A Good Place to Work

Aug 13, 2001

Denise Jones, CADD technician and seven-year employee at DEF Associates, was fed up with the complainers at her firm. What was wrong with these people? All they could do was gripe about one thing or another. Why didn’t they just leave if they thought things were so bad? All of the negativity was making it hard to work! DEF was a good company. In its 30 years, it had survived more than just a couple of recessions and grown into a decent-sized operation. Not many A/E firms could claim almost 200 employees but DEF certainly could. And there were a lot of other good things you could say about the firm:

The owners genuinely cared about the people who worked there.

When electrical engineer Keith Smith had cancer, the firm paid his salary during his entire four-month absence, even though Smith had turned down the optional short-term disability insurance every time it was offered. When Paul Thompson’s house burned down (and through a fluke turned out to be uninsured), firm founder Dave Edmonds organized a huge fundraising effort and raised almost $90,000 to rebuild it. That’s just the kind of people they were— good people.

There wasn’t a lot of stock floating around but the firm paid darn good bonuses.

There were years that Denise got a $5,000 bonus and years she got only $100, but she always got something. The firm always made a profit, and the employees shared in it. And when the owners did sell stock, they sold it to the people who were making it happen— the ones who could bring in work. They didn’t just give it away to any Tom, Dick, or Harry who had been there a long time or had professional registrations in 26 states!

The benefits were O.K., not as good as some but better than others.

At least you could count on them. This firm didn’t believe in changing benefits plans every year or giving employees something good one year only to take it away the next. The firm was consistent, and it delivered on promises (implied or otherwise)!

The firm had the right kinds of human resources management.

Employees at DEF always had in-house training to attend if they wanted to spend the time doing it. The firm made sure that everyone had a chat with their boss at least once a year to talk about what was going well and what wasn’t, and made sure that evidence of these meetings was provided all the way up to the CEO. The firm also made a sincere effort to promote from within whenever possible, instead of routinely getting someone from the outside for every management opening like some other companies seem to do.

The firm stood behind its work and had high ethical and moral standards.

If a client was unhappy because DEF employees had done something wrong or hadn’t done what they should have, the firm made it right. DEF paid their subconsultants when they got paid, not three weeks later. And if a client wanted to do something sleazy or immoral, DEF would drop them like a hot potato. That’s good stuff. Not every firm can make this type of claim. Sure, there were other companies that paid more, had higher growth rates, better performing stock, nicer offices, or did glitzier projects. But were those really better places to settle down and build a career? Denise Jones didn’t think so. In fact, a lot of people who had left over the last two or three years for one of those other firms seemed to be dropping by to see their old friends a lot more often now that the economy was slowing down. Some of them were just flat-out asking their former bosses if DEF would hire them back. But always, and thankfully (at least as far as Denise Jones was concerned), the firm would not. There was a clear policy— the “YLYL policy” as it was commonly referred to (you leave and you lose). DEF didn’t rehire employees who quit to join a competitive firm or start their own if things didn’t work out. The firm’s management thought doing that would send the wrong message to their people.

Originally published 8/13/2001.

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