Fifty years ago, defining the characteristics of a great employer was relatively easy. Decent management, a pension plan, generous vacations and health insurance were the hallmarks for many working Americans.
Employers and employment are different today. Pensions are the exception to the rule. Real wages are diminishing every day. Insurance is becoming too costly and complex for some employers to offer. Employees, too, have changed. Instead of a focus on the nuts and bolts of employment the way their parents did, many instead focus on other, more personal, value-based aspects of employment.
“Great companies to work for are one of those things – you know it when you see it,” says Dustin Pyeatt, communications manager for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, says that it also depends upon who one asks.
“To some, money is the motivator,” he says. “For other people, it’s the fun. For still others, it is a matter of what all else they get out of the job. It’s a very individual thing.”
Experts on employment and employers tend to agree that the individual desires of an employee vary dramatically and that a great company to work for, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
“Since an employer may not be the best fit for every employee candidate, even though they are regarded as a good employer, this becomes a pretty personal or individual endeavor,” says Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce. “It typically aligns with what individuals look for in a company and opportunity. A potential employee should identify places to work based on their own operating style and personality traits. I think it’s important to assess whether they and the company have the same goals and values.”
Neal suggests that potential employees create a personal checklist of what it is they are seeking in a company and opportunity, as well as a list of what they aren’t seeking.
“In essence, they need to compile some pros and cons that are of importance to them and will carry real weight in the decision-making process,” Neal says.
According to Mark Malone, regional vice president of Robert Half International, a leading specialty staffing service, there are hundreds of things one could take into consideration when evaluating the merit of an employer. Included among these are the obvious markers, such as salaries, benefit packages, opportunity for advancement and overall corporate culture. But there are some less obvious considerations as well.
“Is the work challenging?” Malone asks. “We hear all the time from people that they don’t want to sit and watch the clock. People want a challenge. A lot of people also want increased responsibility.”
Challenge is among other intangibles to consider when evaluating an employer.
“It is equally important to foster creativity and innovation and to recognize the value of diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” says Neal. “Certainly, diversity in the workplace promotes a healthier environment on many levels and promotes innovation and creativity. Much of what makes a company great lies in identifying that their greatest resource or asset is their employees and in helping those employees excel in their respective roles, whatever that role may be.”
Williams refers to the desirable exchange between good employers and employees as empowerment.
“Do they give you the freedom to think and the latitude to be creative? Of course it depends on the specific industry, too,” he says.
Williams adds that, when appropriate, good employers explain the end result they want and then permit employees the freedom to get the company to that goal.
“It’s more that you are part of the success as opposed to you being a cog in the wheel,” Williams says.
With that kind of environment, “employees come to work excited about their work,” Williams says. “It makes people feel like they are pursuing a profession as opposed to going to a job. Good employers help employees grow and to see new opportunities.”
Pyeatt cites numerous other traits that define great employers.
“A company with a clear purpose of vision, defined roles, clear performance goals and expectations, open communication,” he says. “Also, is the company offering a quality product or service – something you can be proud of?”
Young people today have other concerns, with some wanting careers with particular social relevance or in fields or positions that feed their other interests. Some want to work for companies that give back to communities and encourage employees to do the same.
Still other people have little interest in the creative aspects of their jobs or even corporate culture.
“At the end of the day, companies have to pay competitively,” Malone says. “But it’s not everything.”
Of course, tangible benefits have changed since the past, when it boiled down to salary, pension and standard benefits packages.
“You see companies trying to provide employees with a work-life balance, which is important to people,” Malone says. “Flex time goes a long way with people who value work-life balance.”
Other benefits that contemporary job-seekers focused on work-life balance often value are meals, health club memberships and parking.
“Some companies are larger and can do those