You knew times were tough when Google axed the free snack bars. But with the economy in a nosedive and retail sales slumping faster than a frat boy post-bender, companies are making cutbacks. The perks of the 1990s—trips to Fiji for mail-room clerks, laptops for mascots—are long gone. Business ain’t bad all over, though. Looking for rays of hope amid a gloomy forecast, Minnesota Monthly asked consultants, academics, and workplace experts to name companies that offer benefits that are unique or above-average or astonishingly generous. Then we called up the companies to verify the rumors. What we discovered surprised us. Small and big, these employers cared about their employees—and they made efforts to keep them humming and happy. Don’t believe such places exist? Take a look. Maybe it’s time to dust off that resumé.
GREAT FOR HEALTH CARE
44 Minnesota employees
If you haven’t seen an increasingly bigger chunk of your paycheck going to health care in recent years you’re either: (1) among the 7 percent of Minnesotans who don’t actually have any health insurance, or (2) you work at SALA Architects, a small Twin Cities–based home-design firm that covers 100 percent of health-care premiums for employees. Of course, offering complete medical and dental care is expensive, says SALA principal Katherine Hillbrand, but managers believe it pays off in worker loyalty. “When it comes down to why people work here, I think that’s one of the reasons,” Hillbrand says. “It’s a draw and it helps us keep steady employment.”
The firm doesn’t pick up the cost of putting family members on the plan, but they’re eligible if an employee wants to add them and premiums can be paid pre-tax. “I have no complaints about the coverage we have,” says Ann Hauer, a designer with the firm’s Stillwater office who enrolled her son in the plan. Though she only works 30 hours a week, she still gets the same coverage available to full-time employees at SALA. “A few years ago, I had hip surgery and everything was covered,” Hauer recalls. “I can’t imagine having big premiums and huge deductibles.”
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
4,000 Minnesota employees
Unlimited care. No copays. Access to four different clinics owned by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux. All tallied, it’s a good bet that Mystic Lake workers and their families have access to one of the best, most-affordable health-care plans in Minnesota.
5,400 Minnesota employees
Employees at headquarters have access to an on-site health clinic that provides no-cost same-day appointments for flu shots, lab work, x-rays, dermatology services, physical therapy, eyeglass services, and more.
GREAT FOR WELLNESS PROGRAMS
8,000 Minnesota employees
The county developed the HealthWorks program to emphasize employee wellness. There are seminars and classes about everything from smoking cessation to laughter yoga. “It’s a continuum of health,” says Jill Hamilton, the HealthWorks’ director. At the Government Center in Minneapolis, there is an on-site clinic that offers free services; and employees have access to flu shots and screenings for blood glucose, bone density, and body composition. To encourage employees to fit exercise into their lives, there is a reimbursement plan known as “Trade Time for Fitness.” It allows workers to use the monetary equivalent of unused sick days to be reimbursed up to $1,500 per year for health-club memberships and pay for fitness-equipment purchases. Over the last three years, Bob Smutka, a senior human-resources representative, has used the program to buy a bicycle, weights, a Bowflex machine, and a bike trainer that allows him to use his cycle indoors. “I’m more active now,” he says, adding that he’s lost 20 percent of his body weight since buying the equipment.
“It gets you started exercising and then you build from there.”
4,500 Minnesota employees
At any Minute Clinics (including the one at Carlson Companies’ headquarters), employee copays for services are just $5. An internal “BeWell” website publicizes such programs as yoga at the office, and the company recently began offering an online tool for managing personal health records.
Dakota Electric Association
214 Minnesota employees
The company offers generous health-club reimbursements, brown-bag lunches on topics such as “emotional intelligence,” and an annual health fair with free melanoma and cholesterol screenings. A “Biggest Loser” club encouraged employees to lose a combined 1,820 pounds over three years.
GREAT FOR FITNESS FACILITIES
32,000 Minnesota employees
To provide better care for patients, Mayo Clinic employees are encouraged to take care of themselves. The philosophy becomes reality at the 115,000-square-foot Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center, which opened in 2007. Employees, retirees, and immediate family can join for $25 a month. If an employee uses the gym at least 15 times during three months, the fee is reduced.
