What Are The Secrets Of The Best Workplaces In the World?

by Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers on February 18, 2020
iOFFICE Hummingbird: A Leading Workplace Experience Platform

Although the workplace experience looks very different from one country to another, most employees around the world want the same things. What makes a great workplace experience, and what can we learn from some of the best workplaces in the world?

What Makes A Great Workplace Experience?

At a time when employees have more options than ever—including the option to work for themselves in the gig economy—the workplace experience is a significant differentiator. A great one sets your company apart from the competition, making it easier to attract and retain top talent.

In short, the workplace experience is the sum of all interactions employees have with your organization.

Research shows employees who believe they have a great workplace experience stay at your company three years longer on average.

By contrast, a negative one leads to high turnover, reduced productivity, a negative public perception and poor business outcomes.

So what makes a great workplace experience? According to Marie Puybaraud, Global Head of Research at JLL, the workplace experience is based on three factors:

  • Engagement – A sense of commitment to your organization
  • Empowerment – A sense of control and choice
  • Fulfillment – A sense of comfort and wellbeing

These factors are universal.

No matter where they live and work, every employee wants to feel connected to their workplace, have more freedom to choose how, when and where they work, and work in a comfortable environment that prioritizes their wellbeing.

Where Are The Best Workplaces In The World?

It might seem difficult to objectively quantify what makes a great workplace, but there are researchers who analyze the data and publish rankings every year. For instance, the Great Places to Work Institute ranks the best workplaces in the world by comparing organizations in 58 countries with 5,000 or more employees.

Topping the list in 2019 were many well-known global companies, including:

  • Cisco
  • Hilton
  • Salesforce
  • DHL Express
  • Mars, Inc.
  • SAP
  • EY
  • Stryker Corp.
  • SAS
  • Workday

While it’s worth taking a closer look at each of these workplaces individually, six common themes emerge:

  1. Employees feel physically safe in the work environment.
  2. Employees believe they are treated fairly, regardless of gender, race, age and sexual orientation.
  3. Employees feel welcome.
  4. Employees are proud to tell others they work there.
  5. Employees feel good about how they are contributing to the community.
  6. Employees are able to take time off when necessary.

Cultural Differences In the Workplace Experience

Although the workplace is becoming increasingly global, with fewer distinctions between offices from one country to the next, the standards for what makes a great workplace experience are still influenced by cultural factors. Cultural differences in attitudes about work can impact employee happiness, engagement and even productivity.

For instance, Denmark, Norway and Sweden consistently rank top among the countries with the happiest employees, according to Universum’s Global Workforce Happiness Index.

We can learn a lot from these differences, so they’re worth exploring.

Denmark: The World’s Happiest Employees

Denmark has been consistently ranked No. 1 for employee happiness worldwide. The country even has a saying that sums up its attitude toward the workplace experience: arbejdsglæde. Pronounced “ah-bides-glull,” this word means “happiness at work” and sums up the Scandinavian attitude toward the workplace. In her book, The Atlas of Happiness: The Global Secrets of How To Be Happy, author Helen Russell describes this idea in more detail.

The biggest takeaway is that it’s all about balance. Although the official work week is 37 hours, research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development finds the average Dane only works about 33 hours a week.

Denmark’s “Holiday Act” grants every employee five weeks of paid vacation per year, and there are at least 13 national holidays. There’s an emphasis on flexibility and autonomy, too.

“Arbejdsglæde means you have the freedom to make your job work around your private life, which takes a lot of stress away and definitely makes us happier,” said one employee Russell interviewed for the book.

In return, employees say they are more motivated and focused.

Workplaces strongly encourage employees to take communal lunch breaks and leave the office promptly at 4 p.m.

Working until 7 p.m. is more likely to earn you a lecture on efficiency and time management than a pat on the back.

Does arbejdsglæde actually make Danish employees more productive? Research affirms it does — Denmark is the fourth most productive country in the world, according to Expert Market data.

Quick Tips For Improving Employee Happiness

  • Give employees more freedom to choose how, when and where they work.
  • Take time to reward achievements and celebrate milestones.
  • Ask employees for input on what workplace amenities they value most.

United States And China: Most Engaged Workplaces

China is tied with the United States for having the most engaged workplaces, according to The Marcus Buckingham Company’s Global Engagement Report.

Both countries have, on average, 19% of their workforces fully engaged, while most countries who participated in the survey hovered around 15%, according to the research.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the workplace factors with the greatest impact on employee engagement are different from one country to the next.

