Why the 'best companies to work for' lists are bonkers

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The morning I decided to quit 


It was a beautiful spring morning in London. I arrived in my office and went to the cafeteria where they served free breakfast. Not just a few cereal containers and semi skim milk - it’s the most delicious buffet breakfast. I passed that big, blue F logo and climbed upstairs to my ergonomically-fitted desk. I opened my laptop. The first email that I saw made me slam my laptop closed, ran to the sleeping pod on the third floor, and sobbed. 

It’s an email from my manager: “I don’t see what’s the problem here.”

For months I had been trying to get people’s attention to this problem: We have no scalable way to identify whether a client’s business model is against our policy. 

Our clients are businesses who advertise on our platform. We take their money, and push their ads in front of our billions of users. 

When a client spends enough money (a few million dollars a year), the client is eligible to be managed by our account managers. Which means internally there will be people - the sales team and its leadership - who are fighting for these businesses to stay alive, even when their business models are unethical. 

Think websites that scam older generations to input their contact details to get ‘their funeral cost taken care of’. Or content websites sharing low quality, divisive, click-baity articles only to lure people in and click more ads on their websites. 

I was in the team whose responsibility was advising managed clients on our advertising policy. “Don’t say this because it’s against our policy,” I would say, “say this instead and you’re golden.” 

I don’t mind doing that to, say, Coca Cola or other benign brands. Doing the same thing to a company with an unethical business model means I’m complicit in baiting unassuming users to give their attention, money, or data to said company.  Thanks, but no thanks. 


The pondering

It’s hard to quit a company that provides everything. Your basic care: freshly made, warm breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Feeling peckish during the day? Go to the ice cream bar, smoothie station, salad and sandwich station, or the candy truck. Not wanting to talk to the friendly server? Grab an organic banana and almond butter from the micro kitchen and pour yourself some ethically-sourced coffee and oat milk. 

Worked till late and forgot about your upcoming wedding anniversary? Ask the concierge to buy flowers for your partner, research and book a nice restaurant. 

As I sat on the bus on my way home, chatting with my partner on the green chat app, looking at what my friends are up to on the pink social media app, all owned by the same company, I asked myself, “How can I live without this company?”


Why it made no sense to quit

It’s already the best company to work for, I told myself. It’s always in the top 10, if not top 3, of the best company in the world. It’s barely surprising, considering all the benefits they provided.

Other companies might be worse, I told myself. If I’m unhappy working for the best company, what hope do I have?

Working for this company looks impressive on my CV, I told myself. And it makes my parents proud. 


Why it made perfect sense for me to quit

The answer was so obvious that I wondered why I didn’t see it sooner: what I value, and what I’m looking for in my job, is different from other people. I value challenge over work-life balance. I value social impact over revenue growth. 

There are different types of shampoo for different hair conditions. Add other factors such as price, sustainability, ingredients, and packaging to the mix and we end up with hundreds of options. There’s no such thing as ‘the best shampoo for every human being on the planet’. 

Doesn’t it make sense to create your own personalized list of the best company to work for? 


‘The best companies for digital marketers who want to make social impact.’ 
‘The best companies for data scientists who want to be a people manager someday.’
‘The best companies for people who aim to exit as a millionaire in the next 5-10 years.’


I’m working on something to solve this - so watch this space!


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debbie.widjaja@gmail.com
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