Main image of article Is Microsoft 'Best Global Employer?'

Microsoft topped perennial favorite SAS in the first ranking of multinational companies by  the Great Place to Work Institute, a global research, consulting and training firm. SAS has been named best U.S. employer earlier this year, but had to settle for the No. 2 spot on the multinational list. It was followed by NetApp, Google and FedEx Express. To be considered, companies had to have at least 5,000 employees worldwide and at least 40 percent of them based outside their home country. The institute surveyed more than 2.5 million employees, and used “workplace culture analytics” from more than 5,500 businesses to develop the rankings. Though the top companies have some really nifty perks — think Google's free gourmet food, just for one — Great Place to Work Global CEO José Tolovi, Jr., told USA Today that exceptional company leaders "think on a higher level" than individual perks. He listed three traits of the top companies: employee trust in management, pride in the company, and camaraderie with colleagues.

At the best companies, even the lowest-level employees know they are part of the team. They know that they have a common goal.

That makes Microsoft an interesting winner, given the heat that CEO Steve Ballmer has come under this year, with even some calls for him to resign. At, which has its own "best places to work" list based solely on employee reviews, just 45 percent of the Microsoft employees weighing in give Ballmer the thumbs-up, though that's up from 29 percent in the second quarter. Microsoft didn't make the top 50 on Glassdoor's list. And it should be noted that on the multinational list, McDonald's came in at No. 8. Microsoft hasn't been hiring as aggressively as some of the tech companies. Its yearly employee growth is listed at 2.7 percent, compared with 7.6 percent for SAS, 18 percent for NetApp and 31.9 percent for Google. As the tech scene heats up in the Seattle area near Microsoft's Redmond headquarters, the struggle grows more intense to hang onto talent. At the same time, offering company stock isn't the lure it once was. To that end, the company earlier this year revamped its compensation structure to focus more on cash than stock. The rankings, however,  would seem to favor companies such as Cisco (ranked No. 6) and Oracle, which are hiring more people abroad than in the U.S. So Microsoft may be an exception notes, quoting from a Wall Street Journal article in April:

Microsoft is an exception. It cut its head count globally last year, but over the past five years, the software giant has added more jobs in the U.S. (15,300) than abroad (13,000). About 60% of Microsoft's employees are in the U.S.