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Top Places to Work

Secrets of success from the 10 Top Places to Work all-stars

Tips on how to keep employees happy, from the 10 companies that have made the list all 10 years.

Domenic Bahmann

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We launched our Top Places to Work survey in 2008, just as the country was settling into its worst recession since the Great Depression.

Our timing couldn’t have been worse — or so we thought. Companies were cutting jobs. Talking about how great your workplace was not on most people’s minds. I was the Globe’s business editor at the time, and we wondered if this would be the first  and last  issue of Top Places to Work.

But you surprised us. Though the Great Recession wouldn’t let up until 2009, followed by agonizingly slow growth, participation in our Top Places survey increased because companies knew the importance of treating their employees well in good times and bad.


Over the past decade, we’ve surveyed nearly 766,000 employees and honored 394 companies. Ten businesses have made the list every year (see list below). And in honor of our 10th survey, in addition to presenting our usual rankings, we set out to find these overachievers’ secrets of success. With apologies to author Stephen Covey, here are five highly effective habits of our most honored Top Places to Work.

Help your employees grow. The 10 companies scored significantly higher than other organizations surveyed on employee development. These employers not only help workers get advanced degrees but also offer extensive internal professional training programs. Child care provider Bright Horizons Family Solutions, for example, offers an online university with 125 training modules, while consulting firm Analysis Group provides over 200 annual trainings in communications, management, leadership, presentation, and other skills.

Why so much investment in career development? “I look at every person who works at the firm as someone who could be running the company someday,” explains Analysis Group chief executive Martha Samuelson.


> SEE THE LISTS OF 2017 WINNERS HERE: Largest | Large | Medium | Small | More on methodology | The full report

Keep things flexible. Employees value the ability to balance their work and personal lives, and the 10 companies also scored much higher in this category. They allow employees to telecommute, leave early for day care, or shift to reduced schedules after children are born.

Edward Jones, the financial advisory network, lets advisers set their own schedule, working when they want so they can accommodate activities such as coaching their kids’ Little League games. Institution for Savings, the Newburyport bank, offers employees “personal time off” in increments of as little as one hour for doctor’s appointments, children’s activities, or other personal matters.

The staffing firm WinterWyman takes working remotely so seriously that its IT team makes house calls to set up employees’ desktop computers, dual screens, and phones.

Stick with your people. When the Great Recession hit, executives at AEW Capital Management took pay cuts to avoid laying off staff. The real estate company also moved employees working in slow parts of the business to areas that were busier.

Instead of reducing retirement benefits during the downturn, Eastern Bank increased them. The company began offering a 3 percent contribution to 401(k)s, in addition to what employees paid, to alleviate some of the financial stress they may have been experiencing. (Oh yeah, this is on top of still offering a pension plan.) The bank also relied on a “transition pool,” where employees whose jobs were being cut could work at their current salaries while receiving skills training and assistance with job searches. The recession “pulled us together,” says Nancy Stager, Eastern’s executive vice president of human resources and charitable giving.


Maintain a “small company” culture. AEW Capital makes sure junior employees sit in on senior team committee meetings to see how the firm approaches opportunities and issues. Benchmark Senior Living, which provides senior care, has a fund to help employees and their families in times of need, such as when a fire ravages a home. The fund, created in 1997, has distributed close to $1.5 million in grants, including $352,000 in 2016 alone for everything from funeral expenses to medical bills. At Broad Reach Healthcare, which also provides senior care, every employee still gets a turkey at Thanksgiving and a holiday gift.

Make time for fun. Institution for Savings actually lists “fun” as one of its 13 values alongside trust, integrity, and teamwork. Its idea of fun? All-expense paid overnight hiking trips to the White Mountains, employee cooking classes, and an annual summer outing complete with lobster boil.

One of Commonwealth Financial Network’s mottos is “We like to play.” That means pickup basketball leagues, an ugly holiday sweater contest, yoga on the “beach” (actually the grassy space outside the office), and an annual indoor mini-golf tournament where departments design their own holes. But the showstopper is the Sunday River Club, which was also highlighted in the first issue of Top Places. The concept: Any employee who has been at the company three years or more can stay for free at one of founder Joe Deitch’s 11 vacation properties throughout the United States and the Caribbean.



> AEW Capital Management

> Analysis Group — No. 1 in 2013 and 2012

> Benchmark Senior Living

> Bright Horizons Family Solutions — No. 1 in 2016, 2013, 2011, 2010

> Broad Reach Healthcare/Liberty Commons

> Commonwealth Financial Network — No. 1 in 2008

> Edward Jones — No. 1 in 2008

> Eastern Bank Corp.

> Institution for Savings — No. 1 in 2014, 2013, 2011

> WinterWyman — No. 1 in 2009

Shirley Leung is a Boston Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.