Best Firms To Work For data trends

Sep 06, 2021

This year’s Best Firms To Work For employee survey provided 1.8 million data points, providing insight into industry trends.

It is once again one of my favorite times of year! Not only has Zweig Group been celebrating and awarding firms for having outstanding workplaces and for achieving tremendous growth over the last few years, but we are getting to see the industry trends that come along with the single biggest survey in the entire AEC industry: The Best Firms To Work For employee survey.

I love getting to take a deep dive into what is happening all over the country. I can see areas that are trending up and trending down. We have the ability to look at how different demographic groups feel about certain topics or how firms of all sizes fare in various areas. Zweig Group’s ability to break down the data of this massive survey (1.8 million data points this year) really enhances our ability to see trends in the industry and better advise our clients. Let’s take a look at some that really stood out to me this year:

  • Numbers overall are up in 2021 when compared to 2020. Not only are numbers up across the board, but they are significantly higher. 2021 saw the largest year-over-year increase in our data set dating back to 2018. This is a very good sign. Numbers in 2020 decreased across the board on average, as you would expect during a pandemic. Not only did we see scores rebound from the 2020 dip, they are higher than they were in 2019. This to me indicates that firms are emerging from the pandemic stronger and in better position than they were before the pandemic. By no means do we want the uncertainty of working through a pandemic to be the new normal, but hopefully firms have been able to continue some of the positive adjustments they had to make in 2020 to keep improving, and I believe this is evidence of firms doing just that.
  • There was one area where employees’ approval really dropped off compared to 2020: Effective communication at their firms. Communication is always one of the biggest challenges firms face, but when the pandemic started everyone had to adjust very quickly and communication was at an all-time high. In fact, in 2020, effective communication was at its highest point over the four-year data set. It actually trended positively from 2019 to 2020. Unfortunately, that did not last. Effective communication saw the biggest year over year difference from 2020 to 2021 and it was in the wrong direction. There was an almost 10 percent decrease in employee sentiment when it came to communication. Just because we are adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic, that doesn’t mean firms should let up on communicating with their employees. Sure, there may have been over-communication in 2020, but firms seem to have lost too much steam and are no longer communicating effectively.
  • Employees’ sense of job security had a huge bounce back after 2020. There were a lot of unknowns when this survey was conducted back in 2020, so job security took a big hit. Firms seem to have weathered that storm and emerged actually stronger than their position in 2019. This is great to see and I think shows fantastic leadership by those running AEC firms. Employees feel secure in their jobs and trust in firm leadership is at an all-time high.
  • Taking a look at some age range demographics, those in the 46 years of age or older group had overall higher scores than those 45 years or younger. Effective communication was the biggest difference between these two groups. The 46 years of age and older group scored communication way higher than those 45 and younger. The biggest difference the other way around, and one of the only questions where 45 and younger scored higher than 46 and older, was opportunities for career growth at their firm. Those aged 18-25 actually scored the highest on this question. It’s good to see that the youngest generation feels positively about being able to grow their careers with their current firm.

Getting to look at this data really helps me get a feel for what is going on industry-wide. Being able to see different demographic breakdowns creates a unique tool to pinpoint specific areas that need attention and where things are going the best. That is something I really enjoy helping firms do as well! Firms adapted well during the pandemic; that is evident by the growth across the board. We need to get back to communicating effectively with all employees, but I know the foundation is now set to keep making each AEC firm a Best Firm To Work For.

Kyle Ahern is awards manager at Zweig Group. Contact him at

Zweig Group's Best Firms To Work For winners will be recognized at the 2021 ElevateAEC Conference & Awards Gala. Click here to learn more! Click here to read this week's issue of The Zweig Letter!

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.