In Rochester, 44 percent of the 32,000 employees belong to the club. The facility includes a women-only studio, an indoor track, and a demonstration kitchen for healthy-cooking instruction. Caer Vitek, an education coordinator at Mayo, has been a member for three years. “If I couldn’t get in a workout, there’s no way I could do a desk job,” she says.
197 Minnesota employees
Recently relocated to a new space, the company has a free in-house fitness facility, with a locker room and sweeping views of downtown Minneapolis from the 23rd floor of the AT&T Building. A personal trainer keeps an office on the premises, too.
525 Minnesota employees
For $10 a month, employees can join Energy Zone. Open 24 hours a day, the facility has a variety of workout equipment, a meditation room and studios for yoga and Pilates classes. There’s also an on-site registered nurse and a six-month wellness plan that tracks overall health.
GREAT FOR CHILD-CARE
600 Minnesota employees
The folks at Aveda are known for their love of Mother Earth: The company’s products are packed with herbal essences and things like beeswax and black tea. So it probably won’t surprise you that last fall, employees scurrying through the halls at headquarters hardly blinked when they encountered a small table brimming with free produce: tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and gourds.
The bounty was, in fact, grown by wee agrarians from the Aveda Child’s Garden, the company’s on-site daycare program. “Even in winter, we spend time outside,” says program director Lorie Dahlheimer. “In nice weather, we might be outside for up to three hours.” Thirty-six kids are currently enrolled in the program, which is subsidized by the company and open to kids ranging in age from 6 weeks to 4 years. Dahlheimer says the program is based on the Waldorf School model, emphasizing imaginative play and close interaction with the natural world. “I was excited about that philosophy,” says Lisa Benevento, a 10-year Aveda employee who has a daughter in the program. Kids participate in company celebrations, Benevento notes: They go trick-or-treating through the offices on Halloween, or sing for workers’ anniversaries. Benevento also appreciates the round-table discussions on parenting issues that the school sponsors. Having child-care on-site at work also means having one less stop during the morning and evening commute, and Benevento says she has stopped by during the day to administer medicines for ear infections or attend to other child-related matters. “Sometimes,” she adds, “it’s fun just to peek through the window and see what they’re doing.”
7,800 Minnesota employees
In addition to providing market-rate child-care at both its world headquarters in Fridley and its new facility in Moundsview, the medical-devices manufacturer offers parents emergency backup care when regular child-care services are unavailable or a kid gets sick.
GREAT FOR FAMILY LEAVE
30,000 Minnesota employees
New moms can take advantage of Target’s flextime policies and job-sharing opportunities, as well as compressed schedules. Employees have access to discounted rates on child-care, and, in cases of emer-gency, have access to low-cost backup child-care at Bright Horizons Child Care in Minneapolis. A maternity support program provides moms with information on exercise plans, screenings, childbirth classes, and home baby care, and even includes two follow-up screenings with OB nurses and tests for postpartum depression. Target is definitely a family-friendly company, says Heather Christensen, who works in the communications department in downtown Minneapolis: “Most of the people around me have kids, and as I walk through the hall, I see so many other pregnant women that I’m pretty sure that [mindset] isn’t going to change anytime soon.” And dads aren’t left out of the picture either: They can take up to 16 weeks paternity leave (without pay) after a birth or adoption.
Goff & Howard
14 Minnesota employees
This small public-affairs and public-relations firm offers 12 weeks of paid maternity leave (nearly double the standard) and allow moms and dads to bring kids to work when daycare is unavailable.
Leonard Street & Deinard
440 Minnesota employees
Federal law ensures that women get six weeks paid maternity leave when they have a child. But it takes a forward-thinking law firm, like this one, to offer dads and adoptive parents the same treatment.
