Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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Why we envy great workplaces

Published 20 November 2012 06:15, Updated 30 January 2013 21:57

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Why we envy great workplaces

Being a top employers makes superb business sense. On average, (returning) companies of the World’s Best Workplaces list increased their revenue by 9 per cent this year and those 25 companies created 120,000 new jobs.

There is a reason why most magazines these days run an annual list of the best places to work. Readers love them. They have an insatiable hunger to learn how other workplaces are better than the ones they are in.

Months after it ran in the June issue of BRW, the Best Places to Work survey still is one of the most popular stories on the website. In fact, people are still reading the results of the 2009 survey.

It is the employee’s version of “real estate porn” – the poring over of pages of dressed up houses and imagining what our lives would be like if we had a chance to clutter up their pristine surfaces.

In this case, however, we are fantasising about life in an office where we don’t have to be in the office, or where people have fun, or where we can bring our children or dogs in for the day, or where our careers are given individual attention.

What we are imagining is a life where we don’t mind going to work - where it gives back as much as it takes.

Now consultancy, Great Place To Work, has released its list of top multinational workplaces, and there is no surprise to find software company SAS at the top of the pile.

With 13,268 employees and $US2.7 billion in global revenue, it has the bank balance to support its efforts to make its offices some of the best places to work in the world.

At the headquarters in the US, there is subsidised Montessori child care, sports, a free health care centre and unlimited sick time. Yes, unlimited sick time.

SAS is not rationing out the days that employees have off sick because the company operates on a philosophy of trust.

The company’s minuscule 2.6 per cent voluntary turnover is evidence that is being able to keep its highly skilled people, rather than lose them to more fashionable and sought-after employers such as Google, Facebook and Apple.

The average age of employees of 45 years is also significantly higher at SAS than in other software companies and the percentage of women in executive and senior management is also higher at 32 per cent.

Looking at a YouTube video on the attractions of working at the company, it is also noticeable that no open plan workspaces are shown. The video only shows comfy personal offices – an absolute rarity on modern workplaces.

In this video, CEO and co-founder, Jim Goodnight, explained that happy workers result in happy customers. The employees have a 35-hour work week and, to get a good seven hours each day, it makes sense to make sure they are not distracted by having to go away to visit a doctor, or to see to a young child.

“We don’t have clock in and clock out,” he says.

“If it is their child’s first day at school, we expect them to be [with their child]. If it is the first play their child is in, we expect them to be there. If it is their first soccer game, we expect them to be there.”

Being a top employers makes superb business sense. On average, (returning) companies of the World’s Best Workplaces list increased their revenue by 9 per cent this year and those 25 companies created 120,000 new jobs.

On average, they also attracted 11 times more applications than the number of employees they have. At a time when there are serious debilitating shortages for some skills (despite overall high unemployment rates), this is a serious competitive advantage.

REVISIT BRW BEST PLACES TO WORK 2012:

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