In both China and the U.S., the most powerful predictor of employee engagement is being enthusiastic about the mission of the company.

In the UK and India, the greatest predictor of employee engagement is being surrounded by people who share common values.

In France and Canada, it’s the belief that “my teammates have my back,” while in Australian workplaces, it’s “having confidence in my company’s future.”

Personal development is an important factor for employee engagement across many countries, but it seems to have particular significance in Spain. The greatest predictor of employee engagement was the belief that they are “always challenged to grow,” according to the survey. While there are some distinct differences in what motivates employees across the globe, some employee engagement strategies appear to be universal.

Quick Tips For Improving Employee Engagement

  • Help your managers become better coaches.
  • Prioritize professional development.
  • Work toward improving company-wide communication.

European Countries: Healthiest Workplaces

Europe has a number of countries ranking among the healthiest countries in the world, including Spain (No. 1), Italy (No. 2) and Switzerland (No. 5).

While dietary habits and cultural factors seem to play a significant role in overall health, European countries invest more in workplace wellness than most other countries worldwide, according to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI.)

It’s a smart investment, considering the economic costs of illness is estimated to be as high as 10-15% of global economic output, according to the GWI. The costs related to stress and burnout are also significant—estimated to be as high as $650 billion in Europe alone. Recognizing the need to take action, European workplaces have become more proactive about workplace wellness. Twenty-three percent of employees have access to workplace wellness programs, compared to just 9% of employees globally.

As companies compete for top talent globally, many are realizing they need to invest in this area. In a report on the future of workplace wellness, the Global Wellness Institute predicts today’s compartmentalized programs will be phased out in favor of a more holistic approach. We are already seeing this in many European workplaces. Here are just a few examples.

Workplace Wellness Initiatives In Europe

  • A Stockholm-based startup provides anonymous counseling to employers and their work.
  • Fika, an app named after the Swedish tradition of coffee breaks during the workday, focuses on developing employees’ emotional fitness through reflection and connection with others.
  • Shleep is a corporate program that includes educational workshops and a mobile app to help employees sleep better.

United Kingdom: Most Intelligent Buildings

Smart buildings are enhancing the workplace experience in a variety of ways.

The latest intelligent building technology improves employee comfort by adjusting lighting, temperature and humidity levels based on occupancy, for instance. Intelligent buildings equipped with IoT sensors can be more responsive to the needs of the workforce, improving wellbeing and productivity in addition to optimizing costs.

Workplace leaders believe smart buildings will deliver measurable benefits for organizations, according to a survey by British Land. They expect a 51% increase in both productivity and employee wellbeing, on average, and they anticipate that smart office technology will provide the sort of appeal that attracts new candidates to the organization.

The United Kingdom has some of the smartest buildings in the world, including:

  • Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, which uses Bluetooth beacons and a smartphone app to help fans find their way around and even helps them find a restroom with the shortest line.
  • The Crystal, which features a sophisticated building management system that monitors and optimizes electricity usage and makes adjustments to air flow based on outdoor temperatures.
  • The Leadenhall Building, London’s tallest building (nicknamed the Cheesegrater) which uses IoT technology to manage every asset and kilowatt of electricity.

While these examples were built as smart buildings from the ground up, any workplace can use building intelligence to improve the occupant experience.

3 Ways to Make Your Building Smarter

  • Add sensors to conference rooms and individual workstations to measure and improve space utilization.
  • Install responsive lighting.
  • Add sensors to restrooms to enable demand-based cleaning and notify your maintenance team when supplies are low.

What Can We Learn From the World’s Best Workplaces?

When it comes to building a better workplace, we can find inspiration everywhere. Building a workplace culture that emphasizes flexibility, connectivity and wellbeing leads to measurable gains in employee engagement and productivity, as we’ve seen in these examples of some of the world’s best workplaces.

The way our workplace is designed, the technology it uses and the policies that keep it running all play an important role. And at a time when people can work anywhere they have internet access, it has never been more important to create the kind of workplace experience that keeps them all connected.

To learn more about how iOFFICE Hummingbird connects employees to create the ultimate workplace experience, download the latest report from Verdantix.


Tiffany Bloodworth Rivers

Tiffany covers leadership and marketing topics and enjoys learning about how technology shapes our industry. Before iOFFICE, she worked in local news but don't hold that against her.

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