GREAT FOR RETIREMENT MATCHING
C.H. Robinson Worldwide
1,500 Minnesota employees
Retirement planners are always urging workers to think about tomorrow—as if today’s bills and financial worries weren’t already piling up. But employees at C.H. Robinson, a transportation- and logistics-services provider, have some whopping incentives to salt away a portion of their paychecks. First off, the company offers a decent 401(k) plan, matching employee contributions dollar for dollar (capped at 4 percent of compensation). All employees are eligible for enrollment within less than two months of starting on the job, and company managers feel so passionate about the program, says Laura Gillund, vice president of human resources, that they auto-enroll employees in the program at the maximum level. “We feel like if we’re going to match the money for your savings, you shouldn’t leave the dollars on the table,” says Gillund. (Of course, she adds, workers can opt out if they choose.)
But what puts Robinson’s retirement plan over the top is the company’s profit-sharing plan. At year’s end, depending on earnings, the company typically puts the equivalent of almost 6 percent of a worker’s compensation into his or her retirement account. In 2006 and 2007, the amount was 7 percent; and in 2005, the windfall was an eye-popping 8 percent. That’s a growth plan even your retirement planner would envy.
Oppenheimer Wolff Donnelly
225 Minnesota employees
The firm contributes an amount equaling roughly 7 percent of salary to staff-chosen retirement plans. And if employees opt to set up a 401(k) in addition, the firm does a limited-percentage match of 50 cents on the dollar.
2,000 Minnesota employees
Squirrel away 6 percent of your salary in the company’s 401(k) plan and get a dollar-for-dollar match—among the most generous matches given by large companies.
GREAT FOR PROFIT-SHARING
300 Minnesota employees
Every employee at this playground-equipment manufacturer shares in the profits made by the company—a payout that may be a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars, depending on the quarter. The quarterly payments vary, but human-resources director Karlye Emerson, says that all told, the installments generally amount to 12 percent of company profits over the course of the year. Additionally, employees have owned 30 percent of the company since 2004—so some workers see an even bigger bump. And did we mention the 50-cents-on-the-dollar matching on 401(k)s, up to 8 percent?
GREAT FOR VACATION
65 Minnesota employees
When an employee’s five-year anniversary rolls around at this information-technology staffing firm in St. Paul, they show their gratitude by sending you on the vacation of your dreams. But don’t expect a couple of leather luggage tags and a hearty “auf Wiedersehen.” Instead, the company throws a party in the departing employee’s honor: If you’ve longed to visit Spain, for example, you’ll be dressed up like a matador, serenaded with all of the positive things clients have said about your work, and then handed a check for $5,000 to blow on your great getaway. And at 10 years, you’ll watch that vacation bonus double to $10,000.
Certes Financial Pros
160 Minnesota employees
This Twin Cities consulting firm offers employees access to five beautiful vacation homes across the country: Catch some surf in Manhattan Beach, California; choose from two sun-baked locations in Florida; hit the slopes in Park City, Utah; or stay closer to home, at an upscale spot on the lakes near Brainerd—all at minimal cost.
GREAT FOR SABBATICALS
Foley & Mansfield
134 Minnesota employees
What kind of workplace sends its employees packing for 90 days and still expects them to come back? Here’s one. As a way to rejuvenate its often-overworked attorneys, the law firm Foley & Mansfield requires all partners to take a three-month paid sabbatical after eight years of service. Of course, some expectations remain: The lawyers have to arrange for coworkers to handle details related to ongoing cases, but for the most part, sabbatical takers are encouraged to have no work-related contact with the firm. Partners are free to use their time however they choose, whether it’s spent vacationing or volunteering. In addition to arranging a family vacation, for example, partner Stephen Wilson spent time teaching English to children in Peru and writing a book about his parents’ World War II experiences.
460 Minnesota employees
Mortenson allows exempt, salaried team members to take a portion of unused paid time off every year and put it into a sabbatical bank. Once every five years, a team member can use that saved time to take up to eight weeks of paid sabbatical.
