Whether the industry is financial services, construction or home health care, companies say the key to a healthy workplace is not only having expertise in their industries but having both executives and employees who buy in to their culture.
This is the 10th anniversary year for the Star Tribune Top Workplaces program, and 15 companies have made the list every year. Company leaders — and employees surveyed for the rankings — say strong leadership, communication and dedication to their brands also help make their companies stand out as an employee-focused culture.
"For us, it has always been a very deliberate decision that … we were going to do it the way we wanted to do it and we were going to treat our staff as co-workers, not as employees," said Paul Blom, chief executive and co-owner of the Twin Cities franchise of home care agency Right at Home, which ranks seventh on this year's Top Workplaces list of small companies.
Blom and his husband, Bob White, started their business in 2001 after they noticed the need for more caregiver services to keep seniors in their homes in their then neighborhood on St. Paul's East Side. Their Right at Home company, with offices in Bloomington, recently reported revenue of $1.8 million.
Most of Blom's 130 workers don't often step foot in the main office because they work as caregivers in people's homes. Yet it is important that staff members feel connected to the company, Blom said. So the company has an outreach program to communicate via e-mails, phone calls and handwritten notes.
At an annual meeting, Blom and White share performance information and invite feedback from employees "so that they feel some ownership," he said. The company also takes staff to the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres each spring.
"It provides me with a chance to help families as a whole," one employee said on this year's survey, which is administered by Top Workplaces partner Energage. "To set family members at ease and feel that their family member is being genuinely cared about and for."
Right at Home does little marketing, relying mostly on referrals from past clients, Blom said.
"The same things that we apply to how we treat each other as co-workers apply to how we treat clients and their families," he said. "They are part of that sense of we are supporting each other and always doing the right thing."
The internal culture at Mortenson is a key part of what has made it a top Twin Cities construction company, said Chad Crutchley, talent acquisition manager at Mortenson, which is 26th this year on the large companies list.
"In terms of mission, vision and values — that all starts with the Mortenson family," Crutchley said. "Trust, safety, teamwork and responsibility, stewardship. ... It's authentic."
While Mortenson concentrates on building structures, it is the people that are the company's real product, he said. Mortenson offers employees professional development as well as avenues to give feedback, Crutchley said. It also has several paid time off programs, including a paid sabbatical leave that allows employees to take up to eight weeks off every five years.
"I feel like Mortenson has allowed me to grow and learn throughout my career while always doing the right thing and making a difference," an employee said on the survey.
The employee value proposition and the brand go hand in hand, Crutchley said.
"Being able to quantify our brand and articulate it is incredibly important," he said.
Health plan provider UCare, 16th on this year's large companies list, knows the power of branding. About a year ago, UCare with the help of advertising firm Preston Kelly updated its brand identity with marketing campaigns that focused on the employees of UCare (sending some of them on a five-person tandem bike to answer health care questions).
"We are people-powered," said Hilary Marden-Resnik, chief administrative officer at UCare. "Our employees will really resonate with that real brand."
UCare leaders work to be approachable and transparent through messages sent out by the CEO, as well as all-employee meetings that happen every three months and other communication. Twice in the decade of Top Workplaces, UCare has received a special award for excellence in its communication with employees.
"One of the things that we really try to live by is our communication with employees," Marden-Resnik said. "It's about being open and direct and honest."
While benefits packages are important for many employees, Stephanie Baker, chief operating officer of financial planning services provider MassMutual Central U.S., said a good workplace comes down to the culture and the people that support it.
"If you've got people that enjoy spending time with each other and working together, that's going to make all the difference in the world," Baker said.
MassMutual is 68th on this year's Top Workplaces small companies list.
Baker suggested that other businesses should make sure to grow carefully and add people who are the right fit, even in entry-level positions. Baker started out as a front-desk receptionist 14 years ago after she graduated from college, and she has risen to become chief operating officer in the last three years.
"I think for our staff it's really important they know that they are crucial," she said. "They don't just want to be a number."
Top Workplaces for all 10 years:
Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America
Baker Tilly Virchow Krause
Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare
Hammer Residences Inc.
Home Instead Senior Care
Keller Williams Realty
Marsh & McLennan Agency
MassMutual Central U.S.
Mercury Inc. dba Right at Home
Werner Electric Ventures
Note: These are companies that were either ranked or on the national standards list for all 10 years that the Star Tribune has worked with Energage to produce Top Workplaces lists.