A funny thing happened to the World’s Best Workplaces this year. Amid months of lockdown isolation and health scares and return-to-office uncertainty, companies named to the Fortune World’s Best Workplaces™ 2021 list actually saw an increase in employee satisfaction.
The average employee experience went up for every Trust Index™ survey statement year-on-year.
In other words, the World’s Best Workplaces leaned in more. They showed more kindness, added more benefits, did more for social justice, and communicated more often and more honestly. Leaders let themselves be more vulnerable in front of their employees.
This year’s 25 winners – representing the voices of 19.8 million employees across 10,000 companies and 106 countries – have reset the bar for what it means to be a World’s Best Workplace.
With the world in such turmoil, how did these workplaces manage to create an environment where employees could thrive?
Leading with purpose
Despite the high-pressure stakes of the pandemic, many pharma, biotech and health care companies made this year’s list — all because of purpose.
For those industries, the pandemic represented what their employees had specifically been called to do: help others. But even for companies not working directly in those industries, the pandemic brought about other ways to step up.
At DHL Express (#1 on the list), employees were proud to deliver the vaccine to the far corners of the globe. Hilton (#3) rolled out its 1 Million Rooms initiative, providing frontline medical professionals with free accommodations so they wouldn’t have to expose their families to the virus.
Software engineers at Australian-based Atlassian (#23) partnered with the government to create a messaging app designed to increase awareness of COVID-19 in Australia, answer citizens’ questions and guide people to support resources.
Leading with kindness
As politically divisive as the pandemic has become, it has also showed us how interconnected we are. The Best Workplaces recognize this, by supporting workers and their families around the globe and proving that a little kindness goes a long way.
Manufacturer Hilti (#11) set up an internal fund to provide financial support for colleagues who had been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Employees at corporate HQ converted 5% of their salary in exchange for additional days off, with Hilti matching the contribution.
The funds were used to support emergency health services for families, as well as team members in countries without government support programs.
Leading with racial and social justice
It’s been over a year since George Floyd’s murder in the U.S. sparked a racial reckoning near and far, but the Best Workplaces know that the conversation is still ongoing. These companies identify DEIB as a strategic priority, and ensure they are recruiting and promoting from a diverse candidate pool.
Atlassian, for example, has worked with researchers to quantify an inclusion index, helping the company to measure its own successes and failures. The index is part of its regular employee surveys, enabling managers to hear regularly and first-hand about the experiences of under-represented groups working at Atlassian.
Leading with communication
Clear and frequent communication is key among the Best Workplaces, particularly with the switch to virtual work.
When worldwide demand for 3M’s (#6) PPE exploded overnight, the company had to respond to production while simultaneously managing workers who needed to stay safe themselves. The company prioritized communication and over the next 8 months released 20 newsletters and 30 Q&A sessions that were open to all employees.
3M also released a campaign of courses and training on the virus and preventative measures, which was available for both employees and to the public.
Leading with trust
For many businesses, the switch to remote work raised concerns about productivity. At the Best Workplaces, leaders don’t micro-manage from behind a screen, but rather lean into this new normal with trust and flexibility.
Software company SAP (#9) has implemented what it calls a “Pledge to Flex” – a 100% flexible and trust-based workplace. The company provides employees with set-ups to suit every role, working style and location.
Recruitment firm Addeco’s (#19) “New World Working Guiding Principles” is a toolkit of check lists, self-assessments and other resources aimed at helping employees be their best while remote or hybrid working – while also acknowledging a need for flexibility, because one size does not fit all.
The team at manufacturer Stryker (#15) says they’re using learnings from the pandemic to make the company an even better place to work by embracing flexibility and tailored working solutions between leaders and employees.
Leading with vulnerability
With all the uncertainty of the past year and half, the best thing managers can do for their employees is to show their own vulnerability, particularly when it comes to mental health.
At IT company Cisco (#2), a focus on employee well-being meant providing days off work, emotional well-being sessions and “Ask Me Anything” sessions with medical experts, specialists and even with leadership.
When 3M Chile’s new general manager Ximena Auil started at the beginning of the pandemic, and therefore couldn’t meet the team face-to-face, she set up virtual lunches and coffees, connecting with over 250 employees and their families in their homes.
Whether revealing their own struggles or virtually inviting employees into their homes, the leaders who show their humanity make their workplace a Best Workplace.
Claire is our Content Marketing Manager. Claire works with Great Place to Work data and company culture experts to distil the psychology of high-trust workplaces. Claire co-authored the Women in the Workplace report and her profiles of Best Workplaces™ have featured in Fortune. When Claire’s not sifting through our 28+ years of survey data, she’s rolling out her yoga mat or daydreaming about her next U.S. road trip.