What America’s Happiest Workplaces Have In Common

What the happiest companies have in common may surprise you.

What America’s Happiest Workplaces Have In Common
[Photo: Flickr user Joshua Kaufman]

What makes a company a happy place to work?


Several factors, according to independent analysis by Expert Market, a B2B marketplace in the U.S. The company that brought us a comprehensive look at the most LGBT-friendly workplaces in America now turns its sights on the ingredients that add up to company-wide congeniality.

This continues to be a hotly pursued organizational trait. That’s because research from Sigal Barsade of the Wharton School of Business tells us that positive moods prompt “more flexible decision making and wider search behavior and greater analytic precision,” which in turn make the whole company more willing to take risks and be more open. A contented workforce is engaged and productive.

No wonder companies spend about $720 million a year trying to measure and boost employee engagement, according to the most recent analysis of the market. Even so, workers remain less than thrilled to head to work. The most recent Gallup poll found that 51%, were still “not engaged,” and 17.5% were “actively disengaged” in 2014.


Expert Market used the annual CareerBliss roundup of happy companies as a starting point to analyze what these organizations had in common that could contribute to more contentment among their staffs. CareerBliss’s top 50 was drawn from thousands of independent employee surveys that ranked characteristics such as culture, compensation, and coworkers. The result was a diverse swath of organizations that spanned industries from technology to finance, health care to retail. Topping the charts are:

  1. Pfizer
  2. Kaiser Permanente
  3. Texas Instruments
  4. EMC
  5. Qualcomm
  6. KBR
  7. Bristol-Meyers Squibb
  8. General Electric
  9. Capital One
  10. Avaya

The “happiest place on earth” Walt Disney Parks and Resorts landed at number 15, just below Apple. Tech giants Google, Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard were also on the list.

Location, Location

While only two cities in California topped the charts for being among the best places to find a job, a majority (52%) of this year’s happiest companies are located in the Golden State. Expert Market’s analysis found this to be an overwhelming majority, as the next most popular state is Illinois, with only 8% of the happiest companies.


This may be because of the business phenomenon known as clustering. Other regions in the U.S. have long tried to mimic the success of innovation locus Silicon Valley. Regional innovation clusters have proven that they can generate good ideas that get to market more quickly, in part, as Harvard’s Michael Porter has said, because of increased competition.

Another Reason To Have A Woman At The Helm

We’ve uncovered all kinds of evidence that gender diversity is good for business. Equality in the workplace is credited with increased revenue, greater returns to shareholders, and investor confidence.

But the gender gap stubbornly persists at Fortune 500 companies, of which only 4.8% have women in top positions, according to Expert Market’s analysis of Statista data. The happy companies tell another story. Of the 50 in this study, 14% have a female CEO, nearly three times the average representation of women in Fortune 500 organizations.


The tide may not turn soon, though. A recent Weber Shandwick report on female leadership found that less than a quarter of women executives (23%) have their eye on the corner office, as opposed to over one-third (32%) of their male peers.

A Happiness Case For Diversity

It may not come as much of a surprise that some of the organizations that landed on the CareerBliss list of happiest were also on DiversityInc’s list of companies winning the race to increase diversity in their workplaces.

In addition to that, 44 of the 50 happiest companies were surveyed by the Human Rights Campaign in their annual Corporate Equality Index. Among them, 86% had inclusive policies in place to protect their LGBT employees. These include offering diversity education and training programs, allowing employees to self-identify based on gender identity, and offering transgender-inclusive health-care coverage. “Having an inclusive approach to corporate equality instills employees with greater trust that their organization makes their wellbeing a priority in the company agenda,” Expert Market found.


Size Does Matter

As Expert Market observed, 33 of the 50 happiest companies are in the Fortune 500. This makes them some of the largest and most successful corporations in the country.

“The average salary and revenue of these 50 companies also suggest that success fosters happiness,” Expert Market found. Salaries at these companies average $67,000 with revenues coming in at around $34.8 billion.

While healthy revenues certainly make executives and shareholders happy, they also often translate to increased resources for employees including higher salaries. We also know that a $67,000-a-year paycheck is quite close to the magic number for earning satisfaction.


A Princeton study that measured the dollar figure that triggered contentment among 450,000 U.S. residents found that number to be the income threshold that was enough to mitigate the stress that comes from not having enough money to pay for health care or adequate housing. Although in practice, the CEO of Gravity Payments who raised his staff’s minimum wage to $70K found that it wasn’t always a guarantee.

Expert Market’s brand manager Bobbi Brant tells Fast Company that the overwhelming trend that makes a happy work environment is being inclusive. “A company that shows women they can progress to top leadership levels, and assures their LGBT employees that they will not be discriminated against, creates an overall feeling of trust that then boosts employee wellbeing,” she says.


About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.