What Makes a Job Great?

If you’ve paid attention to this blog, or the Workplace Fairness website, you know that we often have the job of sharing bad news, or the worst of what goes on in the American workplace. But what does it take to make a place a great one to work? With all of the bad news out there, we might be tempted to settle for just the absence of some of the worst legal violations and unfair practices. But there are some ways that employers can truly distinguish themselves, as acknowledged by some of the leading contests and recognition programs out there.

Around this time every year, Fortune Magazine names its list of 100 Best Companies to Work For (just in time for those starting their post-holiday job searches, perhaps?). The very best company selected, Google, didn’t even exist a decade ago, but has quickly developed a reputation as a great place to work — so much so that they receive 1300 resumes a day. It’s partially the perks: free meals with 150 feet of every desk, swimming spa, and free doctors onsite. And those are just the most noteworthy. But those who work there also say it’s the culture: “Life for Google employees at the Mountain View campus is like college. It feels like the brainiest university imaginable – one in which every kid can afford a sports car (though geeky hybrids are cooler here than hot rods).” (See Life Inside Google.)

It’ s certainly not the 9-5 hours: “Hours are long – typical for Silicon Valley – and it’s not unusual for engineers to be seen in the hallways at 3 a.m. debating some esoteric algorithmic conundrum.” (See Working in the Googleplex.) Google turns on its head the whole idea of work/life balance, in that those who get hired are often selected for their “diverse outside interests,” yet once they come to Google, they find “such a cozy place that it’s sometimes difficult for Google employees to leave the office” — which is precisely the point. (See Life Inside Google.)

A quality that Google and Genentech, the #2 best place to work, share, according to Genentech CEO and Google board member Art Levinson is, “the environment, one where they have an ability to pursue things largely on their own terms.” (See Life Inside Google.) So a sense of control over your own career destiny is certainly important as well. Let’s be honest, too — the stock options which have made many Google employees millionaires several times (or several hundred times) over don’t hurt either. There are some Google employees just waiting to vest, so many that they’re referred to “resting and vesting.” (See The Perks of Being a Googler.)

And having a good boss is important for most workers: a recent Florida State University study shows that nearly two of five bosses don’t keep their word, and more than a fourth of them bad-mouth workers they supervise to co-workers, creating problems for companies such as poor morale, less production and higher turnover. (See Orlando Sentinel article.) As the study author, Wayne Hochwarter, points out, “They say that employees don’t leave their job or company, they leave their boss.” (See FSU News.)

Our friends at Winning Workplaces have already found some of the best bosses out there, in their annual Best Bosses contest. Now they’re at it again, in a quest to honor some of the best small workplaces. Perhaps where you work will never be able to compete with the Googles and Genentech’s of the working world, but on a much smaller scale, you’ve got it pretty good. Then you’ll want to submit your nomination for consideration as one of Winning Workplace’s Top Small Businesses of 2007. You’ll need to hurry, though: the nomination deadline is January 31, 2007.

And in the meantime: if your job isn’t great, or your boss isn’t great — what will it take? Is there a role you can play in making the situation a better one? Or is it time to stop complaining and start looking? Comparing your job to either the best or the worst might be just what it takes.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.