Great Places to Work
58 companies with killer perks, enviable offices and top-notch programs
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Great places to work? Dilbert would choke on his coffee at the very idea. The late Studs Terkel would tell you, “Work is, by its very nature, about violence—to the spirit as well as the body. It’s above all (or beneath all) about daily humiliations. It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life, rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”
Yet a string of St. Louisans would disagree with ol’ Studs. Mark Schupp would tell you that work is where he’s forged lifelong friendships. (It doesn’t hurt that Schupp Co. took its employees to Napa Valley in 2004.) Tom Dutton, I.T. director at Clayco, would credit his company for helping him lose 100 pounds. And if dogs could talk, they’d tell you Nestlé Purina is no reason to lift your leg.
While there might not be a definitive list of best workplaces, there are best practices—certain elements of a workplace that make daily life not just bearable but, dare we say, enjoyable. With this in mind, we searched the region for cool perks, inspiring spaces and effective programs. What did we find? St. Louis knows how to work it.
POLICIES & PERKS
Nestlé Purina Petcare
Industry: Pet Products
Local Employees: 1,600
It might be clichéd to say Nestlé Purina’s downtown offices are going to the dogs. But standing in the lobby, where a white bulldog struts by and the receptionist pets a Chihuahua puppy named Bandit, you realize it’s true. “We’re fortunate enough to bring our consumers in-house,” says Brook Lashley, manager of sourcing strategies. That’s one way to put it. Another is to say the company is serious about its love of pets. Outside is “The Barkyard,” a dog park where large and small pets run off-leash in designated areas. Employees are on a first-name basis with the Labs and German shepherds that rest next to desks. “You can pet a dog for a few minutes and feel the stress level go down,” says Mel Kohr, director of talent sourcing.
The pet-friendly policy is just the beginning, though. Downstairs in Nestlé Purina’s main building is a fitness center, a credit union, a medical facility and a store where employees can buy everything from Band-Aids to baby formula. A tailor comes in once a week. On the first floor, employees can grab a bite to eat in the cafeteria or a latte at the coffee bar. Outside, next to the dog park, there are three koi-filled ponds and a gazebo. And an on-site day care oversees 50 to 60 children per day. “You realize employers don’t have to do that,” says environmental engineer Gopi Sandhu. “It’s nice to know management is so supportive.”
And for that rare breed of Nestlé Purina employee who doesn’t own a dog? Lashley smiles. “It’s not a prerequisite,” she says. “You can live vicariously through co-workers’ pets.”
Industry: Real Estate
Local Employees: 350
If you’re lucky, your workplace might have a gym with a whining treadmill and a few mismatched dumbbells. You can shimmy into spandex before work and stink all day or go after work and get home late. Employees at Clayco, however, don’t face that dilemma. Beyond building design and construction projects, many of them build toned bodies in a decked-out gym—complete with a personal trainer on the payroll. And after squeezing a quick workout into the day, they can shower off in bathrooms stocked with hairspray, Tums, mouthwash, floss and more.
Trainer and wellness director Brian Imholz believes he’s the only full-time trainer in the country with such a job. About a third of Clayco’s
350 local employees regularly work out at the gym. “This is a place where you want to perform as well as you can, because you want to work for a company that takes care of you,” says I.T. director Tom Dutton.
When Dutton started at Clayco more than a year ago, he weighed 314 pounds. But he began regularly hitting the gym, drawing inspiration from quotes by Einstein and da Vinci painted on the company’s walls. Now he glides on the elliptical machine while answering emails. So far, he’s lost 104 pounds.
Clayco employees also have access to on-site car washes and oil changes, free breakfasts on Friday, weekly massages and a casual dress code. Tasha Turnbough has worked at Clayco for 14 years. Family and friends often tease her that working out is the only work going on at the company. But she knows better: “It’s work hard, play hard.”
Local Employees: 45
Envision the typical corporate retreat: dry-erase boards and stale bagels, trust exercises and the dissection of company goals. Compare that to Schupp Co. In 2004, the award-winning creative marketing firm flew its employees to Napa Valley, where they played bocce ball and sipped fine wine. Since then, they’ve played in the sand in South Beach and cheered on the Cards at Wrigley Field.
