There are outstanding workplaces with prodigious employee benefit packages all over the world, judging from the Great Places to Work Institute’s recent eighth annual conference in Los Angeles, where about 20 employers of choice shared their respective grand visions.

Of the 658 attendees, 131 were from outside the United States. Most hailed from Korea (50) and Mexico (13). Given this strong representation in an increasingly global economy, all general sessions and some workshops were translated into Korean and Spanish during the event — reminiscent of a United Nations gathering. The institute, in fact, has a presence in 44 countries through the work of 37 affiliate offices that poll more than 1.5 million employees each year about their employers.

Ruy Shiozawa, CEO of the Great Places to Work Institute in Brazil (the first such affiliate, established in 1995), explained that his country’s list has grown to more than 700 employers from about 25 or 30.

“More companies are participating not because they believe to be on the list is the most important thing, but because they understand it’s important to have a better workplace that produces better results,” he said.

Robert Levering, the institute’s San Francisco-based co-founder, noted in his opening remarks: “This is like a social movement that people feel like they’re part of.”

He described three key elements to a great workplace: Taking a populist approach driven by employee and manager feedback as opposed to profit or size, emulating what’s right within an organization rather than focusing on what doesn’t work, and celebrating the passion inside successful organizations.

The institute has been studying this issue for more than 25 years. Levering, a professor of organizational development, co-wrote “The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America” with Milton Moskowitz. The best-selling book later became a coveted list of the same name published annually for 13 years in Fortune magazine.

Recession-proof?

In the show’s closing remarks, institute CEO Ricardo Lange was struck by how consistent people practices at some of the nation’s top employers of choice were through the economic downturn. He suggested that basic long-term practices serve as the key to lasting success.

It’s easy to see why: Total shareholder return is three and a half times higher in publicly traded companies named to the “100 Best Companies to Work For” list than in the S&P 500, noted Keith Oden, president of Camden Property Trust (CPT), in a keynote address alongside CEO Ric Campo that was as riveting as it was humorous.

Their firm, one of the nation’s largest publicly traded multifamily companies, wasn’t immune to difficult times along the road to becoming No. 10 on Fortune’s latest best-companies list.

Having fun is a key corporate value at CPT, whose nearly 1,800 employees work in more than 200 locations, but it’s been a challenge during the past 18 months when sources of capital nearly dried up. The company needed to refinance $1.1 billion in debt while its stock plummeted to $16 per share from $81, according to Campo, adding that the company has since made up $2.1 billion of a $3.6 billion loss. 

Guest blogger Bruce Shutan is a former managing editor of Employee Benefit News and a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

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