Glassdoor recently released its annual “Best Places to Work” list, based off of 800,000 anonymous evaluations completed in the past year. The winner, unsurprisingly, was tech giant Google.

But what was interesting was not necessarily seeing the top 10 companies, but reading the reviews of those top 10 companies. I went through each one, and I noticed a theme: yes, they offered great benefits and great leadership.

But, ironically, enough, a lot of the top 10 companies were working their employees hard. Really hard. For example, here is a review from a former employee of first-place finisher Google:

“I don't know if Google inadvertently hires the work-a-holics or if they create work-a-holics in us. Regardless, I have seen way too many of the following: marriages fall apart, colleagues choosing work and projects over family, colleagues getting physically sick and ill because of stress, colleagues crying while at work because of the stress, colleagues shooting out emails at midnight, 1am, 2am, 3am. It is absolutely ridiculous and something needs to change.”

It is strange that Google would be considered by its own employees to be the best company to work for in the world with those sorts of demands. What’s even stranger was it was not an aberration.

More Examples

The second-most desirable company to work for was Bain & Company, a Boston-based consultant firm. Again, the chief complaint was “long hours, for sure.”

Third on the list is Nestle Purina PetCare. Again, the chief complaint: “You are ‘on’ all of the time and many times receive requests while on PTO or your manager sets precedent and emails during their time off.”

It goes on and on and on. F5 Networks, Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company and other of the companies listed all had similar complaints from their workers: long hours, big challenges and the worry that you are “on” all the time.

Granted, most of these companies also offer great benefits and high salaries. So does that mean you can work your employees into the ground, if you pay them enough?

Not exactly.

What It Really Means

First off, it is worth noting that the companies that are considered the most desirable are attracting a specific type of worker: high performers. Google, for example, spends millions of dollars finding the absolute best people who are completely dedicated to their craft.

So these people are generally hard workers who care about what they do and are probably going to work a lot of hours, regardless.

But it goes beyond that. In the book Evolve!: Succeeding in the Digital Culture of Tomorrow, author Rosabeth Moss Kanter discovered that the happiest employees at any company were often the ones who work longer hours.

However, it wasn’t just that they were working for the sake of work. Those people found the work to be meaningful and were hell-bent on mastering it, to the point their work became something they really wanted to accomplish, as opposed to having to accomplish it.

The book Drive by Daniel H. Pink looked into what really motivates employees and he discovered something very similar. He found the happiest employees worked longer hours on more challenging work, motivated primarily by “intrinsic” factors like mastery and purpose.

Bottom line

People like challenges. Just ask someone their favorite work memory, and they almost invariably mention a difficult challenge that they overcame.

On the surface, you would think these long hours would make the employees at the top 10 most-desirable companies less happy. But it could actually have an opposite effect, as although people are working longer hours they are willing to do so because they are doing work they really care about.

So, if you really want to have a great culture, it isn’t just about giving away free snacks and unlimited vacation time. More importantly, workers have to feel their work is both challenging and meaningful.

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