It’s important to offer your employees the very best of the best – flexible hours, great food and fresh coffee, and maybe a ping pong table (looking at you, Google). We spend a lot of time at the office, and these perks and an overall fun culture help us feel happy.

That’s why so many surveys and competitions exist to dub the top of the heap when it comes to workplaces. Crain’s, Chicago Tribune, Fortune, PPB, Best Companies Group… the list goes on and on. Some of these lists and surveys are legit, but some of them are scam city.

Your company can be an awesome place to work, but you don’t want to just sign up for any and every contest that comes your way. Here’s how to tell if an employee survey is just plain bogus.

#1: Proceed with Caution If You Have to Pay

The expenses of running a business start to add up. A “great place to work” survey shouldn’t cost you any of your hard-earned pennies. That’s like paying someone to give you a compliment. It doesn’t mean as much.

Alison Green, the author of Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work,  looked into the legitimacy of paying for these “Best Places to Work” contests. This is what she had to say:

Quote about employee surveys

It’s kind of bogus that you’re getting sold the idea of being the best. One award that we applied to at Quality Logo Products® cost close to $200, and the sad part is – we didn’t even make the list!

Quality Logo Products survey

It just goes to show, if you have to pay to play, it might not be worth the effort. The organization behind the contest might just keep your data, give you a “thanks,” and send you on your way with no award to show for it all, even if you are an awesome place to work and all your employees agree.

#2: Skip the Intrusive Questions

It’s weird to have to give too many specifics about your employees. How many are men, how many millennials, how many disabled, how many actually liked the last season of Game of Thrones… why do these lists get so personal?

Take for instance, this question on a super popular “best places to work” platform. Why does your sexual orientation or race matter when it comes to awesome workplaces?

survey questions

Same here! This survey asked for ethnic background and specific numbers. It seems as though the company is fishing for super specifics that ultimately don’t show anything about whether or not the organization in question is a “best place to work.”

employee survey questions

Data mining has been hot button issue lately. This is when a company extracts data and uses it for research, or in some cases, to sell to other companies. This could be with our without your consent.

Many survey lists and questionnaires seem to exist only for this purpose. They’re trying to collect information about your organization without the intent of actually giving you an award. You should keep the confidential information to yourself.

#3:  It’s Not Really a Competition

trophy graphic

There aren’t very many companies signing up for these lists, which means you’re either going to win or be voted off the island while your data is safe in the organization’s pocket.

CBS News wrote a report on “best places to work” lists, warning job candidates to not always believe what they see. For instance, in 2010 there were 27.9 million small businesses in the United States, and of those, only .001% applied to one particular “best places” to work list. Almost every single one of them was voted as a great place to work because they bothered paying for it. 

A company’s odds of making this list were pretty high because there wasn’t any competition. The Death Star from Star Wars could have applied and made the cut, even though the employees have to deal with Darth Vader’s knack for blowing up planets and choking them when something goes wrong.

#4:  Your Employees Know Best

people on puzzle pieces graphic

The only tried and true way to gather whether a place is great to work is to ask the employees directly. This is why Glassdoor reviews are so successful. They’re anonymous and people can speak right from their heart with no pressure. Glassdoor even has community guidelines in place to ensure their platform is as transparent as possible.

Many “best places to work” lists are for-profit organizations that make money on their competitions. They sometimes even work with the companies that make the cut.

Your employees are the only ones who will give you an unbiased answer. And really, their opinions are the only ones that really matter anyway.

How Do You Know If a Best Place to Work Survey is Legitimate or Not?

It’s not all doom and gloom. Some of these “best places to work” lists are validating awards that show possible employees how awesome you are. Others exist for the sole purpose of making money and getting your data.

To recap, here’s what you should look for:

  1. A completely free-of-charge process or one that has a minimal application fee

  2. A credible name or organization like a newspaper or magazine

  3. A survey that doesn’t ask super invasive questions related to your company’s income and employees’ demographics

  4. A call for personal responses from your employees

Do your homework and make sure you’re applying to something that’s worth your time and energy. In the meantime, make sure you’re always offering an awesome environment for your employees. They deserve it.


Green, A. (2017, September 7). How Legit Are Those ‘Best Places to Work’ Lists? Retrieved from,

Vanderkam, L. (2011, February 1). The Trouble with “Best Places to Work” Lists. Retrieved from,

U.S. Small Business Administration. (September 2012). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from,

24/7 Wall Street. (2011, February 10). Why the ‘100 Best Companies’ to Work List is Useless. Retrieved from,

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