7 Great ideas to 'perk up' your firm

From free legal counsel to chair massages, BD+C's 2007 'Best AEC Firms to Work For' awards reveal seven creative management ideas that can help make your company a more rewarding place to work.

May 01, 2007 |

Having a hard time recruiting top-notch talent? You're not alone.

Four of five AEC firms say hiring and retaining staff are their top operational challenges in managing their firm's growth, according to a recent survey by industry consultant ZweigWhite.

AEC firms are going to greater and greater lengths to lure prospective employees and to keep good ones. This is readily apparent with the 30 firms that entered our second annual Best AEC Firms to Work For competition. In addition to offering competitive salaries and benefits packages, companies are throwing in such perks as free in-house legal counsel, employer-funded flex-spending accounts, and even free cab rides.

Here's an overview of some creative best practices:

1 ] Celebrate employee anniversaries with more than cake and cookies.

Punch the clock for 10 or 15 years at a typical AEC firm and you might get a cake, a certificate of appreciation, and maybe even a mention in the company newsletter.

In today's ultra-competitive labor market, cake and cookies are simply not enough. Firms are placing much more emphasis—and cash—on tenure milestones.

Employees at Jones Lang LaSalle, for instance, celebrate milestone anniversaries (every five years) in style, with custom-made jewelry and gifts from Tiffany & Co.

After 10 years of service, employees at architecture firm Cuningham Group get an extra week of vacation and a $1,000 travel stipend to make sure they let loose during their time away. At 15 years, staffers get $1,500 to spend on their heart's desire.

2 ] Offer free legal counsel for employees.

Orlando-based engineer GRG Inc. offers its employees a most-unusual perk: full-time, on-site legal consultation and estate planning. The firm's general counsel is licensed to practice in Florida and is available to employees and family members for wills, trusts, power of attorney, contract review of leases, purchase agreements, insurance contracts, warranties, and miscellaneous legal issues.

3 ] Let employees rate their managers.

Performance review is a two-way street for managers at a number of firms, including Jones Lang LaSalle. Using “360-degree review,” managers are rated not only by their bosses, but also by their direct reports, as part of their management performance evaluation. The survey is conducted anonymously by a third-party consultant to encourage frank and honest feedback while protecting employees from any possible retribution.

4 ] Share your workplace with the community.

Most firms are generous with their time and money for charitable causes, but very few actually give up their workspace for the common good of the community.

Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects, a Memphis-based architect with 26 employees, lets local nonprofits use its historic building, complete with vaulted-ceiling gallery space and courtyard, for functions, meetings, and charity events at no cost. The firm also rents out its space to wedding parties for $1,000, which the firm donates to a local charitable organization.

For more than a decade, parking and mixed-use design specialist Timothy Haahs & Associates has offered nonprofit and charitable organizations complimentary use of its community center. The facility, adjacent to the firm's headquarters in Blue Bell, Pa., houses classrooms, a 325-seat auditorium with full audio-visual capabilities, a playroom area for kids, and a café. Nearly a dozen nonprofits use the facility on a regular basis, including the American Heart Association, Salvation Army, and American Cancer Society. (For more on Timothy Haahs & Associates, see page 31.)

5 ] Beef up your medical and dental coverage.

Even with solid medical plans and flexible spending accounts, healthcare costs can be a huge burden for employees and their families.

To address this concern, a growing number of AEC companies are upgrading their benefits package to cover a much larger portion of healthcare costs.

For instance, in addition to its traditional medical, dental, vision, prescription, and flex-spending programs, GRG offers an employer-funded pre-tax account, similar to a flex-spending program, to help cover unreimbursed medical and dental expenses. Each year, the company sets aside $550 for each of its 240 employees to cover related healthcare costs. Money not spent carries over to the following year.

Arup covers 90-95% of healthcare insurance premiums for employees and their families, with limited co-pays ($20) for physician visits. (Read more about Arup on page 6.)

6 ] Auction off old IT equipment for charity.

Instead of dumping old computer equipment, San Diego-based NTDStichler auctions off items to employees, with the funds going toward the firm's annual holiday charity event.

7 ] Promote a healthy and safe lifestyle.

Bovis Lend Lease urges its employees (and their families) to kick the smoking habit by subsidizing 80% of the cost (up to $500 per person) for nicotine patches, gum, and inhalers. The company covers half the cost of a 10-week Weight Watchers plan and 80% of fitness classes and team sports. It also hosts a free one-day health fair in each office where staff and their families can get screened for cholesterol, diabetes, bone density, and prostate enzymes. (Read more about Bovis Lend Lease on page 10.)

Danvers, Mass.-based contractor William A. Berry & Son has a “weighted” fitness reimbursement program that covers 80% of all related membership dues for employees who go to the gym 12 days a month or less. Employees who work out at the fitness center at least 13 times a month get 100% reimbursement.

GRG offers several thoughtful perks, including periodic screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, and body fat; free chair massages every other week; and 50% reimbursement of personal trainer fees. The company also has a personal-use taxi fare program, which covers the cost for up to four taxi fares ($25 limit each) for each employee within a 12-month period, no questions asked.

SSOE contracts with a fitness consultant to offer free health assessments for employees. Those that partake in the program get $100 in flex-spending money.

To encourage its employees to hit the gym, Reese Engineering, State College, Pa., organized a companywide fitness challenge that pitted employees against one another in a mock sailing race to Bermuda. Participants earned nautical mileage for time spent doing resistance and cardiovascular training. The first three employees to finish won all-expense-paid weekend vacations. Reese also covers 100% of gym membership fees.

For additional creative management ideas, visit: www.BDCnetwork.com/article/CA6334901.html

Overlay Init