This year, the fourth in Accounting Today's collaboration with the Harrisburg, Pa.-based Best Companies Group to present the annual Best Firms to Work For survey, saw a hefty 36 percent increase in participating companies - with 224 firms vying for 100 spots on the elite list.
Of those making the cut, 38 firms were new to the ranking, an impressive feat in today's economy, but also reflecting growing participation, as 59 more firms submitted surveys in 2011 than last year's crop of 165. A total of 130 companies were repeat participants this year.
Those firms that overcame financial uncertainty to land in the top 100, compensated for any decrease in benefits and internal programs by focusing "on more intangible things employers offer, which encourage [employees] to be more engaged in the workplace," said Susan Springer, director of workplace assessments for the Best Companies Group. "Things like: culture, being more flexible, trying to instill more camaraderie, trying to be more transparent with communicating things going on in the organization financially and strategically - things that are very low-cost but very important and key drivers for satisfaction and engagement."
These intangibles were measured in two parts: through an Employer Benefits & Policies Questionnaire assessing overall culture, programs, policies and demographics from the firm perspective, and the Employee Engagement & Satisfaction Survey that touches on corporate culture and communications, role satisfaction, supervisor relationships, training and development, and overall engagement.
The employer survey composes 25 percent of the overall firm score and the employee responses the remaining 75.
The 100 honored companies are divided into the categories of small, medium and large firms, with Las Vegas-based Johnson Jacobson Wilcox placing first in the category of firms with 15 to 49 employees, Lutz & Co., of Omaha, Neb., taking top honors in the 50-249 employee category and Miami-based Kaufman, Rossin & Co. topping the large firm category for companies with 250 or more employees.
Overall, five large companies, 45 midsized firms and 50 small-sized firms were named to this year's list.
All 100 firms were honored, while representatives from the top three in each category accepted awards, at the Accounting Today Growth & Profitability Summit awards luncheon in October at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
In the employee survey, all three size groups excelled in the work environment category, with the highest level of survey participants across the board responding positively to questions about their physical space. Overall employee engagement also cut across size categories, coming in second for all groups, and tying with supervisor relationships for small-sized firm respondents.
The lowest scorer in employee satisfaction was also consistent for every firm size: pay and benefits.
Springer stressed that open communication was a top priority for high-scoring firms.
"You need to make sure there is a consistent two-way dialogue as much as possible so there are no surprises; everyone has as much say in the decision-making process as possible," she elaborated. It's all about "focusing on the positive, offering thorough explanations of the negatives - within any industry."
The accounting profession is uniquely positioned to offer the old employee favorite of flexible time, which Springer says many firms are utilizing in new ways with technological advancements, though often on a "case-by-case basis." Firms that have experimented with employees working virtually and outside of the traditional cubicle set-up have found "success in the realm of employee satisfaction and engagement."
The role of technology was equally apparent in the surveys themselves; of the 224 companies that submitted, only one utilized paper surveys instead of the online option.
Many markers of employee contentment transcended the profession, however.
"What drives employees to be with an employer are very universal," Springer said. "They want to be appreciated; feel the work they do is valuable to the success of an organization or saving the world; want to have time to pursue their own interests; want to have fun at work; and look forward to each day."
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