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Mass. employers shine brighter

Mark McGinnis for The Boston Globe

None of the questions in the Top Places to Work survey mentions regular exercise, sleep habits, or kale, but a careful reading of this year’s results can indicate whether a company is “healthy.”

That’s the opinion of Doug Claffey, chief executive of WorkplaceDynamics of Exton, Pa., which conducted the survey for the Globe. Claffey believes a company is healthy when employees “buy in” to what the organization is doing.

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The good news: Massachusetts companies are among the healthiest in the nation based on data gathered by WorkplaceDynamics.

First of all, Massachusetts is a “positive” place to work. Out of the 30 US metro areas and regions that WorkplaceDynamics surveyed, Massachusetts scored third in positive responses to 20 common questions. Austin, Texas, and Tampa were numbers one and two.

But organizational healthiness is more than just positive thinking. To Claffey, a healthy organization is one that sets a clear direction for its future and how it conducts itself, has a culture of high performance, and creates a strong connection between employees and the company by showing appreciation and bringing meaning to work.

These factors are revealed in how employees respond to specific statements in the survey, such as, “I feel well informed about important decisions at this company.” In Massachusetts, 68 percent of the employees surveyed responded positively to that statement, 4 percentage points higher than the national average. Another bellwether survey statement — “Senior managers understand what is really happening at this company” — also got a response that was above the national average.

These Top Places results come as “organizational health” is catching on as a business metric.

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“We now believe that the health of an organization is as important as its performance,” said Scott Keller, a senior partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Co., and the coauthor of “Beyond Performance,” a book about assessing organizational health.

“It’s similar to the way that hospitals are moving to an integrated care model, looking at the whole patient — mental, physical, and emotional,” he said. “That’s how we are approaching our business clients: We’re looking at performance and organizational health.”

Patrick Lencioni, president of The Table Group, a consulting firm in Lafayette, Calif., is another advocate of organizational health. The author of “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business,” he said that great companies “aren’t smarter, they are healthier.”

What characterizes a healthy company? A cohesive leadership team, clarity of purpose, and high levels of communication and reinforcement, Lencioni said. Improving a company’s health doesn’t just make people feel better, Lencioni added, it will make the company more profitable.

“This isn’t about being touchy-feely,” he said. “This is about winning.”

One universally agreed-on attribute of healthy companies — good communication — is captured two ways in the Top Places survey: managers listening to employees and managers keeping employees in the loop. Massachusetts companies fared well in both areas, above the national average.

What’s also captured in this year’s survey is the impact of Europe’s economic troubles and the gridlock in Washington, which dampened the outlook of some Massachusetts workers. When workers were asked whether they were “confident about my future at this company,” positive responses were down by 3 percentage points this year over last.

On the plus side, positive responses to the statement “I have the flexibility I need to balance my work and personal life” are up more than 3 percentage points this year over last.

The Globe’s 2012 Top Places also features something new this year: a category for companies with 50 to 99 employees. Twenty-five companies of this size made this year’s list.

The New England Tractor Trailer Training School, which has 65 employees in Quincy and North Andover, is one of the small employers making its debut on the list.

“It makes sense to include small companies, because we are the bulk of the state’s businesses,” said Don Lane, senior executive director of the company’s North Andover campus.

Lane said the new category is also a recognition of the unique challenges of managing small businesses. “We’re so closely knit, it’s like a small family,” he said. “Maybe at a bigger corporation you can sort of blend in. Not here.”

D.C. Denison can be reached at denison@globe.com.
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