What Drives the 'Best Workplaces'?

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Let’s go with some conservative estimates here: Pretend you worked just 40 hours each week (I know; some of you are laughing at this). And imagine you sleep a full eight hours per night (even funnier, right?), and never work on weekends (come on, it’s not that funny). Add it up, and that would mean that you spend roughly 36 percent of your waking hours at work. Obviously, that number jumps up quite a bit the more hours you put in at the shop—it’d be 44 percent if you worked 50 hours; 54 percent if you worked 60. (But, hey, if you’re working that much, you likely aren’t sleeping much, either! So, you have that going for you … I guess.)

How does that number make you feel? Were you overcome with a sense of dread, self-loathing and frustration? Or were you reinvigorated with a high level of excitement and determination? Maybe somewhere in between?

I’m not judging, but I think you can look at your reaction as a pretty solid judgement on your true feelings as to the state of your business and, more importantly, the culture in your operation—the culture you build, nurture and set each day as its leader.

OK, hold on to that thought for a moment here.

Associate editor Tess Collins’ lead feature this month launches a brand-new (soon-to-be) regular campaign we’ll do annually in Ratchet+Wrench: The 2020 Best Workplaces. In the feature, Tess profiles three operations, all with incredibly strong and impressive team cultures that truly make these businesses stand out in their progressive approaches to leadership, management, and team building. The shops were selected through a vetting process, based on nominations from you, our readers. In all, 117 different shops were nominated—all very deserving and worthy of the praise the nominators heaped on them. Our team looked at everything from benefits to PTO to training opportunities to various open-ended questions about team-building and company atmosphere. There were follow-up interviews, further follow-up phone calls, and a lot of internal discussion. We’re nothing if not thorough, and we’re very excited to share those stories with you this month. 

Really, this feature is a bittersweet one, because on the one hand, we love to profile businesses and leaders like these, people we can all learn a great deal from and would do well to work to emulate. But on the other hand, we know that across all industries, these types of company cultures are more an exception, rather than the norm.

To steal a line from Tess’ feature: “Eighty-seven percent of Americans have no passion for their jobs and 80 percent are outright dissatisfied.” Those statistics are from a Deloitte survey, and sadly, they don’t surprise me. 

Building a business can be a grind. Leading teams can be difficult and emotionally exhausting. The pressure to perform and succeed can be overwhelming. And it can be difficult not to take those feelings in through the front door each day you come to work. I get it, but as the old saying goes, cultures are built—and ripped apart—from the top down. The challenging part is that your vibe as the leader sets the tone for everyone. 

So, how do you break out of it? Well, I think our three Best Workplace honories and their teams share a lot of great ideas in this month’s feature. Be sure to read it, and feel free to connect with them to get more insight. (Hint: All three of them will be at a certain event in September that you can find more details about at But one of the great things about their advice is that it’s not complicated; they don’t do anything over-the-top or outlandish. Most of it is simple; these are strategies that anyone can use. It just needs to be sincere and intentional.

Sure, the pressure on a leader can be trying at times, but one nice perk is that it comes with the ability to make a great impact. You get to choose the tone you set, and you get to choose the attitude you have about coming into work each day. And you get to spread that. It’s up to you.



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