Support of employees raising families, more flexibility and more fun at work than ten years ago, are some of the benefits added to America's best workplaces, according to the Great Place to Work Institute which partners with FORTUNE to produce the annual "100 Best Companies to Work For" list.
"While many commentators long for the workplace of old -- with fully paid health care, generous pensions and lifetime job security -- we see that for many lucky employees, the workplace has never been better," says Robert Levering, co-founder of the Great Place to Work Institute, an international research and consulting firm, and co-author of FORTUNE's list with Milton Moskowitz.
Increased use of employee stock ownership, increased racial and gender diversity and improved internal communications are some other important changes at the best companies.
Over the last decade, the greatest policy changes among the FORTUNE list concern improvements to work-family benefits. Changes noted are:
• 79 of the companies now offer compressed work weeks on a year-round basis, compared to just 25 companies 10 years ago.
• 82 provide telecommuting opportunities, compared to the 18 in 1998.
• 72 now offer job sharing programs, compared to only 18 a decade ago.
Cisco has 90 percent of its workforce telecommuting or working from home and at least five others on the new list have 50 percent or more telecommuting, compared to only one company 10 years ago.
One of the least common practices ten years ago was to include benefits for domestic partners and same sex couples in benefit plan coverage, yet 28 of the best companies had such plans. Today 70 companies offer these benefits.
These improvements are reflected in a random sample of 195,000 employees at 446 companies of the 2007 FORTUNE list that the Institute's Trust Index surveyed. Results for all of the 57 Institute questions showed an increased improvement between 1998 and 2007. This was the largest simultaneous employee survey in corporate America.
A full 80-percent of employees on the 100 Best" list reported management encourages them to balance work and personal life, an increase of 11-percent, and 84-percent believe employers offer unique, special benefits today, a six-percent increase in ten years.
Other increases of note include an eight-percent increase in employees' perception of the competence of management and a 15-percent increase in employees' feelings of opportunities offered by employers to receive special recognition.
"These improvements are a direct result of global competition. More companies now realize that they cannot compete successfully unless they attract and hold onto the most qualified workers," added Levering. "Today's employees simply won't put up with a lousy workplace environment. And women workers in particular are demanding a more family-friendly milieu. So we expect that the workplace will continue to improve as the competition for qualified workers should intensify over the next decade."
The one constant in the findings is that the best companies still outperform their peers. A portfolio of publicly-traded "100 Best" stocks, started in 1998 and reinvested annually to reflect changes in the list, would yield a 14.6-percent return today, according to Russell Investment Group analysis and that number nearly triples the 5.96-percent return of the S&P 500.