November 2nd, 2021
[Portions of the following blog originally appeared as a post on Forbes.com that Edward Segal wrote as a Leadership Strategy contributor. His other posts on Forbes.com can be read at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/2021/08/24/meet-americas-best-employers-by-state-2021/?sh=58b5067f4974]
The Covid-19 pandemic has tested corporate America in unprecedented ways. And just when it seemed the crisis would subside, the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be another oncoming train in the form of the Delta variant. At the same time, leaders have had to motivate talent and pursue profits amid a sensitive political landscape that spurred new levels of corporate activism.
It was against this backdrop that Forbes partnered with market research company Statista to compile our annual list of America’s Best Employers By State. The list is divided into 51 rankings—one for each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia—and was compiled by surveying 80,000 Americans working for businesses with at least 500 employees. Surveys were conducted on a rolling basis from October 2020 to June 2021. Unlike Forbes’ annual lists of the best large and midsize employers, this ranking seeks to demonstrate how perceptions of companies differ from state to state based on local leadership and economies. We then ranked the top 3 to 101 companies in each state, depending on the size of its workforce.
Despite being among the hardest hit by the pandemic, employers in healthcare, education and retail dominated the rankings, accounting for 41% of the 2021 list, up from 38% last year. In retail, for example, sales plunged a record 16.4% in April 2020, while 2.1 million employees lost their jobs. Walmart, which was named a top employer in 27 states, bucked this trend: Ecommerce sales grew 74% during this time, propelled by consumer demand for grocery pickup and delivery and spurring the hiring of more than 235,000 store associates.
Despite its popularity among surveyed workers, the country’s largest private employer has not been immune to the talent challenges that have plagued its peers. Just last month, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer announced it would cover the cost of college tuition and books for its 1.5 million part- and full-time associates in an effort to attract and retain talent. (Target, another top employer, is doing the same.) Walmart also announced that it would buck the trend of recent years and close on Thanksgiving Day, as a thank you for employees’ hard work amid the pandemic.
The biggest challenge, of course, is keeping workers safe. After complaints about unsafe working conditions in the early days of the pandemic, the company has taken a variety of steps toward ensuring employees’ safety, including installing protective plexiglass barriers at registers and limiting the number of shoppers allowed in stores at any given time.
In July, Walmart also issued a mask mandate for all store employees in high-risk counties, and a vaccine requirement for all corporate staff and management-level employees. Those workers who aren’t required to get their shots have been incentivized to do so through cash bonuses and paid time off, including up to three days’ worth of leave in case they have adverse reactions to the vaccine. Now that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine has full FDA approval, of course, that policy may change.