Among the corporations on the Fortune 500 list, Google was recently ranked as the Best Company to Work For. Its attraction seems to be mostly about the corporate culture – or, hand on heart, is it really not about the creature comforts?

According to the report, Google employees rave about the mission and culture. But they also cite the famous perks: bocce courts, a bowling alley, some 25 cafés companywide – all you can eat for free.

“Employees are never more than 150 feet away from a well-stocked pantry,” one Googler wrote.

Google, having set out to create a culture all its own, seems to embody a trend towards maximum pampering. It combines its hunt for the perfect algorithms with respect for the life rhythm of an expanding and very loyal workforce.

Others high on the list are good pamperers, too.

Take No. 3, SAS Institute. The software consulting company – its slogan is “The Power to Know” – offers subsidized Montessori child care, unlimited sick time, free health care, intramural sports.

No. 4, Wegmans Food Markets, is a family-owned grocery chain. Its lode star is employee health. Already, 2,000 of its staff have enrolled in a free smoking-cessation program that began in 2009. This year, it opened a 24/7 health hotline.

Examples on list go on in this vein. As lists go, here the people have clearly spoken.

What do experts say about what makes for a great place to work? They seem to agree.

A cursory desk-top trawl yields some good insights as to what younger, ambitious high-flyers want. Pretty much everything, it seems.

  • Flexibility –  let the employee determine when, how and where she or he works. At an AstraZeneca unit in Wilmington, Delaware, 20 of the 30 employees use tailored set-ups. At Motorola’s technology-acceleration group in Chicago, all 50 employees work flexible hours from home. And at a nutrition group of Abbott Laboratories in Columbus, Ohio, the only day everyone has to be in the office is Wednesday.
  • Broader programs – paid paternity leave, and other family-friendly privileges extended beyond women to encompass men.
  • The work environment – not only dressing up the office building with fitness centers and cafés, but letting people and groups personalize their open or cubicle spaces.
  • Vacation time – lots of vacation, starting in year one. Xerox last year allowed workers to buy an extra vacation week through a cut in pay – 7 percent jumped at the chance.

But wait a minute.

Apart from the reference to the corporate culture at Google, the winner, there is little on the list of what makes companies great (or in the expert overview) that lies in the purview of the CCO.

Should it not worry us that not more cite a brilliantly expressed purpose of the company, a captivating narrative and progressive stakeholder engagement policies as core to being the Best Place to Work?

No, but it should make CCOs pay attention to seemingly mundane aspects of everyday life that are so greatly valued. Why? Because they also express the culture that we have a responsibility to curate, and they demonstrate the behaviors that demonstrate and shape a company’s character.

The creature comforts, once embedded in a company’s way of life, tell us that the leadership value and respect the employees, both their immediate health and well-being and their right to a work-life balance.

And compared with the corporate cultures that pay outrageously for business performance but treat their employees like gladiators and/or cannon fodder, a company that allows me flexible work hours away from the office and close to my aging parents behaves at a totally different level of humanity.

As evidence by the top three – Google, Boston Consulting and the SAS Institute – looking after employees well certainly doesn’t make a company a middling performer.

Moreover, since a spirit of mutual respect will underlie any culture that results in good treatment of employees, expressing the corporation’s role in society should become easier. Such companies will have an enlightened leadership imbued with societal competence.

And that helps the CCOs work-life balance – you can get ahead of the curve by being in synch with your business and societal environment.

By Bjorn Edlund
Chairman Europe, Middle East and Africa, Edelman
Retd EVP Communications, Royal Dutch Shell plc