Best firms have employees’ best interests in mind

Dec 06, 2010

This year, All4 Inc., an environmental engineering firm in Kimberton, Pennsylvania, had clients go bankrupt and others stop work already in progress. Multidiscipline firm Smith, Seckman & Reid, Inc., in Nashville, Tennessee, had layoffs but still managed to preserve remaining employees’ salaries and offer bonuses last year. Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Inc. a civil engineering firm in Waltham, Massachusetts, though having to contain costs, maintained its 15% employee retirement fund contribution and full health care benefits. The challenges these firms faced during the past year were echoed by many in the architecture and engineering industry. While their obstacles varied, the three are among 79 firms, including 12 honorable mentions, that were recognized at an awards reception in September at Stagnito Media’s 2010 Best Firms To Work For Summit in Las Vegas for their efforts to create outstanding workplace environments. “Without the commitment, ownership, talents, and work ethic of all of our employees we would not have achieved the successes and the recognition as a ‘best place to work’,” says Kevin Hickey, principal consultant with All4, which employees 21 people and ranked first in its category. “Any awards we receive are a direct reflection on the ‘all’ in All4,” he says. These outstanding employers were selected based on their commitment to provide a positive work environment and challenging and interesting work opportunities for their employees, and for achieving high levels of employee satisfaction. The 2010 crop was selected among fewer applicants than in previous years, says Shanon Fauerbach, editorial director at Stagnito Media. “The economy is affecting the number of applicants,” Fauerbach says. Still, selections, which were based on company and employee surveys, found many things to celebrate and emulate. Try career development and transparency Walter P Moore (Houston, TX), a 318-person firm, ranked #28 on the list for civil engineering. Providing employees with interesting projects to work on is one way the firm keeps workers motivated in tough times, says Leigh Mires, principal and director of Organizational Development + Training. “We have continued our strong emphasis on training and career development within the firm. These two aspects have served us and our clients well,” she adds. “Best Firms” companies stressed that frequently communicating with their employees helped lead to their successes. Many meet regularly with employees to discuss their financial standings, provide professional development opportunities, and help drive employees’ entrepreneurial spirit. “As much transparency as possible, in both good and bad times, is key,” says Glenn Bell, CEO of Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Inc., a 400-person firm that ranked #15 for civil engineering. Among other things, the company posts firm news on the internal web site, and Bell holds periodic company-wide meetings where he provides updates and invites employees to ask questions during and after, along with visiting offices several times a year. SGH has also formed a “Best Firm” committee to review employee survey results and continuously work to improve the company’s work environment, he says. “We have put employee ideas into action. For example, the company’s flexible and alternate work schedules policy came from an employee idea,” Bell says. “All of this tends to make us stronger and reduce the uncertainty, in turn, reducing employees’ anxiety about the future.” Employees and their ideas are also at the heart of the success at Smith, Seckman & Reid, Inc., a 480-person firm that ranked #8 in the multidiscipline category. “For every business line that we have, there was an idea that was brought to fruition by a creative and entrepreneurial employee,” says Betsy Crow, director of human resources. Benefits matter Like other firms, health care benefits are among the qualities that attract workers to the firm, too. More than 60% of SSR employees participate in a “high deductible health plan with Health Savings Account,” Crow says. The firm takes the savings in premiums in those health plans and passes the savings back to the employees through the employer contributions to their Health Savings Account, she says. “We attract talented professionals. We allow them to work at their highest level and drive their own success, and there is no employee in the company who wouldn’t tell you that the integrity of the management team is a strong driver of why they choose to work here and why our clients choose us to work for them,” Crow says. For 12 weekly pages of content like this, subscribe to The Zweig Letter here

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