Awards Recognize Local Employers Offering Benefits, Perks, Balance
By Gina-Gallucci White. Photography by Turner Photography Studio
In combating the nationwide labor shortage, many local businesses have come up with innovative was to show their appreciation to their employees, including paying for all-inclusive trips, hosting holiday parties and doing volunteering during regular work hours.
To recognize those employers going above and beyond to make the workspace happy and healthy, the Best Places to Work awards are being presented by the Frederick County Office of Economic Development, Frederick County Workforce Services, City of Frederick Department of Economic Development and the Frederick Chamber of Commerce.
“Workforce is a very important aspect in a company’s growth and when employers value their employees, they have a very productive company going forward,” says Jodie Bollinger, acting director of the county Office of Economic Development. “The Best Places to Work [awards] really recognizes the county’s most innovative, creative and forward-thinking employers. … These particular employers stand out from the rest for the workplace environment that they provide.”
More than 60 businesses vied for Best Places to Work recognition, now in its 20th year. The five winners were separated into categories determined by number of employees.
Small Employer: New North
New North participates in team volunteer opportunities multiple times a year, including serving at a local soup kitchen during regular work hours. The marketing agency also donates a percentage of its profits to local nonprofit organizations as well as providing aid to international groups.
Tobin Lehman, who founded the business in 2008, notes two aspects make his business stand out: a people-centric approach to work and a Christian faith that permeates the company culture. They are not a faith-based company and employees do not need to be a Christian to work there, but there is a focus on honesty and strong moral character. “If you are going to spend 40-plus hours somewhere, it should be a place where you enjoy being and your Sunday is not ruined because you know Monday is coming up,” Lehman says.
The company aims to employ a group of like-minded people who are passionate about their craft. “Monday through Friday becomes a good time of the week and something you enjoy doing,” he says. “Not something you have to do to feed your family. … People are excited to be here. No one at New North has a J-O-B. Everyone genuinely enjoys their work and likes doing it here.”
Small/Medium Employer: Jay Day and the Day Home Team
As thanks for their hard work, the staff (and spouses) of Jay Day and the Day Home Team get a trip for them to an all-inclusive resort. In the past few years, the real estate team has gone to the Dominican Republic and Mexico together.
“We work hard but we play hard too and we try to do that together and include each other’s spouses or significant others,” says Jay Day, president and CEO. “It is an important piece to put to the puzzle. They are part of the family because they are giving up time with their significant other so they can do what they need to for our company, which is in turn doing stuff for them and their family.”
The Frederick-based business offers health benefits to self-employed contractors, which is not common. It also provides a free life insurance policy to all employees. Day owns a beach property and allows employees to stay for free, flights included. “Without [our employees], we would not be as big of a company or help as many families as we help,” Day says. “… We always joke about it and say we have a true work family. We care about each other. Everybody can be a cheerleader when someone is succeeding; what we try to really focus on is to also make sure to prop them up and hold them when they are struggling.”
Medium/Larger Employer: Frederick Air
Frederick Air is celebrating 30 years of service to the Frederick County community. Steve Schmidt founded the company after years working in the heating and air conditioning sector.
The company covers individual health insurance and provides employees several paid sick and time-off days and encourages their use for family events. It has also taken staff to a Frederick Keys game and hosted a chili cook-off and a potluck picnic.
“I know if I [have] a good, happy person who loves their job, if I can have them answering the phones or running calls or doing service estimates or installing equipment, obviously, it is going to be a top customer experience if that person loves where they work and they are behind the company,” Schmidt says. “I came from a company that did not treat its employees correctly and I hated how that felt. One of the reasons I wanted to start my own company was so that I could treat my employees nice and with respect.”
Management also meets with employees twice a year to make sure they are advancing in their career development and goals. “I want to hand you your last paycheck,” he says. “That doesn’t mean I am firing them anytime soon. I am saying when their last day comes [in their career], I want them to be working here so it is really a relaxed atmosphere. We are all a team.”
Large Employer: American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA)
The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), an independent nonprofit focusing on the formal recognition of competent testing and calibration laboratories, previously won this award in 2018. “I think it is exciting to see that we have been able to continue a culture that offers a lot of really great benefits and perks to our staff and that we haven’t declined even through COVID times,” says Natalie Rhoderick, human resources manager. “We have still been able to deliver on things that our employees value and benefits that are meaningful to them.”
The organization has an engagement committee and employee events are plentiful, including hosting volunteering efforts like a recent packaging event onsite for Blessings in a Backpack, having therapy dogs come into the office for a day and free ice cream in the summer months. It also offers benefits like tuition assistance and wellness initiatives such as an onsite gym and discounted memberships to area fitness centers.
“The employees are who essentially run your business,” Rhoderick says. “Because we offer a service, they are the ones who are working with the customers day in and day out. We want to provide a great place for them to come to work and feel engaged and proud to be here so that they deliver an even better service experience to our customers.”
Major Employer: Legal & General America
Life insurance company Legal & General America first moved their corporate office to Ijamsville in 2011. Barbara Esau, vice president of human resources, notes the office is much more than a place to work. “It’s where our people connect, create and collaborate,” she says.
The company was previously recognized in 2018 for its care of employees’ healthy work/life balance and this time honored for its top-tier benefits and programming. “We make sure that our employees are happy, healthy and know how deeply we value them,” Esau says.
In addition to generous insurance and leave packages, benefits include innovative policies like parental leave, family planning support, healthcare coverage for domestic partners and a company pension plan (in addition to other retirement benefits). The company leads and supports employees in charitable giving campaigns to organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club of Frederick County and Student Homelessness Initiative Partnership of Frederick County.
The company also offers employee recognition programs and awards to acknowledge outstanding work and service, hosts family picnics, and participates in volunteer opportunities at the Special Olympics of Maryland, Frederick Pride and for other local causes. “We want to do everything we can to ensure that Legal & General feels like a home away from home for our employees,” she says.