GREAT FOR FLEXIBLE SCHEDULES
Best Buy Corporate
4,500 Minnesota employees
It’s 1:30, and after a large lunch with a client, you’ve hit a wall—full in the stomach and dead in the head. If you work at Best Buy’s corporate headquarters, you needn’t waste time cleaning out your purse or sorting
e-mails to pass the afternoon. You can go spend an hour shopping for groceries. Or hit the gym. If you have the energy, you can go back to work. Better yet, if you’re completely wiped out, just call it a day.
It sounds completely contradictory to what we consider the standard workweek—nowhere close to 9 to 5. But Best Buy has found their Results-Only Working Environment—a program that 80 percent of corporate employees utilize—has improved retention rates and boosted productivity since the program began in 2004. “It’s a definite culture shift because it forces managers to have a lot more trust in employees,” says Dawn Bryant, a Best Buy spokesperson. “But we have to be clear on the goals we set for employees. They are measured by the work they accomplished.” She says this policy has appealed to all ages and all genders—one man in human resources prefers to flex his hours so he can hunt and fish on weekdays. “To me, it means that I don’t have to feel guilty about being brain dead and needing to leave work for a while,” Bryant says.
720 Minnesota employees
This accounting company spent four years reviewing its policies to create flex year, a program where employees can choose to work full-time for part of the year and then enjoy a season off, getting a pro-rated salary and full benefits year round. (Think teachers’ schedules for number crunchers.)
Gray Plant Mooty
343 Minnesota employees
The Minneapolis-based law firm has a significant number of its administrative assistants that take advantage of its job-share program. Two employees split the 37-and-a-half-hour workweeks, so one employee works 60 percent of the hours and the other works 40 percent of the time, for example. “It forces people to communicate better and be conscious of each other,” says human-resources director Jodi Schmidt.
GREAT FOR EMPLOYEE VOICE
Great River Energy
500 Minnesota employees
In 2005, Great River’s newly appointed CEO David Saggau wanted to involve more staff in developing the company’s long-term goals. So management created the “Connect the Dots” program, which works like this: Each year, a select group of 11 employees serve as informal leaders. “Regardless of title, they have influence,” says Kandace Olsen, vice president of communications and human resources. Saggau sits down with the group and reviews the goals and then each person interviews 10 to 12 other employees. Then the original committee meets with senior staff and a facilitator to share what they’ve learned.
Ultimately, 120 staff members (out of about 880 company-wide) are involved in the process, which has been responsible for adding “safety” as a core value and adjusting how the company approaches cost management, making it the responsibility of every employee. Matt Herman, an environmental compliance coordinator, has been both an interviewer on the committee and an interviewee, providing grassroots input.
“You can see how the imperatives change from the original drafts,” Herman says. “When you see the final list, you feel a sense of ownership, since you were part of the process that created it.”
190 Minnesota employees
Monthly town-hall meetings at company headquarters allow departments to check in with each other. Employees can ask CEO Mike Tattersfield questions and sample the latest brews.
10,180 Minnesota employees
A two-way collaborative dialogue with employees is a priority at HealthPartners. Employees offer feedback on regular surveys and twice-weekly departmental “huddles.” There’s an emphasis on how individual employees impact the organization.
GREAT FOR FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY
40 Minnesota employees
If everybody in the company knows the bottom line, they will step up to the financial challenges. At least that’s what the management at privately owned Lancet Software believes. Every month, all 40 employees are sent financial statements that show how the company is measuring up against its annual goals. Any employee can ask about the details regarding expenditures. The only off-limit topic is individual salaries, though departmental figures are included. Since not everyone hired is an accountant, a financial-orientation class is offered to new employees. Consultant Deb Gerber has been with the company for 11 years. “You see the numbers they see, so you have more trust in the people making the big decisions,” she says. Gerber says she’s also more conscious about how her activities affect the bottom line. “I’m not going to go to a conference just because I want to go to Miami,” she says. “Everyone is accountable.”
50 Minnesota employees
Financial reports are shared with all employees. The company wants employees to have enough faith in the company to literally buy into it, via an employee-stock purchase plan.
13 Minnesota employees
The 13-person staff is involved in assessing and evaluating the broader financials. Budgets for professional development, wellness, technology, and marketing are prioritized by the entire team.
