Keeping the troops happy
Treadmill desks, Legos, massages and free food keep employees engaged
Compare.com (formerly comparenow.com) has two special desks in its Glen Allen-based headquarters for employees who want to get some exercise while they work. Instead of chairs, one desk is equipped with a treadmill while the other has an exercise bike.
If, however, employees want to exercise their creativity instead of their legs, near the desks is a “wall” of Lego toy bricks they can use to build whatever they want. “We are a startup, we’re trying to find people with good ideas,” says CEO Andrew Rose.
Welcome to one of the latest wrinkles in the work experience, brought to you by a company that is joining Virginia Business’ Best Places to Work in Virginia list for the first time.
Compare operates a website allowing consumers to compare auto insurance quotes to determine which company’s offer is best. The service is free to consumers. Compare generates income by receiving a referral fee from the insurance companies that consumers select.
Like many of the companies on the list, Compare is playing a game of long ball, focusing on business sustainability and long-term success by recruiting and retaining talented, hard-working, hard-playing employees.
This is the fifth year that Virginia Business has compiled the Best Places list in cooperation with the Best Companies Group, a Pennsylvania-based firm.
In 2014, about 150 companies registered to become one of Virginia’s Best Places to Work, and 100 were selected in three categories: small (15-99 U.S. employees); midsize (100-249) and large (250 or more).
Best Companies Groups benchmarked the companies on a list of core values: leadership and planning; corporate culture and communications; role satisfaction; work environment; relationship with supervisor; training and benefits; pay benefits; and overall employee engagement.
While Compare is new to Virginia — having opened last year — its business model is familiar to consumers in other countries. Its sister sites, such as Confused.com, have been offering car insurance comparison in Europe and the United Kingdom for more than a decade.
In fact, one of the big perks for Compare employees is the opportunity to travel to its sister company in the UK for one to two weeks of training.
Company officials encourage employees to take advantage of all the cultural opportunities they can while on their overseas assignment.
But back to the treadmill and bike desks: Rose says they are examples of Compare’s efforts to provide a happy and healthy working environment for its employees. “We strive to make each day at work an enjoyable experience,” says Rose. “People who enjoy what they do, do it better.”
In other words, Rose explains, happier employees make for happier customers. But he emphasizes that while employees have over-the-top diversions to help them enjoy their work and relieve stress, the company keeps its focus on the bottom line. “We are a business first,” Rose says. “If we’re not successful, it doesn’t make any difference how much fun we’re having.”
Still, the diversions focused on employee well-being and stress relief could be one-of-a-kind, such as “Nerf gun wars” or “Thirsty Thursday,” encouraging people to get out of their seats for 15 to 30 minutes to socialize and get away from work.
A form of hockey that includes blowing balls with straws, an “office Olympics” competition and a collection of puzzles to put together also are on the menu at Compare.
Rose says the games and activities are part of an effort to foster creativity and build teams, while promoting a healthy workforce.
He notes that Compare’s parent company, the Admiral Group, has long prided itself on being one of the best places to work for in the UK and Europe. “We take great pains with our work environment,” Rose says.
Other companies on Virginia Business’ Best Companies list are doing the same, as part of a strategy to treat employees well and keep them.
Insurance is frequently an important benefit for employees, because they want protection for themselves, their families and sometimes their pets.
Medical coverage for employees is ubiquitous on the best companies list with 99 percent of the companies offering it, while 94 percent offer medical coverage to employees’ dependents, all with varying degrees of company contributions. (A federal mandate requiring companies with more than 100 employees to offer health insurance went into effect in January.)
Five companies offer pet insurance to their employees, and about 30 percent offer long-term-care insurance.
Paternity leave, once unheard of, is becoming a staple for many businesses, with 69 percent of companies on the best companies list offering the benefit.
Family friendly benefits encompass more than just employees and their significant others.
A small portion of companies, 6 percent, offer to pay some or all of child-care expenses, either on a regular basis or during busy seasons, and 92 percent offer flexible hours to accommodate school events or take a family member to the doctor.
Elder-care assistance seems to be a growing category in the benefits package, with 17 percent of companies offering to help employees care for aging family members.
At the Belvoir Federal Credit Union in Woodbridge, new parents can bring infants up to four months old into the workplace with them, and if no day care is available on a particular day, older children may come in.
