Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" issue profiles number one Google with pictures of happy employees eating, swimming, playing volleyball, and doing laundry, all within the confines of the company's Mountain View "campus."
The magazine's paean to the cult of Google read like a throwback to dot-com values, even as it perpetuated the image of it as a type-A paradise. But Fortune fails to provide what's truly important: real insight into what ordinary companies can do to build a productive and positive workplace. Lavish perks are easily laid on when your stock price exceeds $400 and the innovation pipeline seems unlimited. But for companies that are just getting by, or that are part of industries in transition (ad agencies and newspaper publishing, for example), incentive strategies can wreck havoc with the bottom line.
What's missing is clear direction for all companies and insights into how to measure their employee efforts concretely. Fortune's overemphasis of perks undermines its central point: Google is fostering innovation continuously. But it brings us no closer to understanding how.
Few companies will ever be Google - and Google probably will not be Google forever. Being the ideal employer has less to do with what goodies are lavished on employees and more with how employees feel about themselves and the organization. More space should have been spent quantifying the elusive ingredients of teamwork that Google prizes so highly. There is little insight here.
While The Economist focuses on the troubling issue of brainpower shortages, Fortune and others are still mired in shallow thinking. A ranking of this stature should do more to help companies uncover the secrets to employee engagement over the long term, not just for the duration of a volleyball game.