The difference between a good workplace and an outstanding one depends on certain factors. For some, it could be the friendly company culture and the caliber of co-workers that tip the scale toward being a stellar workplace.
For others, it may be competitive pay and special perks. When it comes to keeping employees happy and productive, 35 Madison-area companies in this year’s Best Places to Work survey seem to have captured the right balance.
More than 100 local companies were nominated and 63 participated in Madison Magazine’s annual survey conducted by Omaha-based Quantum Workplace. The survey measures six categories of engagement: communication and resources, individual needs, manager effectiveness, personal engagement, team dynamics and trust in leadership.
Finalists in the Madison region scored highest in the categories of trust in leadership and team dynamics, according to Spencer Goracke, workplace insights analyst at Quantum Workplace. He says the Madison region as a whole performed slightly above the national average, in contrast to the 2016 survey in which the region dipped slightly below the national average.
Goracke says three areas stand out when comparing the Madison area to national averages: fair pay, senior leaders valuing their employees as the most important resource and managing change. He says these areas stand out because they speak to the organizations’ “commitment to providing a solid foundation for engagement.”
Strategies for Engagement
In today’s changing times, employers are looking at how best to meet the needs of both their business and their employees. Goracke says communication is a key factor, as well as promoting employee feedback.
“We live in a world that is constantly being disrupted,” says Goracke. “It’s not just doing business that’s changing, or the way that people are doing business, but it’s the employee experience that’s also changing. So the better that organizations are able to manage change at the people level, the more likely they’re able to manage change at the business level.”
In an effort to improve job satisfaction among its workforce, Agrace Hospice & Palliative Care, established in 1978, formed an employee engagement committee, comprised of about 50 staff members, to gather information through employee feedback. “This is accomplished by conducting listening sessions throughout the year, acting on data gathered from the annual employee engagement survey, as well as an internal employee blog called ‘The Branch’ that is focused solely on what’s going on with engagement,” says Lynne Sexten, president and CEO.
For goVirtualOffice, a software consulting company started in 2005, the lines of communication are open among employees during their catered Wednesday lunches. Dirk Shimpach, certified public accountant and managing partner, says, “During these lunches, we often provide learning opportunities, as well as time to socialize, learn more about each other and have a few laughs.” He says the company has a “fun committee” that puts on at least four major events a year. Not only that, he says, most employees have Friday afternoons off to start their weekends early.
Other Best Places to Work finalists say they have similar practices to allow employees more time off to manage their personal lives during the normal workweek.
Steve Ledbetter, president of LocknCharge Technologies, says his workplace has a culture where employees “feel vested in the environment.” He says “flexibility” is key, and that management within the seven-year-old company recognizes that “home life and work life need to work cohesively for employees to be engaged and happy.”
Fair compensation is also high on the list for job satisfaction. Goracke says being committed to an employee’s financial well-being is part of the foundation for attaining and retaining top talent, though it’s not the only factor.
Employee wages are an important part of the overall package at The Employer Group, says Marla Rybowiak, director of operations. She says the compensation philosophy of the 22-year-old company “reflects our desire to pay fair market pay ranges, reward people for their loyalty and provide generous employer-paid benefits to ensure our employees and their families are safe and well.” She adds, “We believe in providing training and development, along with the independence to ‘own your work,’ ” which in turn helps the company retain its top employees.
Dave Kijek, president and CEO of WEA Member Benefits, describes the compensation package of his company, established in 1972, as generous. “Helping our employees build financial security not only reflects our corporate culture and the value we place on staff, but it also feels natural and intuitive given that we design programs, products and services to help Wisconsin public school employees achieve the same end goal,” Kijek says. “Our vision statement is: ‘Every member financially secure.’ ”
When asked to name one philosophy or practice that a top workplace must have, Anna Stern, president of Tri-North Builders, established in 1981, says it’s putting people first. “To truly be a best place to work, your employees and your clients have to be a top priority.”
At Singlewire Software, chief financial officer Brett Rimkus says the 8-year-old company is focused on the kind of experiences it provides for both customers and employees. “Employees are a community of collaborators using technology and innovation to create great customer experiences,” says Rimkus. “We have fun along the way in a professional, yet casual work environment.”
Matt Frazer, president of Frazer Consultants, says his 14-year-old company strives to create a “great work environment” for the staff and offers a variety of perks, such as “free lunch Fridays” and company parties. “I think if you’re a company that always has your employees’ best interests in mind and truly takes care of them, then the rest takes care of itself.”
Although perks are appreciated in the workplace, Goracke of Quantum Workplace says they aren’t the driving force behind retaining employees. “If you don’t get those foundational things right—fair pay, benefits, general sense of fairness in the workplace—those extra perks don’t really mean anything,” he says.
The fact that the Madison region scored highest in the categories of team dynamics and trust in leadership indicates that employees are optimistic about their company’s future success, says Goracke. “There’s optimism in fairness in the workplace, and there are favorable perceptions about the assessments of teammates and co-workers really being committed to producing top-quality work.”
Goracke says those outcomes are attributed to strong leadership—a “foundational pillar.”
“What that tells me is that if you want to be a [Best Places to Work] finalist, you have to do some things right,” says Goracke. “And part of that is having leadership trust, having leaders value people as their most important resource.” He says the Madison region demonstrated that from small to large companies.
Small (10-50 Employees)
2. Pilch & Barnet
3. Artisan Dental LLC
4. goVirtualOffice LLC
5. Frazer Consultants LLC
7. The Digital Ring
9. Cress Funeral & Cremation Service
10. LocknCharge Technologies LLC
11. Literacy Network of Dane County
12. Octopi Brewing LLC
13. Bunbury & Associates Realtors
14. Powderkeg Web Design
15. The Employer Group
Medium (51-100 Employees)
1. Oregon/Waunakee Community Bank
2. Gorman & Company
3. Singlewire Software
4. Smith & Gesteland
5. WEA Member Benefits
6. The QTI Group
7. Widen Enterprises
8. Hampton Inn & Suites – Madison/Downtown
9. The Douglas Stewart Co.
10. Tri-North Builders
Large (101+ Employees)
1. Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp.
2. Nordic Consulting Partners
4. Edward Jones
5. UW Credit Union
7. Agrace Hospice & Palliative Care
8. Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP
9. TDS Telecommunications Corp.
10. Rural Mutual Insurance Co.
How Winners Were Ranked
Madison Magazine’s Best Places to Work survey starts with an open call for nominations. After the organizations are registered, Quantum Workplace of Omaha, Nebraska, sends them a 60-question web-based survey for their employees to complete that measures six key categories of engagement:
1. Communication and Resources
2. Individual Needs
3. Manager Effectiveness
4. Personal Engagement
5. Team Dynamics
6. Trust in Leadership
When the data collection is complete, Quantum conducts a rigorous security audit to verify all surveys. The results are compiled and analyzed to determine which organizations have the highest levels of engagement.
Do you think your workplace should be on the list? Check our website (madisonmagazine.com) in January for details on how to nominate your company for the 2018 Best Places to Work survey.
Karen Michel is editor of Madison Magazine.
Read more about our number one winners: