How to Become a Company Employees Dream About

What makes a dream job?

Earlier this year, the National Society of High School Scholars asked that question of 18,000 people ages 15 to 29. And the answers were enlightening.

Among the 50 so-called dream jobs that made the list, not one was an actual job...every single one was a company.

The distinction (dream job/company) would make it seem easy to write this off as potato/potahto kind of thing. Even the New York Times writer who covered the Scholars survey glossed over it, giving her article the broadly generic "The New Dream Jobs" title.

But there's a big difference. A dream job is a skill set. A Dream Company is a place. A dream job is mobile - skills that can go with you. A Dream Company is a commitment. While it's arguably true that a person in a dream job would be exceptionally engaged, such an arrangement only benefits one person at a time. "If your objective as human resource leaders is to find somebody for every job you need to fill for who it's his or her dream job," Bright Horizons CEO Dave Lissy told the audience at the Solutions at Work LIVE conference this week, "that's an incredible job."

A Dream Company, on the other hand, supports people as a company rather than individuals, and so lays the groundwork for a whole lot more reach and longer-lasting results. So if the answer to giving employees their dream job is in reality to become their Dream Company, how do you become one?

How Do You Become a Dream Company

That subject was the main focus of both a recent Horizons Workforce Consulting study and this week's Solutions at Work LIVE.

The event gathered Dave and employers from around the country to talk about the trio of elements (career development, work/life balance, and well-being) of a Dream Company and the practical approaches to becoming one. Among the insights:

Help People See a Future

The New York Times story referenced Millennials' pursuit of specific companies as part of a desire to avoid a "future obscured by uncertainty." This is true - but they're not just looking to be a cog in a financially stable company; they want a career. In our 2015 study of Millennials, nearly two thirds of them told us they'd choose a job with career development over one with regular pay raises. And development doesn't have to mean exclusively moving up. Bloomberg Global Head of Wellness Erin Barnes talked of how internal mobility provides opportunity even within a landscape that's relatively flat. It's about ways for people to get broad exposure and learn about other areas of the company, she said. That ability to see a future at a company translates to retention. And in fact, roughly three quarters of those in Dream Companies told the study that they see a future at their employer, versus just over a quarter of those not at Dream Companies.

Help People Have a Life

Seeing a future at a company isn't exclusive to career development. For employees passing through parenthood, home ownership, elder care, and any number of other life stages, loyalty requires the ability to envision effectively managing those responsibilities today and down the road. And that requires not just a benefits platform, but also a top-down approach that shows employees how it's done. "It is encouraging the leaders to walk the talk so that they're really modeling all of these things," Crowing and Moring CHRO Alyson Guthrie told the Solutions at Work LIVE audience.

And providing benefits that incorporate "life" into the work equation - that make a satisfying career and a satisfying personal life possible - is especially important for hanging on to valuable employees in specialties like IT and marketing. "We have all these people not in their dream jobs but they have highly transferrable skills," said study author Lucy English at Solutions at Work LIVE. "They can move from job to job and they can flee your organization to the one across the street as soon as they dangle something shiny." In contrast to non-Dream Companies where more than half of employees admitted to being on the job hunt, just over 10% of Dream Company employees said they were looking for work.

Help People Achieve a Sense of Well-Being

In a Solutions at Work panel discussion, Bright Horizons CHRO Dan Henry pointed out that the idea of supporting well-being isn't new. But the directed work to establish it is. And in fact, Dream Companies invest heavily in it. Why? Well-being today is recognized as a proven predictor of productivity. Previous studies have shown it as the personal grounding that makes people feel up to the job. As Horizons Workforce Consulting pointed out in their study, support for well-being is in fact support for the business. In panel discussion with Dan, Bloomberg's Erin Barnes talked about the evolution of her company's wellness initiative into the broadly supportive BCAUSE program that addresses important areas from philanthropy to inclusion to wellness. The effort, she said, is to bring well-being to the whole company.

Dream Companies are Not Popularity Contests

Many of the top vote getters on the Scholars list were familiar names in high-tech and entertainment, leading some to see futility in trying to outshine companies like the one whose name starts with G and ends with Oogle.

But the Dream Companies at this week's conference proved that long-term value is about more than just what's on a business card. It's true, brand matters. But as Zurich North America's Stephanie Nallen pointed out at, "A Dream Company is not going to be the same for every person."

With the hot job market giving employees choices, many are feeling empowered to shop around for what they think are their dream jobs. With the right ingredients, employers can offer one better. "If you can create a dream organization," Dave told the assembled conference," you can create a place where people come and say, 'Wow, this is a place where I can learn and grow.'"

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.