Work-life balance also has become a powerful differentiator for employers that have embraced the issue and realized that one size does not fit all—families with young children have different needs from empty-nesters, for example, Terranova says.
“People aren't being called in when they least expect it. They're not working on a Saturday because something needs to be done Monday,” she says. “These organizations not only respect work-life balance, but they're figuring out a way to provide it to their employee population. … The organization that's able to flex is the one that's going to retain their employees. That's where money, while important, isn't the whole picture.”
Challenger also sees employees looking to quality-of-life as a top-tier issue in deciding where to work—and how long to stay.
“Telecommuting, particularly, can be beneficial to people who have family responsibilities, to have the personal life balance they're seeking,” he says. “Sometimes people feel like they're being over-worked, and we may be seeing some more of that as the economy starts to grow and companies are still keeping a tight lid on hiring.
“As they start to get more inquiries and more opportunities come across their desks, your highest performers begin to value things like a good culture, a good boss, clear-cut information from the company, consistency,” he adds.
Advancement opportunities also are important. “There has to be a sense that the company doesn't take people from the outside, that there's room to move up,” Challenger says. “Young people (need to) feel like if they're going to work long, hard hours, that there's potential for them.”
Other top finishers in the Best Places to Work contest cited and lived out many of the same priorities and qualities.
Fourth-place finisher Premier, an alliance among hospitals and healthcare providers that provides group purchasing services and disseminates best practices, has made significant investments in employee wellness through certified coaches and in corporate social responsibility, with 3,000 hours of community service to 40 not-for-profits in the Charlotte region, says President and CEO Susan DeVore.
But Premier's organizational mission, especially in a time of flux, is what motivates employees the most, she says. “They feel like this is a place where innovation is happening. We're trying to transform healthcare,” DeVore says. “The creativity and the new ideas and the openness to trying things differently excites people. It feels like meaningful and important work.”
With Premier's leadership team spending much of its time on the road visiting member hospitals and healthcare providers, the communications department has kept the employee base feeling connected to them through a regular “where in the world is our executive team” videoconference.
“It's so easy today to stream back video from the road,” DeVore says. “We put music to it, and they ask us where we are and what we're doing. It's the real world, not a prepared message, if you will. It keeps them in touch.”
Since the passage of healthcare reform, Premier has kept communication flowing about what it will mean for employees so they're not caught off guard,” says Jill Lewandowski, senior human resources director.
“We've stayed ahead of the communication to our employees about, what does this mean, not only for our members and the hospitals we're serving, but what does it mean to you, as an employee?” she says. “Our benefits team has stayed so on top of that. What will it mean for open enrollment this year?”
Premier sought deep employee input when contemplating moving its headquarters location, which will happen between now and Feb. 1 to a new “green” LEED-certified building (recognition by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program). The new building is on the outskirts of Charlotte near the airport. Leadership not only consulted employees but insisted that the landlords and developers present to several groups of the rank-and-file.
“They were like, ‘Nobody ever does this. We're not used to doing this,' ” DeVore says. “At the end of the day, with the decision we made, not everybody got their first choice, but everybody felt they had input.”
Southern Ohio Medical Center is not located on the outskirts of anywhere in particular; people from the area tend to love it, but those who move in from elsewhere often don't stay, says Ken Applegate, director of human resources for the organization, which holds sixth place in the top 100 Best Places to Work and third among large employers.
That's led the medical center to develop a “Grow Your Own” program that provides 100% upfront tuition, not reimbursement after the fact, to current employees who want to advance their careers by pursuing a nursing degree, for example, through partnerships with several area universities. “We have placed a lot of folks into their (current) positions,” Applegate says.
Southern Ohio has committed to communicating significant expense reductions—and noting at the same time where the organization strategically hasn't cut back—during the difficult economic times of the past few years, says Vicki Noel, vice president of human resources.
“For example, tuition assistance would be a low-hanging fruit expense that you could just cut,” she says. “But when we have a philosophy of growing our own, how could we do that? We communicate what we did and what we could have done and did not.”
The medical center laid off 60 employees in 2008, about 40 of whom have since been rehired; they've returned at least in part because instead of escorting them to the door with an hour's notice, Southern Ohio communicated the likelihood of such a move a couple months before it happened, then gave 30 days' notice and as much as six weeks of severance pay depending on years of service, Applegate says.
“Every business, no matter if you're a great employer or not, is going to fall on hard times,” he says. “It's how you react to those situations and how you treat your employees that separates the good employers from the not-so-good ones.”