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One of the many gifts of international travel is the opportunity to reflect on the lives and jobs we take for granted at home; the chance to see the proverbial forest through the trees. Meeting new people, experiencing new cultures and reading international press permits the rare window of perspective that can be so difficult to find when we are locked in our daily routines at home.

I find that most of my personal reflections while traveling can be summarized in two headlines; “ I am lucky and grateful to be a US citizen”, and “people are truly more alike than different all over the world.” The past two weeks, traversing three continents, and meeting people in Africa, the Middle East and England, I have repeatedly been struck by one of the greatest common denominators; work and the value of a good job. The dignity of meaningful work and the need to provide for self and family are truly the foundation for global society.

It is an occupational preoccupation; I am always fascinated with service industry employees no matter where I meet them. This trip we have encountered workers from around the globe; cab drivers from Sudan and the Philippines, bellmen from Sri Lanka, housekeepers from Ireland and Bulgaria, bartenders from Italy and India, waiters from Portugal, Thailand and Brazil. Their stories almost universally include missing home, pursuing the best opportunity, and pride in their work. Some are treated more fairly than others. The good companies are better employers, and are rewarded with better service and happier guests. Sound familiar?

We are in London now, where the economy is starting to rebound. As in the United States, there are still problems for younger workers, still issues surrounding immigration, still uneven pockets of prosperity. Yet restaurant industry experts here agree that without foreign workers, the booming development and new venues would not be possible.

People Report has studied the US service workforce for almost two decades, tracking millions of employees and the practices of the companies that employ them. Our unmatched database tells the story of an industry that continues to create jobs in an uneven economy, and of companies that are relentless in their pursuit of becoming or remaining a great place to work. Our Best Practices winners are focused on providing meaningful work, that improves the lives of their employees, customers, vendors and communities.

Yet the challenges we face have never been more complex; healthcare reform, wage pressures and escalating worker activism that shows no sign of abating. The People Report Workforce Index, a quarterly barometer of employment pressures, has rebounded to pre-recession highs, in spite of much higher unemployment and unsteady growth rates. There is nothing easy about balancing people and profits, but we study the companies who do it, and understand the connection between people practices and performance.

Hiring practices matter. Good compensation, competitive benefits and flexible schedules matter. Training matters. Diversity matters. So does retention. Our sister brand Black Box Intelligence provides the ability to correlate sales performance to these people practices, and we will continue to focus our research on helping companies win in the workplace and the marketplace. Two decades and two weeks of travel later, I’m betting on the leaders who truly understand the power of providing good jobs and meaningful work to be on top.

Joni Thomas Doolin
Founder & CEO, People Report