Photos taped to president Mark Schupp’s computer look more like social snapshots than pictures of work. “We don’t create widgets,” says senior vice president Donna MacDonald. “What we create is great thinking.”
To encourage that type of thinking, Schupp created a fun environment inside a historic building at the corner of Fourth and Pine. Step inside the grand lobby, and you immediately see signs that Schupp Co. isn’t your typical office: There are comfy couches for informal brainstorming, a pool table and an arcade machine with Pac-Man and Asteroids. Inside colorful offices that were once medical exam rooms—“cubes on crack,” as Schupp calls them—employees dream up ad and marketing campaigns like “Bleed Blue” for the St. Louis Blues and the “Redbird heist,” in which a dozen 12-foot Cardinals cutouts went missing from local billboards. Schupp gives new hires $50 to decorate their offices to match their personalities.
A meeting room on the second floor feels more like a spa than Office Space, with glass walls and a massage chair. On the third floor, employees can gather in a cool blue gym with views of the Arch for a boot-camp workout led by a visiting instructor. And when the stretching and sweating are done, employees can crack a cold one from the firm’s own beer-vending machine.
“The thing that struck me was, obviously they do good work here,” says copywriter Kate Sinnwell. “But they have fun while doing it.”
St. John’s Mercy Health Care
Location: St. Louis Region
Local Employees: 7,350
A banner inside the emergency room at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center reads, “THANKS TO THE BEST STAFF ON THE PLANET!” It’s a small thing, a detail most patients’ families would miss in the rush of an emergency. But for employees, it’s the small things that set St. John’s Mercy apart. “We recently did a marketing study, and one of consumers’ most frequent observations were ‘happy nurses,’” explains Don Kalicak, vice president of business development and strategic planning.
Ursula Wright, a clinical practice coordinator, had visited St. John’s Mercy since she was a child. When choosing a fellowship, she selected it for several reasons. “I noticed many of the nurses have worked here a long time, some for 15 or 20 years,” she says. The reason? A big one is recognition. It’s not unusual for managers to mail handwritten thank-you cards to the staff. During Nurse Week, RNs receive pedicures, massages and more. A health-incentives program allows employees to earn prizes by staying fit. And throughout the year, St. John’s Mercy hosts events for patients and staff—from ice-cream parties during the summer to a hospital-wide Christmas party. “I used to work the night shift, and you thought they wouldn’t do anything for you,” says Wright. “But they made sure to have events for us, too.”
Then there are the more formal policies at St. John’s Mercy. One advantage is pull pay, in which employees earn more for working shifts outside their typical routine. Another is an on-site day care, which oversees around 1,200 kids. “My two kids go there, and it’s just awesome,” says Cindy Rosburg, executive director of compensation and benefits. And then there is management’s open-door policy: On Wednesdays, president and CEO Denny DeNarvaez clears her calendar for employees to visit. “At every position, I’ve found managers willing to spend time to get to know me and help me move to the next level,” says Wright.
Dietitian Mary Ellen Idstein says such support translates into a close-knit atmosphere. “I work in three different buildings, but no matter where I am, it feels like home,” she says.
Perks & Policies: Honorable Mentions
Two free cases of beer per month
Paid 30-day sabbaticals with $3,500 for travel expenses for every five years with the company
Employees play Halo on two 40-inch TVs
Entire company took a ski trip last winter
Black Twig Communications
Piñata parties for birthdays of employees
Free Sam’s Club memberships; salad and sandwich bar; fully subsidized transit passes; backup day care and elder care
Free cable, Internet and phone service
Cultural events like visits from flamenco dancers and a National Geographic photographer
Four Seasons Wealth Management
Annual corporate retreat at Lake of the Ozarks
Employees play Guitar Hero and watch Mad Men during lunch
Free lunches daily
Dodgeball tourney with winning team facing executives; Cook’s Night Out program offers $10 take-home meals
Popular wellness program includes “Lunch & Learns,” fitness classes, a health fair and a new fitness center
Flexible scheduling and “Working Parents” support group
Employees can ride scooters around the office; pet-friendly policy; full kitchen and bar