googleNo, I’m not saying I wish I could work at Google.

But plenty of people do.

In fact, Google won the top spot for “best place to work” in Fortune’s annual list just released today.

Now, I don’t know that much about Google, except that I pretty much like their search engine, and I like their Images search engine. I didn’t care so much for Chrome, but hey, you can’t hit the jackpot on everything.

They were interviewing someone from Fortune who announced this years top 10 this morning on Morning Joe. The question was inevitably asked: what do all the companies in the top ten have in common. The interviewee responded immediately: they care about their employees, actually they put employees first.

Now we have all heard that the mantra of any company is supposed to be “the customer is always right” which essentially means that customers come first. We know that this is a lie mostly, unless there is fierce competition. But the first goal of most companies seems to be to destroy the competition so you can force the consumer to take what they are offered because there ain’t no alternative. It was surely Rockefeller’s goal that if you wanted kerosene to light your lamps, it’s was either his or sit in the dark, so pay what he demanded.

Those of us not in the top 1% have long known that the real power and the real value in business is the employee. Ideas are essential to the success of any business, but in the end, it is the employees who make it happen. They produce the “product” whatever that may be, and they interact with the public however that is defined. So it is in the end a no brainer: happy employee = successful business (all other things remaining equal of course).

Fortune and others who study this sort of thing seem to agree. Robin Hartman, who helps companies achieve “a great place to work” gives a list of things a good company does:

  • They treat employees like grown-ups. They share information with employees, listen to their ideas (or better yet, actively seek out and act upon their ideas) and assume they are responsible enough to manage their own time.
  •  They treat people fairly. They pay people decently and give them good benefits, including not only decent healthcare but other even rarer essentials, like paid parental leave. And they use lay-offs as a last resort.
  •  They help employees with their careers and understand that not all careers are built the same. They have strong training programs, reimburse tuition for education outside of work, have active, well-thought out platforms for mentoring–especially for women and minorities–and provide pathways for non-traditional career paths.
  •  They understand that people have lives outside of work, and that these lives might sometimes impinge on (or even take over) their time and attention. They realize that allowing for some work-life give and take means not only that they won’t waste time and money on unnecessary turnover, but that they’ll build loyalty and commitment. They know it’s give and take, not give or take.
  •  They see fun, humor and relaxation not as the enemies of hard work, but as its allies.
  •  They have a purpose — a mission — that everyone understands. Even better, every employee can tell you the role he or she plays in achieving that purpose.
  •  They are good citizens of their communities and of the world. Not just according to their P.R. campaigns, but for real. They think about their carbon footprint, they come up with creative ways to support local projects or small businesses, they actively promote volunteerism among their employees.

Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project has his own list.

  1. Commit to paying every employee a living wage. To see examples of how much that is, depending on where you live, go to this site. Many companies do not meet that standard for many of their jobs. It’s nothing short of obscene to pay a CEO millions of dollars a year while paying any employee a sum for full time work that falls below the poverty line.
  2. Give all employees a stake in the company’s success, in the form of profit sharing, or stock options, or bonuses tied to performance. If the company does well, all employees should share in the success, in meaningful ways.
  3. Design working environments that are safe, comfortable and appealing to work in. In offices, include a range of physical spaces that allow for privacy, collaboration, and simply hanging out.
  4. Provide healthy, high quality food, at the lowest possible prices, including in vending machines.
  5. Create places for employees to rest and renew during the course of the working day and encourage them to take intermittent breaks. Ideally, leaders would permit afternoon naps, which fuel higher productivity in the several hours that follow.
  6. Offer a well equipped gym and other facilities that encourage employees to move physically and stay fit. Provide incentives for employees to use the facilities, including during the work day as a source of renewal.
  7. Define clear and specific expectations for what success looks like in any given job. Then, treat employees as adults by giving them as much autonomy as possible to choose when they work, where they do their work, and how best to get it accomplished.
  8. Institute two-way performance reviews, so that employees not only receive regular feedback about how they’re doing, in ways that support their growth, but are also given the opportunity to provide feedback to their supervisors, anonymously if they so choose, to avoid recrimination.
  9. Hold leaders and managers accountable for treating all employees with respect and care, all of the time, and encourage them to regularly recognize those they supervise for the positive contributions they make.
  10. Create policies that encourage employees to set aside time to focus without interruption on their most important priorities, including long-term projects and more strategic and creative thinking. Ideally, give them a designated amount of time to pursue projects they’re especially passionate about and which have the potential to add value to the company.
  11. Provide employees with ongoing opportunities and incentives to learn, develop and grow, both in establishing new job-specific hard skills, as well as softer skills that serve them well as individuals, and as managers and leaders.
  12. Stand for something beyond simply increasing profits. Create products or provide services or serve causes that clearly add value in the world, making it possible for employees to derive a sense of meaning from their work, and to feel good about the companies for which they work.

Interestingly, Schwartz’s list was compiled in 2012, and he stated that no company can do all of these perfectly, but Google probably does the best job. Hence, Google‘s number one position in the Fortune list appears to be no fluke.

All this is mildly interesting, for in fact, those of us who have been mostly employees rather than employers already know all this stuff.

But in a world where we are told that employers are “job creators” and thus should expect everyone else to cut them all the monetary slack they need to get on with that job, we are reminded anew that we, the worker is what really counts. Make no mistake, business is still in the business to make money, but the surest way to get there is to create a happy work force, not just with “gifts of money and benefits” but to be cherished as part of a team, and valuable for their brains as well as their brawn.

We all know that Wal-Mart and McDonald’s can pay a living wage. We know they can but won’t because nobody has yet forced them to. Jobs are so scarce that people hold on for dear life those puny jobs that force them to apply for food stamps in order to feed their kids. They continue to call these jobs “entry-level” for which there somehow is supposed to be low remuneration in return for the “gift” of a job at all. That is nonsense. There is no greater learning curve to flipping a burger than there is to learning how to integrate into a company’s bookkeeping framework. One is called “entry-level” the other surely not.

Little by little, we are educating the public to what they used to know. Workers matter.