What Makes a Dream Company? Probably Not What You Think

dream company

Let's face it: some days at work just stink.

That's not the likeliest first line in a blog about being happy at work. But it's relevant. Because they do (stink sometimes).

People who love their jobs don't love them all the time; happy employees aren't happy all the time.

But congenial workplaces have set the stage for unhappy to be a passing moment instead of a defining one. And a happy workplace (what people call a Dream Company) isn't an accident; our study of what employees define as a Dream Company shows these workplaces actually have pretty consistent formulas. Specifically, Dream Companies have cultures that support:

  1. Employee well-being
  2. Professional development
  3. Work/Life Balance
Yet there are other, ancillary ingredients in a happy workplace, and some might surprise you. Here, what you probably think tops the Dream Company experience...and how much each really rates.

The job

How much it rates: Not much.

Where people work is way more important to a Dream experience than what people do. "Our research," wrote Horizons Workforce Consulting's Lucy English, one of the authors of the Dream Company study, "shows that if employees feel that they're working in a dream company, they are 11 times more likely to stay in their organization for at least a year even if they are not in what they consider to be a 'dream job.'" It's the reason people with important and transferrable skills (IT, finance, marketing) can be so easily lured away by a more hospitable workplace.

Pay

How much it rates: Some.

Sure, money matters. But "If money were the sole condition for creating top employees," wrote Lucy, "your only response would be across-the-board raises." An entry-level employee will stay with an entry-level salary provided they feel great about the company and their potential to grow in it (see "professional development," above).

Trendy Perks

How much it rates: Not at all.

Ping-pong tables do not a Dream Company make. A recent Workforce article took an even harsher view: "There are organizations where once the luster wears off, employees begin to see that these benefits are simply camouflage over a toxic work environment." Ouch.

Well-Planned Meetings

How much it rates: Probably more than you think.

Productive meetings are the fourth most important thing on the list of Dream Company attributes - no surprise given how much time we all spend in conference rooms. But it's not about the meetings themselves. Well-planned meetings send another Dream Company vibe: that time is valued and respected. And a higher percentage of Dream Company employees say their time and work are indeed valued.

Top-Tier Benefits

How much it rates: A lot.

Generous benefits (the good ones - flex time, tuition assistance, childcare) do matter, and Dream Companies offer more of them. Just as important, in the interest of preserving work/life balance (see #2, above), these companies ensure people can use their benefits - and more people at Dream Companies do.

Supportive Managers

How much it rates: A lot

Supportive policies mean nothing if they're not communicated down the line. And Dream Company managers are fully on board, and so are trusted by employees to deliver ethical behavior, the room to bring up personal issues, and so overall support for well-being (see #1, above).

What else? Numbers five and six on the Dream Company list of attributes are effective communication and the feeling that one's work is valued - all part of a recipe that makes people feel they are valued. And there's a lot in it for the company. "The rewards for becoming a Dream Company," wrote Lucy, "are more Dream Employees, and an overall workforce that's more engaged, committed, and likely to build careers with you."

Just as important - those employees will keep building those careers, even after one of those workdays...that maybe just stinks.  

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.