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Overview: 100 Best Places to Work in IT

Imaginative perks sweeten the pot. But hard-to-achieve basics like leading technologies, personal investment and a sense of fulfillment are what will make IT employees stay put in a changing economy. This year's top 100 companies have figured out how to give workers the substance along with the frills.

By Mary Brandel
June 14, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Get ready to drool. If you worked at General Mills Inc. in Minneapolis, right now you'd be enjoying the many amenities of the company's newly built three-story employee services building, dubbed the Champions Center.

The 138,000-square-foot building houses a hair salon, fitness center, credit union, medical and travel services and company store. Employees can take advantage of the concierge service, retail specialty shops, and a cafeteria and deli that offer take-home meals. By 2005, the campus will also include two more lactation rooms, bringing the total number to seven, and the on-site infant care center will double in size.

But is that what Phil Semmer, CIO at the $11.5 billion food giant, talks about when discussing what makes his company No. 19 in this year's Best Places to Work in IT rankings? No, he would prefer to discuss its job-rotation strategy, in which new IT employees are cycled through three different job functions within their first five years at General Mills. Semmer is also proud of the company's standardization on a handful of vendors to simplify IT and minimize costs, its limited use of IT contractors and its per-capita training budget.

"Our focus is on end results rather than process, and on developing talented staff," Semmer says. "Because they work in an organization that is consistent yet innovative, IS employees are able to be more successful."

The fact is, having a mall on campus -- while nice -- won't retain unhappy workers if the current economic climate leads to opportunities elsewhere. Once job growth returns, career options like those offered at General Mills will distinguish the companies that serve as refuges in a down economy from those that are great places to work.

General Mills' HR director for IS Mary Kaul-Hottinger, CIO Phil Semmer and IS marketing department manager Marilee Giron.
General Mills' HR director for IS Mary Kaul-Hottinger, CIO Phil Semmer and IS marketing department manager Marilee Giron.
Image Credit: Steve Wewerka
The working conditions that IT employees desire haven't really changed much over time. This year's Best Places to Work in IT program - which included a survey of nearly 17,000 IT employees at the top 100 companies - found that the top desired benefits after basics like paid vacation and health care coverage focus on the classic three: technology, training and flexible schedules (for a detailed look at how the final 100 Best Places were chosen, see page 34).

What has changed in the past couple of years, with the still-uncertain economy, is companies' ability to offer these benefits. Layoffs among the Best Places are up: Forty-six percent of companies on the 2004 list let workers go last year, compared with 28% of companies on the 2003 list. Offshore outsourcing stayed steady, with an average of 33 contractors employed at companies on the 2003 and 2004 Best Places lists. Conditions do look more favorable in the year ahead -- 100% of companies on this year's list have budgeted for salary increases for IT employees in 2004, and 49% say training budgets will go up. Still, it's no wonder that 37% of employees say their workplace is "very stressful" or "stressful."

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