GREAT FOR TUITION REIMBURSEMENT
1,200 Minnesota employees
Helping employees advance and enhance their current skills is the motivating force behind Bremer’s tuition-reimbursement policy. Full-time workers are eligible for up to $5,250 per calendar year for undergraduate degrees and $7,500 for graduate degrees. Once someone is approved, they are reimbursed for courses and textbooks, without a lot of strings attached. Since Bremer is a bank, most of the programs are related to finance, accounting, human resources, and business communication. Approximately 30 people a year take advantage of the reimbursements, including Stacy Kennedy, a human-resources manager who recently finished a master’s degree. Over several years, Bremer covered her full tuition, which would have totaled more than $24,000. “I feel lucky to have an employer that places such a high value on continued development and exposure in the field,” Kennedy says.
1,300 Minnesota employees
Employees can take all of Capella’s classes for free, though they’re responsible for buying their own books. Reimbursements of up to $5,000 a year are also available for courses at other accredited institutions in Minnesota. Family members get a 50-percent discount on courses at Capella.
GREAT FOR COOL WORK ENVIRONMENT
350 Minnesota employees
You can walk while you talk during meetings at this multi-faceted staffing company. For the 50 employees who work at the company headquarters, there are two conference rooms equipped with four treadmills each, and another eight treadmill workstations are available for anytime use. With a max speed of two miles per hour, workers aren’t exactly breaking a sweat while they type. But the results can be astonishing: “All of the sudden, you’ve walked five miles and you’re not even thinking about burning calories,” says Craig Dexheimer, director of operations, who dropped 25 pounds in six months. There have been company-wide benefits, too: Perhaps not coincidentally, in the first three months after the treadmills’ installation, revenues were up 10 percent.
Loll Designs & Epicurean Cutting Services
37 Minnesota employees
Minnesota architect David Salmela put a modern spin on this building, formerly home to a casket company, for Loll-Epicurian. The dramatic glass walls offer sweeping views of the St. Louis River Valley, where employees can hike during lunch breaks.
275 Minnesota employees
To promote creativity and teamwork, this bright, open office space in downtown Minneapolis features a central set of bleachers and a common area. An outdoor deck on the roof, with a view of the future Twins’ stadium, gives employees an excuse to go throw outdoor parties, which they refer to as “roofgating.”
GREAT FOR VOLUNTEER VALUES
35 Minnesota employees
In the aftermath that followed Hurricane Katrina, Rebecca Thomley, CEO of Orion Associates, went to New Orleans to aid the Red Cross. The experience made an impression. “Services and support were not coming in for the families,” Thomley says. So, over Thanksgiving weekend in 2005, the company covered expenses for all 35 employees to volunteer in the devastated city. Closer to home, the company has sponsored post-emergency trips to Cedar Rapids, Rushford, and Winona. There is no limit on days off for these trips and employees can also take an additional two days to volunteer for the nonprofit of their choice. For those who can’t travel, Orion, which offers management services to social-service agencies, holds four events annually, which have included volunteering days for Toys for Tots, MS Walk, and Habitat for Humanity. Alicia Corbett, a family coordinator at Orion for six years, has been to New Orleans more than 15 times and estimates she’s been out about 13 working days each year as a volunteer. Additionally, the volunteer experiences have made her more sympathetic when working with clients. “I have more patience now because maybe someone is going through something we don’t know about,” she says.
250 Minnesota employees
The company’s HERO program grants every employee at least eight hours of paid time off annually for community service and volunteering at a tax-exempt organization or a public or private school. Last year, the organization donated the hourly equivalent of $1 million to charity.
St. Louis Park
32 Minnesota employees
Pinnacle Services promotes individual volunteering by giving employees 10 paid hours a year to work gratis with the cause of their choice. Employees are also encouraged to participate in such events as blood drives and the MS Walk
Is your workplace great?
If you’ve got your own nominee for a great place to work in Minnesota, visit mnmo.com/work and tell us why your company or employer deserves a gold star. We’ll publish the most interesting nominations on our
website—where your boss can see, too.