"Best Companies to Work For:" A Strategy of Good FORTUNE

You've probably heard by now that there are about 100 companies celebrating some big news this month. The FORTUNE list just came out naming this year's "Best Companies to Work For" winners. Getting on the "Best Companies to Work For" list isn't the end game ; it's a part of the strategy. A big part. Because making the list is largely determined by what employees have to say. And when employees say good things, it means they're happy. And when they're happy, they're doing a good job. And when they're doing a good job, it's good for business.  That's the strategy. So the question is!where do you start?

Know Your People

Annual employee satisfaction surveys are a staple at many organizations. Most of these surveys seek to gain an understanding of how the organization is doing as an employer. Questions like "Would you recommend Acme as a good place to work?" and "How effective is communication from senior leadership?" are typical and important measures. But from our consulting practice, we know the reality is that there are factors outside of work that affect employees' ability to do their jobs far more than most factors in work. So those surveys need to ask people not only how we, their employers, are doing, but how they, as whole people, are doing as well. In fact, employers who don't ask those questions are missing an enormous opportunity.

What You Really Need To Know 

The truth is, any number of personal worries can weigh people down during the workday. My clients often learn that management of personal finances is a big issue for employees. Many employees don't have the skills to manage household budgets or the confidence in their ability to plan for long-term expenditures like college for their children and retirement. Asking about finances doesn't have to be intrusive, nor does it have to open the organization up for clamoring about pay. Instead, ask about respondents' confidence levels in managing various aspects of their finances.

In some populations we find that short-term budgets are the most acute issues. In other places, the day-to-day and month-to-month management is okay, but long-term planning is a challenge. Financial worries are a big part of employee well-being, and so a big part of performance. And the good news is, educational programs in this area are an inexpensive and effective fix. In fact, as a result of understanding the specific financial challenges employees face at Bright Horizons, we devised and implemented a program called "Save Smart" which resulted in significant improvement in financial well-being for the employees who participated.

Health Beyond Health Plans

Another question how are your employees feeling? While many companies receive detailed analytics on their employees' health from their medical insurance carrier, there are other useful ways to get information. In one recent survey for an employer, we asked whether respondents felt their weight and lifestyle were unhealthy. If a respondent answered "yes" to one or both, we asked a follow-up question in which they indicated either that they are "actively trying to be healthier" (61%); "know I need to be healthier but haven't made any changes yet" (37%); or "am okay with being unhealthy for the time being" (1%).

A Strategic Approach to Business

From a benefits and communication perspective, these types of questions offer important information about which employees are engaged, which ones may need additional supports, and which ones need some help getting started. We can then look for trends in the demographics of each of these groups in order to further understand how to target programs and communication to make employees and so the company stronger. Full disclosure ; Bright Horizons is on the FORTUNE list, for the 16th time. And we ourselves depend on this approach as a key tool. We know that broadening the lens of our annual surveys provides useful data for targeting programs and policies and using our benefits dollars wisely. If you're looking for a strategic launch point to become one of those "Best Companies to Work For" and reap all the associated benefits, look at your annual survey to see whether you're getting the best intel. If not, it's time to think about some updates.