HR & Management


The five best and worst companies to work for

15 Mins

The best & worst companies to work for

Sometimes simply receiving a paycheck is not enough of an incentive to keep employees dedicated and focused.

Indeed, in this day and age, employees expect to be knocked off their feet by an amazing experience just as customers do. But company culture and small gifts are often all that is needed to inspire productivity and a happy workforce.

With the right combinations of management style, employee treatment and motivation, you can ensure the greatest levels of productivity, and a happy workforce to boot – as was seen by these five companies.

Five of the best companies to work for

(1) DreamWorks Animation

Dreamworks consists of a three-acre campus, with stone walkways, Mediterranean-inspired buildings, and even something that resembles a lagoon. The added stream and fountains are allegedly supposed to disguise the noise of two nearby freeways.

Essentially, the environment is meant to cultivate creativity, as is its management strategy. It has to have worked given that its constantly noted as one of the most innovative companies in the world, with a 97 per cent retention rate.

“DreamWorks Animation is an incredibly creative and collaborative operation because of the culture,” said communication strategist Evan Rosen, who studied the company for his book “The Culture of Collaboration”.

Its perks are all geared toward reducing stress and distractions. For example, it boasts a doctor’s office; yoga and kickboxing classes; a kitchen on every floor stocked with all types of snacks; and Monday-night movie screenings. Outside, cabanas and wooden picnic tables seem to be laden with free breakfasts and lunches as well as dinner for employees working late, Rosen said.

Rosen added that everything from the complimentary food to the layout was chosen with the belief they lead to great ideas.

“Many times true innovation, true original ideas, don’t happen in a conference room or in someone’s office,” said Dan Satterthwaite, head of human resources at DreamWorks. “They happen in hallways, they happen outside. It’s the function of people running into each other that was really thought through in the layout of the campus.”

DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is also convinced that you cannot have an environment where people feel if they make a mistake they’re going to lose their jobs, which is one of the reasons why it focuses intently on company culture. Essentially, he claims that DreamWorks needs to be a place where employees can push the boundaries of creativity.


(2) Netflix

People find the Netflix approach to talent and culture compelling for a number of reasons. The company is fond of saying it hires only “fully formed adults,” and the company treats them as such.

Patty McCord, former chief talent officer of Netflix, explained that the company had two policies in mind. First of all, the best thing you can do for employees – a perk better than foosball or free sushi – is hire only “A” players to work alongside them.

This led Netflix managers to develop a “keeper test” to evaluate employees: If one of your employees told you he or she was leaving for a job at a peer company, would you fight hard to keep that employee at Netflix?

If the answer is “no”, then the employee will be asked to leave. It may sound harsh, but McCord suggested that it meant working in a professional environment where everyone was respected.

Secondly, if they wanted only “A” players on their team, they had to be willing to let go of people whose skills no longer fit, no matter how valuable their contributions had once been.

With these two principles in mind, McCord claimed that the company started asking employees to rely on logic and common sense instead of on formal policies. She noted that salaried employees were told to take whatever time they felt was appropriate, whereby bosses and employees alike were asked to work it out with one another.

“We did provide some guidance,” McCord said. “If you worked in accounting or finance, you shouldn’t plan to be out during the beginning or the end of a quarter, because those were busy times. If you wanted 30 days off in a row, you needed to meet with HR.”

Netflix also don’t have a formal travel and expense policy – they simply require “adult-like” behaviour there, too. The company’s expense policy is five words long: “Act in Netflix’s best interests.” Essentially, the company expects employees to spend company money frugally, as if it were their own. This eliminating the need for a formal policy.

Tawni Cranz, Netflix’s current chief talent officer, said the company has been able to maintain its open culture by creating the foundations of freedom and responsibility – “not having a lot of rules, not having policies, not using sort of bureaucracy or hierarchy to govern”.


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(3) Zappos

Zappos’s CEO, Tony Hsieh, has made it clear that by focusing on company culture, everything else such as building a brand with sustained revenue growth and passionate employees, would fall into place.

Zappos’s culture is guided by a set of core values, which aims to empower employees, create a sense of community in the workplace, and serve a higher purpose beyond bottom-line metrics. But it actually doesn’t matter what your core values are, Hsieh said.

