial bias on policing, on this appearance on CBS This Morning. Bias is often triggered by the situations we find ourselves in, which she explains in detail. She also notes that bias is about brain wiring, conditioning, and familiarity. "If you have a social experience where we're living with each other and we're not living in segregated spaces, say, and you're exposed to faces of other races all the time, then your brain gets tuned up to that,” she says, making the brain science case for diversity in the workplace. “[E]ven though it's something that is wired in, but it's a flexible wiring," she says.
CBS News

Parting words

"To whom it may concern: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat"

Brandon, your one and only copywriter, in his two weeks notice of resignation


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