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Blog Advanced Insights

Becoming a Top Workplace

iStock_000010361595_MediumWhat is a top workplace? A top workplace has buzz, it can attract and retain top talent. It’s not about the weekly fruit baskets or Beer Fridays, those are just symptoms of a top workplace.

For every 9.5 employees, one is actively disengaged. These employees are rolling against you, eroding the bottom line. They cost employers $300 billion in revenue per year. $300 billion. So, what are some ways to minimize these costs? During the Advanced Resources Thought Leadership Event, “Becoming a Top Workplace,” our panelists shared how their companies have achieved “top workplace” status through employee engagement and communication.


Joseph O’Brien – President and CEO of Interactive Health

John Boyce – Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Centro

Julie Dunn, PHP – HR Manager at William Blair & Company

Corey Turner – National Director, Head of Talent Acquisition, Americas Region for Jones Lang LaSalle

Employee Engagement and Communication

A common denominator in what makes a company a top workplace is the high value that the company places on employee engagement, and the key to employee engagement is excellent communication.  A company’s ability to communicate to employees can greatly influence how engaged its workforce is. Three products of employee engagement that can be communicated experientially and verbally are culture, career paths, and reaction to change.


Culture has three elements:

1. What you’re trying to do as a company.

2. How you’ll do it.

3. The ethical parameters to which we’ll hold ourselves to establish the culture.

No matter how hard you try, though, you cannot force a culture. Culture emerges from every single interaction. Each interaction either helps or hurts the culture, there’s no neutral ground.

As HR professionals, although you can’t control the culture, you can influence it. Avoiding bad hires is one way to influence culture. Hire for character. Ask yourself, “Do they fit here?” Ask interviewees, “What environment do you work best in – do you need everything laid out or do you like autonomy?”

Once the character of the culture is established, work to foster relationships among the different groups in  your company. Culture is made of teams, integration, and ethics. Recognize that there are differences among teams. If your IT team likes to wear jeans in their satellite office, let them wear jeans.  Recognize when one group succeeds and make it known to the rest of the team. This allows employees to see how their work benefits the whole.

Another part of culture is teambuilding. Use teambuilding exercises between groups as long as their aligned with a goal (no, golfing is not categorized as a teambuilding event!). Teambuilding emerges from getting together and solving problems. Look for opportunities where two or more teams have a mutual problem; this is where it makes sense to get people together.

Futhermore, there’s no need to try to force one culture. Not only is it impossible to do, but why have one culture if two are working? Maintain internal culture of each team as long as it’s not dysfunctional.  Promote intercultural communication and have fun with differences in culture.

Create culture champions. These are your future leaders who embody what you’re trying to accomplish. Have them help with messaging.

Career Paths

Transparency is key in developing and communicating employees’ career paths. The career path discussion is a difficult one to have if there’s not a clear path an employee can take at your company, but make sure your employees understand this.  If an employee comes to you as a manager or HR professional and says they’re leaving because they have a better opportunity (be it higher pay or better title) somewhere else, and you think “Well, they could’ve done that here!”, then this should be your wake-up call to fix your career path communications.  Make sure your employees know they have a future at your company.

Some ways to develop a less-than-clear career path are to have managers sit with employees to develop a goal plan for the next year and hold them accountable to that, or create a management development program for those wishing to move up in your company.

If your aim is to retain millennials, understand that this generation has a different mindset when it comes to career planning. Millennials want a career path. They want to know how long it will take them to get to the next level. If you can tell them that, they’ll get there; they strive on achieving goals.

The four fundamentals of the motivation theory can assist you in communicating and developing career paths:

1. Employees must feel like they are doing meaningful work. Make sure he or she knows how his or her work plays into the whole of the company.

2. Employees must feel like they have choice and autonomy within their work.

3. Collaboration needs to happen to help people understand how their work affects others’.

4. Employees must feel like they have development opportunities at your company, they must feel like they are going somewhere.

Reaction to Change

While some people welcome change, others are more hesitant.

Communicating negative news is never an easy task to undertake. However, companies must adopt a “care to confront” attitude in communicating change – employees need to hear the good and the bad. Lay-offs should never be a surprise; you should be frank and open in your company’s status and future.

If you’re tasked with presenting a change in policy, employment, etc. to leadership, it is your job to make sure leadership understands the full picture. If leadership seems to like the idea and then is hesitant to make the change, leadership most likely did not understand the true impact the change would have on time, cost, etc. Be prepared to answer these concerns. On the flip side, people will support changes they don’t necessarily believe in, but will invest in them if they understand why the change is necessary.

There are three keys to communicating change:

1. Employees want to hear about change face-to-face.

2. Employees need to hear it from their direct supervisor.

3. Employees want to know “What’s in it for me?”

Where to Start

Becoming a top workplace often times begins with the company’s struggle to recruit top talent. The most important action to take in becoming a top workplace is to actually get started. Change needs to happen on the inside by creating a better culture, developing career paths and communicating changes clearly.  Then you can start applying for recognition awards.

Applying for Awards

When it comes to being recognized as a top workplace, be selective about choosing which awards you apply for. Applying takes a lot of time and effort, and if you apply for too many, you risk subjecting your employees to survey fatigue.

Awards like Chicago Tribune Top Workplaces, Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For and Crain’s Best Places to Work can be instrumental in attracting not only local talent, but those wishing to relocate. Look, too, at applying at industry-specific awards, like the Moxie Awards for tech companies, to attract certain talent.

Getting Employees to Take Surveys

Communication must come from the CEO. A letter saying why it’s important for employees to participate and thanking them for their participations has been shown to increase response rates.

Take Action

Taking action on survey responses is another must in getting employees to participate. If people see that you’re actually reading survey responses on implementing changes based on them, they are more likely to participate in future surveys.

Thank you to our panelists and attendees!

Interested in attending our next Thought Leadership Event? Visit our events page to register for any of our upcoming events.



Topics: Employee Engagement, Staffing & Recruiting, Thought Leadership

Posted by Advanced Resources on June 27, 2014