He added: “What matters is that you have them and commit to them. And by committing to them, you’re willing to hire or fire based on them independent of actual job performance.”

Employees should have control and progress in their careers, he noted, which is why the company developed a set of skills for call centre reps to learn. Employees essentially control their salary increases as they acquire the skills that interest them at their own pace.

Of course, Zappos is also known for encouraging its employees to “create fun and a little weirdness” in the workplace and build personal connections with co-workers.

Much like Netflix, Zappos carefully vets each new applicant in order to protect its company culture. It even offers new employees $4,000 to quit after their first week to find out whether employees truly want to be there.

“Is this someone I would want to have a beer with?” Hsieh asks himself when interviewing applicants.

Furthermore, instead of measuring call centre efficiency by the traditional calculated amount of time spent on the phone, Zappos has developed a scorecard, tracking the personal and emotional connections made with customers, measured by the number of thank you cards and cookies the call centre reps get sent.

Hsieh suggested that delivering happiness and “wowing” customers first needs to start with “wowing” employees.


(4) Google

Having Google on a list of best places to work is inevitable!

Recent Glassdoor research revealed that Google was, once again, among the “50 Best Places to Work“.

“Google employees are now more vocal, reviewing the company at a higher rate,” said Glassdoor career trends analyst Scott Dobroski. After scanning Google employee feedback submitted to Glassdoor, Real Business found the reasons why.

Google employees are motivated by the fact that they believe their work has a positive impact on the lives of others. A Google developer wrote: “My work is used by lots and lots of users. It’s cool stuff that makes people happy.”

Dobroski noticed that a key theme was the extension of paid paternity leave from seven to 12 weeks. New dads and adoptive parents working at Google can now take up to 12 weeks of paid paternity leave, while moms continue to be entitled to 22 weeks.

“Not only is the policy generous, but the atmosphere at Google is such that you can take the full leave and not hurt your career,” wrote a Google employee.

Another excerpt concluded: “We strive to maintain the open culture often associated with startups, in which everyone is a hands-on contributor and feels comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. In our weekly all-hands meetings – not to mention over email or in the cafe –Googlers ask questions directly to Larry, Sergey, and other execs about any number of company issues. Our offices and cafes are designed to encourage interactions between Googlers within and across teams and to spark conversation about work as well as play.”

Of course, Google does tend to stand out because of its perks and benefits. From on-site physicians and nurses to reimbursement for classes and degrees that help Googlers with their jobs, the company sets the standard when it comes to taking care of employees.

Dobroskiy suggested that by offering above-average compensation and benefits, Google attempts to remove every barrier that could distract its employees from their ability to be top performers.


(5) Riot Games

Riot Games is far less flashy than Google. It doesn’t have slides, gyms, or sleeping pods – although it does offer free lunches – however, Riot has occasionally found itself to be ranked higher than Google in terms of best places to work.

What sets its apart is that it offers up to $25,000 for employees to leave the company, an initiative it calls “Queue Dodge”. New hires can drop their Riot job during their first 60 days, no questions asked, and receive ten per cent of their annual salary in return.

Rather than allow mismatches to fester, we want to resolve them quickly,” explained Riot an announcement. “This is good for the company, and good for the professional.”

But according to Riot Games co-founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck, they don’t believe in “secret sauce”. Not for game development, anyway, Beck said.

“It might exist for the recipe for Coca-Cola or Kentucky Fried Chicken, but the primary value of a game company isn’t locked up in a secret recipe,” Beck said. “The primary reason they thrive or don’t thrive is people.”

He added that in order to be really successful at game development, to innovate and do cool things that players have never seen before, requires a shift in the balance of power away from supervisors and into the individual craftspeople on the team. And if the individual developers are doing the problem solving, the role and challenge of a modern manager becomes akin to a bit coach and a bit cheerleader.

“It’s easy to allow someone else to make a decision when you trust that she shares your values and beliefs,” he said. “People, and how well they team together, are by far the most important part of the recipe. And talent alone is not enough.”

It’s a humble pill to swallow, but Riot Games seems to have achieved its status as the company employs people who share the same vision, respect each other, and love what they do. No frills needed! Who wouldn’t want to work in an environment like that?

Read on to find out which the worst companies to work for are, including one which tracks its workers movements.

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