When Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” issue hit the streets in February, I decided to put together a column with several ideas about how we can make our companies better places to work. For new companies, this is particularly important because (according to Bloomberg) 8 of 10 new businesses fail within the first 18 months.

    For those of you with established companies, that threshold has been successfully crossed, but the next challenge is engaging employees and making your company a place they want to work. According to a Moneymagazine survey, 70% of people are not engaged in their current job. Sounds like quite a challenge, which is complicated by the fact that different generations seem to value somewhat different things in their search for a good company.

    Adam Witty, the CEO of Advantage Media Group, offers a few points.

•   Staff well. Egomaniacs who can’t collaborate can stifle creativity.

•   Where fun and work meet is the understanding from employees that they make a difference.

•   Employees need to understand the “why” of what you do as a company.


    Let’s look at a few things the “Best companies to work for” do to make them better (according to Fortune). This would include but not be limited to the following:

•   Put employees before profits. In one company, the CEO and senior management gave up their bonuses so that employees could keep theirs.

•   Treat employees and clients as your extended family.

•   Create a culture where employees can have fun. Some examples are free Friday lunches or other opportunities for people to get together.

•   Flexible schedules and good pay. Some match 401(k) contributions 100% up to 8% of salary.

•   Some companies offer perks like periodic sabbaticals. These may be fully or partially paid and vary from four to 12 weeks in length.

•   Give back. Some companies match their employee’s charitable giving or provide donations to a charity if an employee volunteers there. One company provides five paid days per year to encourage community volunteering.


    It’s easy to write off some of these ideas because many of these companies are not in the thermal-processing industry. That’s true, but if you are looking for some industry examples, check out PPG, Alcoa and Eaton’s South Bend, Ind., plant. The Eaton facility was named one of Indiana’s Best Places to Work in 2014, and they make gear forgings. The facility embodies Eaton’s philosophy of “Doing Business Right” by empowering its people, maintaining an inclusive environment and fostering a learning organization. South Bend’s “5 Basic Concepts” are:

•   Safety first

•   Trust

•   Mutual respect

•   Communication

•   Involvement


    Earlier, we alluded to generational differences in what makes companies good places to work. While boomers will be in the mix for a while, the generation (born 1946-1964) has begun to retire. According to Fortune, their replacements are looking for fair pay, they want to have a say in decisions and they want to be overseen by competent management.

    A specific subset – Generation Z – was born in the decade from 1990 to 1999. By definition, this is really just half of a generation, but the oldest have begun to graduate from college. Interestingly, both of my kids fall into the Gen-Z subset.

    Statistics show that these folks make up nearly 7% of the American workforce – 11 million. By 2019, it is expected that 30 million will be in the workforce. As a group, they are the smart-phone generation, and they have never lacked a constant stream of data. As a result of this, the interpersonal skills of this group are often weak, and they may lack the basic manners that were ingrained in other generations at an early age.

    Studies (Rainmaker Thinking for one) indicate that while they have tremendous energy and enthusiasm, Gen Z lacks some of the basics such as personal responsibility and work habits. This means they can be good workers, but they are high maintenance. Providing a great workplace for these folks will look different than for their generational predecessors. Here are some ideas from Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking.

•   Maintain high-intensity relationships: Small, well-defined workgroups and chain of command with a teaching-style leader

•   Invest in teaching behavior because they will need ongoing guidance in customer service, interpersonal relationships, personal work habits and appropriate conduct.

•   Well-structured work

•   Show them the prize: They have been rewarded for everything they have done in life.

•   Create dream jobs to attract the rising stars.


    Well, it looks like we have our work cut out for us. Hopefully, we have given you some ideas to make your company a great workplace now and for future generations. IH