by Mike Dunphy
In January, Vermont Business Magazine and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce announced nominees for the top 50 Best Places to Work in Vermont 2018. Created in 2006 and presented in partnership with the Society for Human Resource Management, Vermont State Council, the Vermont Department of Labor, the Vermont Department of Commerce and Community Development, and Best Companies Group, the award highlights local businesses that excel at keeping their employees happy.
To qualify, a business must employ a minimum of 15 people; be a public or private, for-profit or not-for-profit business or government entity; have a facility in Vermont; and have been operating for a minimum of one year.
Selections are based on evaluations of workplace policies, practices, and demographics, as well as anonymous employee surveys. The combined scores determine the top companies and final ranking.
In an effort to assist other Vermont companies looking to improve their employee experience, The Bridge sat down with seven companies on the list to learn what policies and methods they employ to achieve such high scores. Below are comments by company representatives:
Vermont State Employee Credit Union – Montpelier
One of the things that’s great about working here is the cooperation, not competition. When we share things we’ve learned, we all benefit from that. We use a program called Slack [“a cloud-based set of proprietary team collaboration tools and services”]. It’s fantastic in breaking down the silos, because every conversation at all levels and all subjects in the organization is transparent, and people can participate. For example, after the robbery and what happened in Montpelier, immediately there was a Slack channel set up for everyone to share support the community had expressed to them, like a big group hug. We have volunteer time off, up to eight hours, and we encourage everyone to take part in things that they feel will support that mission. We also have a wellness committee that works on programs for employees that will benefit their health both in and out of the workplace, like CSA partnerships with local farms. Right now we have a “biggest loser” program going on, with cash prizes, and there’s a ton of support for that. You can wear jeans to work, which shows we know that your professionalism is going to be displayed in how you act and treat others. We are not going to force you to wear a uniform because we trust you.
Fuse Marketing – Winooski
We strive to foster a fun and creative environment for our staff and offer a number of on-site amenities including a mini skate ramp, fitness equipment, yoga classes, and dog-friendly offices. We also offer unique perks that take advantage of everything the state has to offer and encourage employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance: Half-day Fridays in the summer, paddle boards, a camper van available for staff to rent, a season’s pass to Stowe, an annual company ski & ride day, as well as a “12-inch rule” that allows employees to catch first tracks on the mountain after a significant snowfall. Employees who reach their five- and ten-year anniversaries also receive a tenure package that’s personalized for each individual. In the past these have ranged from a moped to heli-boarding trips and scuba diving vacations, and a tour of Thailand. Fuse also gives employees the opportunity to engage with the local community by giving paid time off for time spent volunteering at organizations that they are passionate about.
Okemo Mountain Resort – Ludlow
We operate in a team environment that is ingrained in our culture. From ownership through all staff members, we are equal–no one person is more important than another. We are not a company that believes in having a lot of policies. Where we do have them, they are a guide to help us make good decisions. I think by not being overburdened with lots of policy, it allows our managers autonomy to lead their teams. We have a very competitive traditional benefits program which creates a solid foundation for our full-time staff. From there, we are able to offer free skiing/riding, family or friend discount programs, fitness center benefits, golf benefits, biking benefits, food discounts, wellness programs, and the like. Recently we created a “flex time” program for our management team whereby they are not limited in the time they can take off from work–it is managed by the individual allowing flexibility to “get away” as they need and are able. This underscores the trust we share with our leadership team. Additionally, for our remaining staff, we recently created a generous paid time off program to again, demonstrate trust, and allow the individual to determine how their time is used versus determining it through policy.
NuHarbor Security – Essex
If someone is here from Jan 1 through Dec 31, we have 160 hours of paid time off, which works out to 20 days. We also have health, dental, vision for benefits, accidental death, life insurance, paid pet bereavement. We are an animal friendly office, and they are part of the family, and if something should happen to them, we give them a paid day off. Everyone is a colleague, and we are a pretty flat organization. We have company lunches, special days, it might be a movie day, we might buy fair tickets. We have a remote designation, which means that many of our full-time people have the option to work from home a couple of days a week.
Catamount Solar – Randolph
We are organized as a workers’ cooperative, and for sure that’s the biggest benefit that we can offer people. So that means it’s an employee ownership structure, where everyone in the company is an employee-owner or on track to become one. The company is managed on a democratic basis, where we have monthly meetings where all employee-owners meet together. We have an annual retreat, where we come together to work out issues cooperatively. So there’s a lot of employee engagement and feedback. And in a profitable year, they get a slice of the profits. Employees state that it’s a huge benefit to have a stake in the company and feel like you are not just a working stiff but have skin in the game. The company also contributes three percent of an employee’s salary to a 401K, regardless of whether they participate or not
Vermont College of Fine Arts – Montpelier
A few things set us apart. The first thing is that we have a really well-defined and well-understood mission that everyone on campus embodies in their work. Over and over [on the evaluations], you see staff members mentioning laughter; there’s so much laughter in the building—so it’s a place where people actually enjoy each other. We have a dog-friendly policy, where if you have a well behaved dog you can bring that dog to campus or your office. It goes without saying that it’s a beautiful physical location and I think that has a lot to do with people enjoying work. There’s also generous (paid) time off, with 20 vacation days [for all employees] and 15 campus holidays, and 10 sick days. For our retirement package, we automatically contribute three percent of their gross salary, irrespective of whether they contribute or not. For employees who do contribute we match, as a percent of salary up to four percent. To say that in a simpler way, if you are putting in four percent to your retirement, you are essentially getting 11 percent. The biggest perk that is unique to this organization is the opportunity to attend lectures, exhibits, performances in all our various disciplines. We also have a tuition benefit. If an employee is admitted into one of the MFA programs on their own merit, it’s 90 percent covered.
VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations
The reason why we ended up on this list is that we have a mission that is inspirational. We are in the business of positively impacting lives through active travel. One of our perks is that international travel on a regular basis is a job requirement. All of our employees are required to experience our product, researching new destinations, planning new routes, and testing GPS so that landmarks are accurate. We are also a good old-fashioned Vermont office that is dog- friendly, and they are really good for team morale. We have a lot of green spaces, which folks have said is a real positive part of working here. We grow lemons; we have palm trees, ferns, and more, so we have a representation of the plants we’d see in our destinations. We pay an annual $500 fitness benefit that can be used at the gym, yoga studio, golf courses, and any of the ski hills. We offer a paid sabbatical to out staff during milestone years, so when they hit their fifth anniversary, they get two additional paid weeks. At their 10th, 15th 20th, we also provide them a trip for two to any of our destinations.