Best Places to Work Isn’t Real, but…

Tim Sackett Benefits, Brand Ambassadors, Business Development, Culture, Employee Communications, Employee Engagement, employee experience, Employment Branding and Culture, HR, Uncategorized 8 Comments

Any of the best places to work lists are basically just a marketing gimmick. We all know this, right? RIGHT!? (Let’s be clear, I’m not actually talking about the specific company ‘Best Places’, but the concept of awards that say you’re better than another employer, etc.)

If you make the list, great, good for you, you have resources to jump through the hoops it takes to get on these lists. If you’re not on this list, you might actually be the best place to work. We don’t know, because you didn’t even try, so it’s like saying the Boston Red Sox are World Champs when they’ve only played teams from America and one from Canada.

That’s not really the world. 

You’re not really the best place to work. You’re just the best place to work out of the small number that actually spent the time and resources to win that award. In theory, you might actually be an awful place to work, if everyone else who went for the award was worse than you. 

I tend to believe that organizations that do go for these awards are actually pretty decent places to get a job. They care enough to go get a fake award, and it takes a bunch of work and money to get those awards. So, you’re probably not going to go wrong by going to work at a Best Places or Great Places type of company.

But, let’s not kid ourselves. These are not necessarily the best places to work.

The reality is, almost all workplaces are about the same.

You have a few that are just outstanding. You have a few that are awful, but most are just average, in the middle, just fine to work at, good people, decent pay and benefits, and nobody kicks you in the head or anything. 

Many of these ‘average’ companies get on the best places to work lists because someone decided it was important to do. They had the desire. They had the resources. They knew it would be awesome for their recruitment marketing, and BAM, welcome to the greatest place to work… 

So, does this mean you shouldn’t go after these awards? 

No, like I said, going after these awards probably helps you be better. It’s not a guarantee, but if you go through the work, in the end, you’ll probably improve your workplace. There are also extensive elements of marketing and psychology involved in the process. 

If you tell your workforce, “Hey, we are going after this award!” And you keep telling every employee again, and again, that you’r a wonderful place to work, most employees will begin to believe you’re a wonderful place to work. We are all very susceptible to marketing, all of us! 

If you believe in the concept that most organizations are somewhere in the middle when it comes to the work environment and employee experience, you will then also understand why just marketing that you are great, when you’re really just average, can actually make you great! 

I think instead of going after an award, I would rather go rogue. I’m going to market the crap out of my brand, out of my employee experience, in the markets we work and live, and we will tell the world we are ‘the’ place to work. I want to be chosen by the people, not for making a list, but because our brand went viral from the people. 

Hit me in the comments – what am I missing when it comes to greatest places to work lists? 

Tim Sackett

If you Google “Tim Sackett” you’ll find our Tim, and a truck driver chaplain. Our Tim is NOT the truck driver chaplain, although how awesome would that be if he was!? He is a prolific writer in the HR and TA space who just happens to also run an Engineering and IT contract staffing agency (HRU Technical Resources) out of Michigan. He also writes every day at his own blog, the Tim Sackett Project. Weirdly, he’s known as an expert in workplace hugging, which was kind of cool years ago, but now seems painfully creepy, but we still love him and he’s fairly harmless. Tim is also on the board of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals (ATAP), lifetime Michigan State Spartan fan, husband to a Hall of Fame wife, 3 sons, and his best friend Scout. He also wrote a book with SHRM called The Talent Fix, you can find it on Amazon.

Comments 8

  1. These “Best Places to Work” awards are also big revenue generators in the form of ad dollars. Companies can nearly buy their way in because they buy a full-page ad every year. Smaller rags are the worst. You have ten publications in town and the local Daily Herald News-Gazette, which is barely relevant enough to maybe make it on the coffee table of a dentist office, names only companies with coffers that can support overpriced ads. Maybe they will throw in a few small-struggling -businesses that want to make a name for themselves just so the paper can fill the remaining illegible 3×2 ads. Throw in the fact that people have the misconception that the results will reveal their identity so they skew their responses to not get “fired” because of their honesty and you have an award that’s as reliable as a Ford Pinto.

    The only problem is, no one else in these markets is willing to exert the effort or money to actually evaluate the companies and bestow the title on a select few who actually deserve the title. This, unfortunately, unbalances the talent pool in the favor of the undeserving leaving mom and pop shops starving for “good help”.

  2. I put them on par with the J.D. Power awards that Chevy trumpets as an accomplishment.

    1. Tim Sackett Post


      That was a big learning for my boys! What do you mean JD Power awards aren’t real!? Do you notice only Chevy ever wins a JD Power award? Never Ford, Honda, Toyota, Mercedes, only Chevy…it’s almost like GM owns JD Power! 😉


  3. Yeah, my main issue with these lists is one you allude to: resources. You pretty much can’t get on many of them unless you’re at the enterprise level, with free snacks in the office and standing desks and remote cultures that are actually strong because you can afford to fly people in a couple times a year.

    I think they’re really comparable to best colleges lists: you can put together all the quantifiable data on alumni giving and retenti0n rates and engagement and happiness you want, but none of it is actually going to be helpful to anyone who is looking to select a college (or job).

    I don’t see a high engagement score and think “that must be a great place to work!” All I know is that you have someone in HR who has the capacity to actually measure that number (which, as an HR person, isn’t nothing). It doesn’t tell me if you have a culture that makes people happy and able to do their best work as their authentic selves, or if you have a culture of fear where no one dares to give a negative response, or a “meh” culture of people who are fine, they guess? It might not be meaningless, but from the outside, I have no way of telling.

  4. Oh Tim! Posts like this always sting. I will admit, I am slightly defensive when it comes to being named a top workplace; we have been fortunate to make these types of lists for several consecutive years. Posts like this sting because I am willing to be subjected to serious employee scrutiny in order to learn more about what we can do better at the org level and as an HR department.

    Our 3rd party survey administrator asks very direct questions and our folks are brutally honest. Our most recent survey was sent to 228 participants and responses generated 597 free type comments…597 and I will read every single line. Yes, we absolutely pay to have the survey administered and it’s worth every penny. I find the 3rd party administration actually encourages folks to participate and they feel comfortable with the anonymity aspect of responding.

    We don’t advertise the survey as part of a top workplace program because we also run surveys that are not part of any list, ranking, or award. We also have an established track record of taking action and making changes directly associated with the feedback we receive. Along the way, I might have had an unfair advantage in having a direct hand in building the culture we are putting to the test with these surveys but that comes with the start up territory.

    Ultimately, I think the companies who pay for the accolades aren’t worth their weight in the shitty plaque that comes with making the newspaper that no one reads. For those who make survey-related change part of the organizations goals, you take the congratulations but you act like you’ve been there before and don’t advertise the hell out of it. That’s not necessary.

  5. The non pay-to-play (or apply re: Glassdoor) awards still hold clout, IMO. Except Comparably — get that spam site outta here.

  6. John Hollon

    All lists like this are somewhat arbitrary. In the grand scheme of things, these aren’t “great places to work” as much as they are “better” places to work. No list can actually define the very best places, because what if the very vest places are too busy working to be the best places and don’t have time to prep and apply for contests like this?

    Having said that, my guess is that companies and organizations are pretty good places to work, but like ll things in life, YMMV.

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