Once a year since 1983, Fortune magazine has come out with a “most admired American companies” list. To be high on the list of most admired companies is a great tribute, to be sure, but are these organisations the healthiest places to work?
Fortune made an effort to answer that question by publishing a, “best companies to work for” list. Corporate characteristics such as inspirational leadership, excellent facilities (including those that rank as perks) and a sense of purpose were key traits in those organisations that obtained a prominent position on this list. According to the information given, employees in the winning organisations had a great trust in management, tremendous pride in their work and organisation and a sense of camaraderie.
These perceptions arose in part because these companies subscribed to practices such as stock option plans, profit sharing systems, no-layoff policies, non-hierarchical structures, information sharing systems, flexible hours and even casual dress codes. Being pioneers in innovative perks also added to this positive picture - perks such as state-of-the-art fitness centres, leisure facilities, on-site clinics, on-site childcare, creative family-oriented extras, great cafeterias with great food and generous health insurance policies. In short, the companies high on this list went to great lengths to create humane corporate cultures that would positively affect mental health. But what are the psychological dimensions that make these companies such great places to work?
The containment role of organisations In the context of providing a stabilising influence, organisations have always been important orientation points in a sea of change. With life in organisations more turbulent now than ever, the companies listed on the “best to work for” hit parade are more the exception than the rule. In most organisations in this era of business re-engineering and excessive preoccupation with shareholder value, the “psychological contract” - the commitment to reward organisational loyalty with long-term employment - has been broken.
In the past, being associated with a company was an effective way to affirm one’s role in the world. Making a commitment of loyalty to the company helped an employee integrate his or her self-experiences; in other words, it contributed in establishing a sense of identity. Affiliation with an organisation also helped employees cope with economic and social upheaval, because organisations (whether consciously or unconsciously) played the role of “holding environment,” containing anxiety through the agency of senior management (and thereby contributing a measure of stability); that too was part of the psychological contract.
Yet now, in this age of overwhelming discontinuity, employees must do without that traditional pillar of stability. The costs associated with the breaking of the psychological contract are high: as the identification process has weakened, the work situation has become more stressful. This development does not augur well for the mental health of employees. Despite the gloomy outlook, however, organisational leadership can take positive steps to make their companies healthier places to work. »