Office work is no longer performed just at the office: 66 percent of companies offer telecommuting options for employees, and some companies also pay for home Internet.
Defined pension plans are rapidly disappearing at companies, with only 13 on the Best Places to Work list offering such a benefit this year.
Nonetheless, 96 percent of companies said they offered some form of retirement savings plan, and 82 percent said they matched an employee’s contributions.
Workouts and massages
Employee wellness, once left to employees themselves, has become an industry practice as companies strive to reduce health-care costs while maintaining a fit, alert workforce.
Choose your pleasure: walking, hiking, yoga, Zumba, gym workouts and many more. Options ranging from easy-going activities like playing pool to rigorous marathon competitions are being advanced by companies eager for their employees to break into a sweat.
The Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington offers a fitness center complete with boot camps and yoga classes, along with free biometric screenings.
Studio Center in Norfolk, which produces commercial media for radio and television, is a little more laid back. The firm pushes table tennis for fitness. In its response to a survey question about exercise facilities, Studio Center responded this way:
“Ping-Pong table — good for your health — it’s great for getting up a sweat and getting the heart rate up. Just a couple of hours a week hitting that little white ball around can do wonders for your fitness.”
What to do after all that working out? Well, massages are popular.
Cassaday & Co. Inc. of McLean, which provides wealth management services, offers its employees regular in-office massages.
Wall, Einhorn & Chernitzer PC, an accounting firm based in Norfolk, provides complimentary chair massages during the four months of tax season.
Transurban (USA) Inc. in Alexandria, a transportation company, gives its employees a 15-minute massage, with massage therapists reporting to the office on a monthly basis.
Free food also is big on the list of company perks.
At Concept Solutions LLC, a technology company in Reston, free sodas are available every day, with bagels and doughnuts in abundance every Friday.
At Trusted Mission Solutions of McLean, another technology company, free coffee and snacks are always available.
At Marathon Consulting LLC in Virginia Beach, chili cook-offs keep things lively, and at MercerTrigiani in Alexandria, a law firm, winter brings hot chocolate and popcorn in the conference room.
Frequent happy hours and free lunches and dinners are part of the routine at some companies, especially for events marking business successes.
At the Norfolk office of the Hunton & Williams law firm, the lawyers gather on Fridays for lunch at Famous Uncle Al’s Hotdogs.
After all the exercise, all the massages and all the food and drink, it’s time for a trip.
Definitive Logic, a technology firm in Arlington, takes a winter trip to the Caribbean.
At Accounting Principals in Richmond, top producers have won trips to Puerto Rico, San Diego and Naples.
Ryan LLC, a national tax services firm with an office in Arlington, will be taking one of its lucky teams to an all-expenses-paid trip to Tahiti in recognition of outstanding performance and client service.
The singing CEO
Hollywood’s version of a CEO is often a stiff-necked brute who may have inspired the movie “Horrible Bosses.” But in the real world, CEOs come in different types.
At the Healthcare Distribution Management Association in Arlington, for example, the CEO is known to often sing to help relieve stress in the office.
At FinFit, a financial firm in Virginia Beach, the president of the company pays for employees to have their cars washed and detailed every month.
One of the enduring parts of corporate life at many companies is the commitment to volunteering and community service.
At the Fahrenheit Group in Richmond, a consulting firm, community service events range from Habitat for Humanity to startup accelerator programs for young entrepreneurs.
For the past 11 years SimVentions Inc. in Fredericksburg, a federal defense contractor, has supported orphanages.
Each August, the company supports a team of 20 people, including SimV employees, who travel to Peru for two weeks or more to do construction work and hold Vacation Bible School.”
The company also has for the past four years during Christmas sent a package of more than 60 pairs of shoes to the children of the Lakota Indians at their North Dakota Indian Reservation.
At Pagnato Karp, a financial advising company in Reston, employees visit the Walter Reed Medical Center, dropping off food and other goods to soldiers and their families, and talking with them about their experiences in service to their country.
Boys & Girls Clubs, service dogs that help the disabled, and advocacy for affordable housing are also causes that companies and their employees support with their money and — for many a more valuable commodity — their time.
Virginia Business Best Places to Work 2015
Top Small Employer: Defense Point Security and List of small employers
Top Midsize Employer: Knight Point Systems LLC and List of midsize employers
Top Large Employer: Accounting Principals – Richmond and List of large employers
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