If there’s one thing St. Louis’ top workplaces these days have in common it is this: They offer their employees something more than just a paycheck.
Freedom and flexibility. Work/life balance. A sense of purpose. Those were common threads among the anonymous comments made by workers at many of the highest-rated companies in the Post-Dispatch’s annual survey of Top Workplaces in St. Louis.
Indeed, when asked what they liked best about their workplace, employees at top-rated companies were about twice as likely to say they felt “genuinely appreciated” at their job and confident in the direction of the company as they were to talk about pay and benefits they earn for working there.
That’s no surprise, said Pete Foley, head of the Employee Research Group at human resources consulting firm Mercer. It’s not that paychecks don’t matter. Obviously they do. But when it comes to creating enthusiastic, engaged employees, money alone can’t buy you love.
“Pay and benefits have got to be at a minimum level, and then you’re on to other things,” Foley said. “You want to know you can develop, have a sense of accomplishment, feel like you’re making a difference.”
Many of the companies that took part in the Post-Dispatch survey are relatively white-collar, but the same concerns about development and dignity are seen across the spectrum of business. When local fast-food workers launched a one-day strike last month, their complaints were as much about working conditions and treatment by supervisors as they were about higher wages.
That’s not surprising, Foley said. Surveys have long shown that the way people are treated at work means at least as much as their compensation. Often more.
“All over the world, any industry, what you see time and time again is fairness and respect,” he said. “I want to be treated fairly and I want to feel like I’m respected.”
And as the job market slowly improves, that sense of respect becomes even more important.
The last few years of recession and sluggish recovery have generally given companies the upper hand in the age-old tug-of-war between employers and their employees. Many companies have pared back benefits, cut wages and spread more work among fewer people. A lack of better options meant workers often had little choice but to take it.
Still, even during the bad years, said Matthew Grawitch, assistant professor of organizational studies at St. Louis University, some companies found ways to remind employees that they are valued, be it through peer-to-peer recognition programs or length-of-service awards or even a simple “thank you.” Now that hiring is starting to pick up, even those modest efforts are paying off.
“Organizations that thought creatively about how to show workers they’re valued are the ones where people aren’t jumping ship,” he said.
And it’s not just about retention.
Companies with more engaged employees tend to be more productive, and therefore profitable, than their counterparts, said Grawitch. That engagement can’t always come in the form of top-down incentives; much of it derives from building a culture where people are driven to do well for their own reasons.
“If you really want to figure out how to take your organization to the next level, it becomes: How do you create an environment where people are intrinsically motivated to succeed,” he said. “Everything else trickles down from there.”
Of course, different workers are motivated in different ways, and want different things out of their job. For baby boomers, said Foley, that might mean a more generous benefits package. For younger workers, said Melinda Alison, St. Louis regional vice president at staffing firm Robert Half International, it often entails a greater degree of flexibility than the traditional deskbound 9-to-5.
“With Generation Y, they’re coming into interviews with an expectation of telecommuting and flex time,” she said.
And for all the drama earlier this year about Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer’s ban on telecommuting, there’s at least some research to show working from home can pay off when it comes to being plugged in. A recent Gallup study found that workers who spent one day a week working remotely actually felt more connected to their job than those who always worked in the office — though returns diminished from there.
There are other ways companies are trying to make workers feel valued: Everything from internal recognition programs to awarding the CEO’s parking spot to a top performer. They’re little things, Alison said, but they can go a long way.
“Raises are always appreciated,” she said. “But just saying thank you is important, too.”